Online Master’s Degrees in Addiction Counseling

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 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, 46.3 million Americans aged 12 and older battled a substance use disorder in 2021. The vast majority of those disorders were related to alcohol use. Several adults struggle with both alcohol and drug use disorders. Drug abuse and addiction take a heavy toll on society 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 2023), jobs for addiction counselors (substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors) are projected to grow 18 percent between 2022 and 2032, which is much faster than the average growth rate for all occupations (3 percent). Driving the demand for addiction counselors, in part, is a continued opioid epidemic across the United States. In addition, many states acknowledge the role of addiction in crime. They 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.

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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 allow students to complete coursework during evenings and weekends on a more personalized schedule, giving 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 must 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 throughout doing their practicums and internships during 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 throughout 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, which accredits master’s and doctoral degree programs in counseling and its specialties in the United States and worldwide.

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 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 hours of direct service with actual clients, contributing to developing counseling skills. Internships must be at least 600 supervised clock hours 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 worldwide. 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 requiring students to take at least 60 semester-credit-hours (or 90 quarter-credit-hours) of coursework. CACREP requires students to be taught by core program faculty to ensure high-quality education. Throughout the year, the number of course hours taught by core faculty must be higher than those 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.

University of the Cumberlands

The University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky offers a flexible online master of arts degree in addiction studies. The program puts students on track to broaden their expertise as mental health counselors or those who want to become licensed alcohol and drug counselors (LADC).

Aligning with ICRC standards and preparing students to become Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors (LADC) in the state of Kentucky, this 30-credit program provides students with the skills and knowledge needed for work in settings that treat substance use disorders. The curriculum includes courses such as legal & ethical issues in counseling; clinical management of addictions; family therapy in addiction treatment; psychopharmacology & addictions; motivation, change, and treatment in addictions; theory and practice of multicultural counseling; and co-occurring disorders.

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in counseling, human services, psychology, or a closely related field with a minimum 3.0 grade point average.

Notably, the University of the Cumberlands also offers a CACREP-accredited online master of arts in clinical mental health counseling (CMHC) program comprising 60 credits providing professionals with the expertise required to become addiction counselors and mental health counselors in community settings.

  • Location: Williamsburg, Kentucky
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); MA in CMHC (CACREP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: MA in addiction studies (30 credits); MA in CMHC (60 credits), two to three years
  • Estimated Tuition: $449 per credit, plus fees

Indiana Wesleyan University

The goal of Indiana Wesleyan University’s online 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 and addictive behaviors such as eating, sexual, and gambling disorders. Graduates can pursue state licensure and/or national certification.

This 48-credit program includes courses such as counseling addicted families; theories and treatment of addiction; psychopathology; issues in addiction recovery; legal, ethical, and professional issues; appraisal of individuals and families; theory and techniques in group counseling; and multicultural counseling.

  • Location: Marion, Indiana
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 credits, two to three years
  • Estimated Tuition: $602 per credit, plus fees

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 faith-based, non-licensure track program will prepare students to intervene in problematic food, drug, sexual, and other addictions. Delivered entirely online, the program’s courses are taught with small-group projects, real-time interaction with professors, podcast lectures, and asynchronous chat room discussions.

The 30-credit curriculum includes courses such as foundations of human services; advanced counseling skills & techniques; addictive behaviors & substance abuse; addiction intervention; process addictions; behavioral science foundations; and multicultural awareness & individual diversity.

The school also offers a master of science in psychology with a concentration in addiction. This 39-credit program includes courses such as psychopathology; addictive behaviors & substance abuse; addiction intervention; process addictions; research methods in psychology; lifespan psychology; and integrative psychology, among others.

  • Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: MA in human services – addictions counseling (30 credits); MS in psychology – addictions (39 credits), two to three years
  • Estimated Tuition: MA in human services – addictions counseling ($615 per credit, plus fees); MS in psychology – addictions ($695 per credit, plus fees)

Capella University

Capella University offers an online and in-person master of science program in school counseling with a concentration option in addiction treatment and recovery. Students in this specialization will be able to expand their counseling skills and knowledge in addiction, compulsive behaviors, and substance abuse. The program requires students to complete thirteen core courses, four specialization courses, two in-person residencies, one practicum, and two internships.

The curriculum includes courses such as life planning and career development; theories of addiction treatment; interventions for substance-related and addictive disorders; psychopharmacology and medication management; and group therapy and treatment of substance-related and addictive behaviors.

Notably, Capella University also offers an online master of science program in clinical mental health counseling in addiction treatment and recovery.

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); CACREP; CAEP

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 program in clinical mental health counseling. Within the general clinical mental health counseling program, students can choose from six specialties, one of which includes the addiction counseling concentration.

