Online Master’s Degrees in Addiction Counseling & Substance Abuse

People who earn master’s degrees in addiction counseling go on to work with individuals who want to overcome unhealthy dependencies on a variety of substances and sometimes, unhealthy behaviors such as gambling addiction.

Addiction counselors work with patients to understand the source and motivation of their addiction and provide strategies to help their patients overcome their unhealthy dependencies. Addiction counselors can help with a range of abuse issues, but typically the focus is on problematic behaviors related to abuse of substances such as illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and behavioral addictions to food, sex, gambling, the internet, plastic surgery, or social media. Even over-the-counter medications, such as cough medicine, can be abused.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million Americans aged 12 and older battled a substance use disorder in 2017. The vast majority of those disorders were related to alcohol use. One out of every eight adults struggles with both alcohol and drug use disorders. Drug abuse and addiction take a heavy toll on society in the form of more than $740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs.

Addiction counselors may work in individual or group counseling settings or even within prisons, in-patient clinics, hospitals, or outpatient substance abuse centers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), jobs for addiction counselors are projected to grow 25 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average growth rate for all occupations (4 percent). Driving the demand for addiction counselors, in part, is a continued opioid epidemic across the United States. In addition, many states are acknowledging the role of addiction in crime, and are making strides toward offering more treatment and counseling services rather than policing and arresting people for substance use.

Addiction counselors with a master’s degree learn enhanced and specialized skills with greater job opportunities. Read on to learn what to expect from accredited online master’s degrees in addiction counseling, including details on coursework and tuition.

Typical Admissions Requirements for Online Master’s Degrees in Addiction Counseling

An online master’s degree in addiction counseling offers flexibility for today’s modern students who are also likely already working and juggling family responsibilities. Online programs offer students the ability to complete coursework during evenings and weekends on a more personalized schedule, which also gives them time for other responsibilities.

The requirements to become a licensed or certified addiction counselor can vary significantly from state to state. Typically, candidates hold at least a bachelor’s degree to work in this field. Some states may qualify substance abuse counselors with an associate’s degree in chemical dependency, counseling, psychology, social work, or another related field. However, earning a higher degree, including a master’s degree, can greatly shorten the path to licensure.

If the individual has only an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, that individual is required to have many hours of on-the-job clinical experience. In Pennsylvania, an associate’s degree holder is expected to have 3,640 hours (two years) of experience. A bachelor’s degree holder is expected to have 1,820 hours of experience. Students typically earn these hours of experience over the course of doing their practicums and internships during the course of their master’s degree.

In New York, eligible professionals are considered Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselors (CASAC) based on their education, work experience, and passing an IC&RC examination. A CASAC must have at least a high school diploma or equivalency. A student with a college degree can substitute their degree for a portion of the experience requirement.

The Association for Addiction Professionals offers voluntary national certification for substance use professionals. Students who wish to become a Nationally Certified Addiction Counselor I (NCAC I), who have only a high school diploma, must have at least three years full-time or 6,000 hours of supervised experience as a substance use disorder or addiction counselor. NCAC II certifications are given only to students with a bachelor’s degree. A MAC, or Master Addiction Counselor, is only available to students who have completed a master’s degree.

Admission to a master’s program requires that a student have a bachelor’s degree. While many schools do not have a requirement on the type of bachelor’s degree, it is often an advantage for a student to have a counseling or counseling-related bachelor’s degree, such as psychology, sociology, or even education. As each state is different, students should determine the requirements for licensure in the state or states they would like to practice in the future.

Typical admissions requirements for online master’s degrees in addiction counseling include:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • A 3.0 minimum GPA
  • Official transcripts from the student’s previous school(s)
  • An essay explaining interest in the program
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume or CV outlining relevant work and volunteer history
  • A GRE, MAT, or another standardized test score, if required
  • A completed official application and application fee

Volunteer experience in addiction-related environments can boost their resumes and chances of admission. For example, counseling students might work at a substance abuse hotline, or start a support group in their community or school.

During a master’s degree, students will complete many hours of supervised direct experience. Each state and each degree program is slightly different in their requirements.

Courses in Online Master’s Degrees in Addiction Counseling

Classes in online addiction counseling master’s degree programs include:

  • Multicultural Counseling
  • Issues in Addiction Recovery
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Psychopathology
  • Theories and Treatment of Addiction
  • Counseling Addicted Families
  • Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethics
  • Introduction to Addictions and Substance Use Disorders
  • Group Counseling Theory and Practice
  • Co-Occurring Disorders
  • Family Issues and Addictive Disorders
  • Diagnostics, Assessment, and Treatment of Substance Abuse Disorders
  • Counseling Chemical Dependency Adolescents
  • Psychology of Addiction
  • Substance Abuse Prevention
  • Neurobiology of Addiction
  • Advanced Addiction Theories
  • Drug Enforcement
  • Research and Evaluation of Methods and Practice
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Etiology and Diagnosis of Mental Disorders
  • Counseling During Grief and Crisis
  • Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment
  • Spirituality and Values in Counseling
  • Survey of Research in Human Development for Addiction Professionals
  • Principles of Integrated Addiction and Mental Health Treatment
  • Supervision and Program Management in Addiction Treatment
  • Medication Management

Supervised Clinical Hour Requirements & Internships – Online Master’s Degrees in Addiction Counseling

While each program is slightly different, the standard for a master’s degree in addiction counseling is a minimum of 600 hours of supervised fieldwork. Other non-licensure programs may require as little as 300 hours, while the licensure track master’s degree program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (profiled below), requires students to complete 900 hours of clinical or internship experiences over the course of their study.

The primary certifying body for counseling education, including addiction counseling specialties, is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs, or CACREP, accredits master’s and doctoral degree programs in counseling and its specialties in the United States and throughout the world.

Practicum and internships approved by CACREP have specific requirements as well. A practicum is a supervised period of observation and documentation to understand the work environments of an addiction counselor. An internship is a supervised experience that is very similar to what a student would face in a post-graduation job.

CACREP-approved practicum experiences must total a minimum of 100 clock hours over a full academic term that is a minimum of 10 weeks. Practicum students complete at least 40 clock hours of direct service with actual clients that contribute to the development of counseling skills. Internships must be at least 600 supervised clock hours in length in a setting relevant to addiction. Internship students must complete at least 240 clock hours of direct service.

Program Accreditation for Online Master’s Degrees in Addiction Counseling

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits master’s and doctoral degree programs in counseling and its specialties in the United States and throughout the world. CACREP certifies all counseling specialties, including rehabilitation counseling, school counseling, clinical mental health counseling, marriage and family counseling, and addiction counseling.

CACREP approves addiction counseling programs that require students to take a minimum of 60 semester-credit-hours (or 90 quarter-credit-hours) of coursework. To ensure high-quality education, CACREP requires students to be taught by core program faculty. Throughout the year, the number of course-hours taught by core faculty must be higher than the number of course-hours taught by non-core faculty.

CACREP accreditation is important because it asserts that the program meets a broad range of requirements designed to give the students the highest-quality educational experience. It evaluates a school on its overall learning environment, the level of education of core faculty, and the resources available to the students.

Featured Online Master’s Degrees in Addiction Counseling Programs

University of the Cumberlands

The University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky offers a flexible online master of arts degree in addiction counseling. The program puts students on track to broaden their expertise as mental health counselors or those who want to become a licensed addiction counselor.

The University of the Cumberlands operates on a bi-term system, meaning there are two terms in fall, two in spring, and two in summer. Applicants to the addiction program can begin their degree coursework at the beginning of any bi-term.

All of the courses are offered online, and while work can be completed on the student’s own schedule for the most part, some of the courses do have specific online meeting times Students should plan on being online and in-class for 1.5 hours one day per week, per course. Students are able to take a maximum of two courses per eight-week bi-term.

  • Location: Williamsburg, Kentucky
  • Duration: 60 hours
  • Accreditation: The University of the Cumberlands is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); the addiction counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Tuition: $400 per credit, plus fees; typical program cost is $25,000

Indiana Wesleyan University

The goal of Indiana Wesleyan University’s master of arts in clinical addictions counseling is to provide the world with highly qualified counselors who can help the world from a foundation of Christian values in character, scholarship, and leadership.