This concentration prepares students to address the emotional challenges families and individuals face as they find their way to healing and hope. In addition to the several types of addictive behaviors, students will study intervention models and contemporary treatments used for promoting recovery. Graduates can gain the insights and skills needed for providing addiction counseling services to several clients in businesses, schools, community agencies, and other settings.

Made up of 100 to 106 quarter-credits, the program includes courses such as theories, treatment, and case management of addiction; assessment in counseling and addiction; crisis, trauma, and disaster response; counseling addictive disorders; ethics and legal issues in counseling; and group process and dynamics.

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); CACREP
  • Expected Time to Completion: 100 to 106 credits, three years
  • Estimated Tuition: $505 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 the requirements for licensure as a Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Provider (LSATP) in Virginia with the completion of 12 additional credits. It can also allow students to obtain certification as a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC).

Comprising 48 credits, the program includes courses such as ethical & legal issues in counseling; multicultural counseling; techniques in addiction counseling; client, family, & community education in addiction counseling; case management & relapse prevention in addiction counseling; diagnosis & treatment planning of addictive disorders; pharmacology of addiction & recovery; and diagnosis & treatment of behavioral addictions.

  • Location: Lynchburg, Virginia
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 credits, two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $565 per credit

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 school’s 60-credit accredited graduate degree program in addiction studies offers students full- and part-time options, allowing them 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.

The curriculum includes courses such as foundations of addiction, alcohol, and drug counseling; etiology, screening, and assessment of co-occurring disorders; medical issues, psychopharmacology, and medication management; advanced assessment and diagnosis for co-occurring disorders; group counseling; evidence-based counseling and theory; behavioral addictions; and medications for addiction treatment (MAT) and counseling.

  • Location: Center City, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 60 credits; full-time (six semesters); part-time (ten semesters)
  • Estimated Tuition: $829 per credit, plus fees

Waynesburg University

Waynesburg University’s addictions concentration in their online master of arts program in counseling was the first CACREP-accredited addictions counseling program in Pennsylvania. This concentration provides students with all the necessary academic requirements needed for licensure as Professional Counselors (LPC). Graduates will also be prepared to meet the academic requirements for the Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CAADC) certification.

The program’s 60-credit curriculum includes courses such as foundations of counseling; introduction to mental disorders; psychopathology and diagnosis; theories of addiction and recovery; pharmacology of psychoactive substances; addiction counseling techniques; addiction, stress, and trauma; and family counseling in addiction.

Notably, Waynesburg University also offers a 12-credit certificate in addiction counseling. All credits earned in this certificate can be transferred to the master of arts in counseling program upon completion.

  • Location: Waynesburg, Pennsylvania
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); CACREP
  • Expected Time to Completion: 60 credits, 20 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $715 per credit

Central Michigan University

Central Michigan University offers an online CACREP-accredited master of arts counseling program with a concentration in addiction counseling. Students in this program will be able to understand the factors that lead to addiction and how it can be prevented and taken care of. Graduates will be ready for work at higher education institutions, community-based social service agencies, public and private schools, criminal justice institutions, and private practice. Students will be prepared for licensure as Professional Counselors (LPC) in Michigan.

The 60-credit curriculum includes courses such as neuropsychopharmacology; etiology of addiction; addiction-oriented systems and methods of care; family counseling and therapy; diagnosis and treatment planning in counseling; crisis and trauma counseling; psychopathology in counseling; and introduction to counseling for addictions.

  • Location: Mount Pleasant, Michigan
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); CACREP
  • Expected Time to Completion: 60 credits, three years
  • Estimated Tuition: $758 per credit

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

Dr. Kelley McNichols

Waynesburg University

Dr. Kelley McNichols earned her PhD in executive counselor education and supervision and MSEd in counseling from Duquesne University and a BA in criminology and pre-law from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She serves as an assistant program director for the master of arts in counseling program and the doctor of philosophy in counseling education program at Waynesburg University. She is also an assistant professor of counseling as well as a grant advisor.

Much of Dr. McNichols’ work has focused on addictions and justice-involved individuals advocating for fair and just treatment of marginalized populations. She is passionate about addiction counseling, emphasizing trauma-informed care, and is committed to advancing counselor education and supervision. Her research focuses on advocacy for justice-involved individuals focusing on addiction, co-occurring conditions, and trauma-informed care initiatives.

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, higher education institutions, 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, as well as 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 of 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 support 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 immediate crisis intervention and long-term addiction management issues. The counselor will likely work with the patient to develop a lifestyle plan to minimize relapse risk and 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 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 always available 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.