Graduates from this program will be prepared to work with patients with substance abuse issues as well as addictive behaviors such as eating, sexual, and gambling disorders. Graduates can pursue state licensure and/or national certification.

  • Location: Marion, Indiana
  • Duration: 48 credits
  • Accreditation: Indiana Wesleyan University is an Approved Education Provider of NAADAC, the National Association for Addiction Professionals. The school’s addictions counseling programs are also accredited through NASAC, the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission.
  • Tuition: $578 per credit

Regent University – School of Psychology and Counseling

Regent was founded in 1977 on a 70-acre parcel in Virginia by Dr. Pat Robertson. Regent’s master of arts in human services – addictions counseling requires no GRE or other entrance exam. This is a faith-based, non-licensure track program that will prepare students to intervene in problematic cases of food, drug, sexual, and other addictions. The school also offers a master of science in psychology with a concentration in addictions.

  • Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Duration: The MA in human services is 30 credits; the MS in psychology is a minimum of 39 credits
  • Accreditation: Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: The master of arts in human services is $595 per credit (in-state resident and non-resident), plus fees; the master of science in psychology is $675 per credit (in-state resident and non-resident), plus fees

Capella University

Students in this program complete 48 quarter-credits and a 300-hour practicum. Courses at Capella are offered online, with the exception of a single six-day residency. The residency requirement for the master of science in addiction studies is completed through an online course consisting of pre- and post-residency activities and a six-day residency experience. This may require live web conferencing activities and/or learner audio/video recordings. Residency requirements are met by students receiving a minimum of 40 total hours of training and practice in the areas of intervention assessment, diversity, culture, and ethics. Learners must have completed the residency requirement prior to starting their internship course.

When assignments are given, completed assignments are due on Sundays. Prospective students may sign up for a free GuidedPath Trial Course to experience online learning at Capella before committing.

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Duration: 48 credits
  • Accreditation: Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $435 to $805 per credit, plus fees

Walden University – School of Counseling and Social Service

Walden has long been a pioneer in online learning; in 1995 Walden offered the nation’s first fully online master’s program in education. Today, Walden offers a master of science in clinical mental health counseling. Within the general clinical mental health counseling program, students can choose from six specialties, which include addiction counseling.

This fully online school offers monthly payment plan options that allow students to pay tuition in installments with no interest. Quarters last for 11 weeks, except for the first and ninth quarter, which includes two concurrent 11-week courses.

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Duration: The general program is 111 credits; specialties are 121 credits
  • Accreditation: Walden is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission; the counseling programs are accredited by Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Tuition: $470 per quarter-hour, plus fees

Liberty University

Faith-based Liberty University is a leader in online education. Liberty offers a fully online master’s in addiction counseling with eight-week courses that most students complete in two years. Liberty’s addiction counseling degree program meets requirements for licensure as a Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Provider (LSATP) in Virginia with the completion of 12 additional credits. It can also provide students the opportunity to obtain certification as a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC).

  • Location: Lynchburg, Virginia
  • Duration: 48 credits, two years
  • Accreditation: Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $565 per hour, full-time; $615 per hour, part-time

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation – Graduate School of Addiction Studies

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is the nation’s largest nonprofit treatment provider. Offering addiction services since 1949, the foundation was begun by Betty Ford, the wife of United States President Gerald Ford. The Foundation offers 12-step-based prevention and recovery solutions across the nation.

The program’s 60-credit hour accredited graduate degree program offers students full- and part-time options, allowing students to complete the program on their schedule. The program offers three start dates each year in January, May, and September. The online master’s program curriculum meets academic licensure requirements for Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) credentials in Minnesota.

Full-time students will take up to four classes each semester across six semesters, with practicum hours starting in the third semester. Part-time students will take two courses per semester over ten semesters, with practicum starting in the sixth semester. Part-time students can finish the program within seven years.

Although most courses are online, online master’s students participate in two on-campus residency experiences in Minnesota. Each on-campus visit lasts four days for a total of eight days.

  • Location: Center City, Minnesota
  • Duration: 60 credits; two years full-time, part-time options can be completed in seven years
  • Accreditation: The Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Degree programs are accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC).
  • Tuition: $799 per credit, plus fees

Professors to Know in Online Master’s Degrees in Addiction Counseling

Dr. William Attridge

Capella University

Dr. William Attridge earned his PhD in counseling from Texas A&M University and two master’s degrees: a master of science in counseling and guidance and a master of science in educational technology and information.

He is licensed as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas and is also certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors. His academic research has been focused on substance abuse and how it affects marriage and families, internet counseling, and managing personal anxiety. He has published on those topics as well as resiliency and coping, ethical considerations for group counseling, and working with military veterans and service members. He has also studied the special needs of children of divorced parents.

Dr. Candice Norris-Brown

Indiana Wesleyan University

Dr. Candace Norris-Brown earned her PhD in counseling and student personnel services and an EdS in school and guidance counseling from the University of Georgia. She also earned a BS in psychology and an MS in clinical psychology from Virginia State University.

Dr. Norris-Brown has over 20 years of professional counseling and industry-related positions, encompassing public schools, institutions of higher education, government agencies, non-profits, industry publications, and resident instruction and private practice. She holds credentials as a Licensed Professional Counselor in Georgia and Virginia; Approved Clinical Supervisor; and National Certified Counselor. She also serves as a gatekeeper to the profession by providing clinical supervision to doctoral students.

Dr. Norris-Brown’s current interests include advocating for students with disabilities and marginalized groups that experience systemic barriers, professional identity development of professional school counselors, and issues related to diversity and social justice in education and counseling.

Dr. Kristin Page

University of the Cumberlands

Dr. Kristin Page earned a PhD in counselor education from the University of Florida and an MS in counseling from NOVA Southeastern University. Her areas of research and publication include adolescents, disaster mental health, theories in supervision, crisis work, substance abuse, and high-risk recidivists.

Dr. Page is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (Florida) and a Nationally Certified Counselor. She has worked in community and private mental health, in addition to serving as the clinical director for a private residential facility. She has also owned a private practice and worked in family law mediation. In practice, her specialties included addictions, severe mental health, adolescents, assessments, crisis/trauma, and anxiety.

In addition to teaching, supervision, and research, Dr. Page is also involved in the American Counseling Association. She is a member of the Association for Counselor Educators and Supervisors (ACES) and the Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW). She is actively involved in the International Association for Addictions and Offenders (IAAOC) and is the Chair of the Legislative Committee. She has previously served on the board for the Florida Counseling Association and is a trained crisis responder.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Addiction Counseling?

Substance abuse counselors can work in a variety of settings. Their basic job description is to provide support for people recovering from eating disorders, drug and alcohol issues, gambling addictions, and other behavioral issues.

The counselor helps their patients understand their addiction and provides support and resources for both immediate crisis intervention and long-term addiction management issues. The counselor will likely work with the patient to develop a lifestyle plan that minimizes the risk of relapse and to recognize the warning signs. They may also meet with family members of the addicted individual to provide guidance and support.

Enter Private Practice

Substance abuse counselors frequently work in their own private practices. In private practice, addiction counselors may meet one-on-one with clients for individual therapy sessions or they may host support group meetings of the 12-step or other modalities in person or online.

Work at Substance Abuse & Addiction Treatment Centers

Detox centers may house patients on an emergency basis or as “halfway houses” to give people in recovery the support they need to reintegrate into society.

Work for Substance Abuse Hotlines

An addiction counselor may staff a substance abuse hotline, which is available at all times for crisis calls and intervention.

Substance abuse counselors may work in a variety of other settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Prisons
  • Probation and parole agencies
  • Juvenile detention facilities
  • Drug testing facilities
Vanessa Salvia

Vanessa Salvia

Writer

Vanessa Salvia is an Oregon-based freelance writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. As fun as rigorous studies in math and science were, Vanessa took an independent path and developed a prolific career covering lifestyle and healthcare topics for magazines and newspapers, important industries such as concrete construction and building waterproofing, and even hard science. You can get in touch at Sage Media and Marketing.