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The Best Online Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling

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Addiction and substance abuse counselors use their expertise to help those in need.

Certified substance abuse counselors typically hold a bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling and work with people living with drug and alcohol abuse challenges. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the the field will grow 22% from 2018-2028.

If this seems like the right job for you, a master's in substance abuse counseling can help you take the next step in your career. For those interested in studying this subject online, there are plenty of online programs in the field. Read on for our list of the best online master's in substance abuse counseling programs in the United States.

Top 10 Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Programs 2020

#1 Governors State University University Park, IL
#2 West Virginia University Morgantown, WV
#3 University of South Dakota Vermillion, SD
#4 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
#5 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
#6 Regent University Virginia Beach, VA
#7 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA
#8 University of the Cumberlands Williamsburg, KY
#9 Wright State University Bath Township, OH
#10 Washburn University Topeka, KS

The Best Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Programs

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4

Liberty University 

Lynchburg, VA

About this school

Founded by Jerry Falwell in 1971, Liberty enrolls 100,000 students in over 700 programs every year. Liberty's online division offers more than 450 programs, including an online master's degree in addiction counseling. The 48-credit program takes two years to complete and trains students to become addiction counselors.

At Liberty, addiction counseling students develop evidence-based counseling tools. The curriculum covers core concepts in substance abuse and addiction counseling, including treatment, the recovery process, and counseling techniques. Enrollees learn to assess patients, resolve the root causes of addiction, and counsel patients through the recovery process. Students also study the biological nature of addiction.

The addiction counseling program offers tracks for either 300 or 600 internship hours, depending on licensure requirements in the student's state. The program's training also includes direct client contact hours, individual supervision hours, and group supervision hours. Graduate students complete their fieldwork requirements at local counseling agencies, hospitals, or related clinical settings.

Each prospective student must hold an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Liberty requires an application, official college transcripts, and three credits in statistics for the substance abuse counseling program.

Graduation Rate
47%
5

Nova Southeastern University 

Fort Lauderdale, FL

About this school

This private institution in Florida offers on-campus and online programs. At NSU, students can earn an online master's in counseling with a substance abuse counseling concentration. The program provides coursework asynchronously to give students added scheduling flexibility. Enrollees also complete supervised practicums to gain professional experience. Online learners must arrange to meet field experience requirements at local sites.

The substance abuse counseling track includes 33 credits of core counseling courses and 15 credits of substance abuse coursework. The core courses train students in counseling theories and practice to emphasize assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

Within the substance abuse track, learners explore counseling in community settings, the process of clinical supervision, and treating co-occurring disorders. Graduate students also complete practicums covering dual diagnosis, techniques for intervention, and treatment methods. NSU also offers a track on substance abuse education, which requires 12 additional credits.

Prospective students must demonstrate their interest in psychology and counseling. The program requires a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 2.5 GPA in the final 60 credits. NSU recommends a major in psychology, education, behavioral science, or social work. Applicants must also submit a personal statement and two letters of recommendation.

Graduation Rate
52%
6

Regent University 

Virginia Beach, VA

About this school

This private, Christian institution was founded in 1978 and enrolls about 11,000 students annually, both on its Virginia Beach campus and through its online programs. Regent offers an online master's in human services with an addiction counseling focus for students interested in substance abuse counseling. As a non-licensure counseling degree, the program trains students in Christian interventions to treat people with addictions.

Graduate students learn to assess, diagnose, and treat dependency issues while learning about the addictive cycle and treatment options. The curriculum builds foundational skills in addiction intervention through courses in advanced counseling techniques, addictive behaviors and substance abuse, and addiction intervention. These courses build the skills required for careers in the substance abuse field.

Regent uses a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning in its addiction counseling program. The degree qualifys students for roles as substance abuse counselors, pastoral counselors, and health services managers.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA from a regionally accredited institution and must submit an application and unofficial college transcripts. Regent recommends that applicants have an undergraduate major in counseling or psychology.

Graduation Rate
61%
7

Virginia Commonwealth University 

Richmond, VA

About this school

Founded in 1838, VCU now enrolls over 30,000 students on its Richmond campus. This public research institution also offers online programs, including a master's degree in addiction studies. The program offers a cross-cultural approach to addiction prevention, treatment, and research. This collaborative program is offered in partnership with King's College London and the University of Adelaide in Australia, and graduates often work in international addiction policies, treatment program management, and addictions counseling.

The program's collaborative nature introduces students to international addictions-related research. The curriculum covers the biological basis of addiction, strategies for prevention and treatment, and addiction policy. Students explore public health approaches to addiction, pharmacotherapies, and research methodologies before completing research projects in addictions.

While studying addiction science, enrollees strengthen their problem-solving and written communication skills. The program also emphasizes research design techniques. VCU enrolls students in the 36-credit program on a full- or part-time basis. Students can earn their degrees in as little as 12 months.

Each applicant for the addiction studies program must hold a bachelor's degree and submit a personal statement, references, and transcripts. After gaining admission to VCU, graduate students will simultaneously enroll at the two partner universities.

Graduation Rate
63%
8

University of the Cumberlands 

Williamsburg, KY

About this school

As a private, Baptist college founded in 1888, Cumberlands now enrolls around 13,000 students annually. Cumberlands offers online degrees, including an online master's in addiction counseling. The program trains students to apply addiction counseling intervention and prevention theories in practice. Graduate students learn the best practices in the field through a blend of classroom and experiential training.

The curriculum at Cumberlands emphasizes individual and group counseling, assessment methods, and treatment planning. Graduate students take specialized courses in psychopharmacology, family therapy in addiction treatment, and spirituality in counseling. Cumberland's program includes 60 credits of coursework and prepares enrollees for the certified substance abuse counselor credential. Transfer students can apply 30 credits toward their degrees.

Graduate students complete their coursework online. Some classes require set meeting times, while others allow enrollees to complete material on their own schedules. Cumberlands offers six terms per year, lasting eight weeks each. The program admits new students on a rolling basis.

Prospective students should hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Cumberlands also requires an application, official transcripts, a writing sample, and two letters of reference to gain admission to the addiction counseling program.

Graduation Rate
41%
9

Wright State University 

Bath Township, OH

About this school

Wright State enrolls over 13,000 students annually, granting degrees from its 730-acre campus and online. The university offers an online master of rehabilitation counseling with a focus in addiction counseling. The program provides in-depth training that covers addictions, clinical treatment, counseling theory, and practice.

This fully online program also incorporates 700 hours of field experience requirements to provide practical training. During the practicum and internship, graduate students work directly with clients under the supervision of licensed counselors. The internship provides clinical experience in diagnosing and treating clients with addiction issues. Wright State works with online learners to identify suitable local placement sites.

The chemical dependency coursework trains students in the theory, treatment, and prevention of addictions. Graduates meet the requirements to become certified substance abuse counselors. The degree also prepares students for careers as prevention specialists.

Applicants need a minimum 2.7 GPA for full admission, and the school waives the GRE or MAT requirement for candidates with minimum 3.3 GPAs. Wright State admission also requires a statement of educational and professional goals, three letters of recommendation, and an interview with program faculty. Admitted students can choose full- or part-time enrollment.

Graduation Rate
36%
10

Washburn University 

Topeka, KS

About this school

This public institution in Topeka, Kansas, grants degrees both from its 160-acre urban campus and through its online programs. At WU, students can earn master's in family and human services degrees with an addictions counseling focus. The program prepares enrollees for licensure as addiction counselors.

The curriculum emphasizes the application of theory and research in practice. While students complete their coursework online, they complete fieldwork requirements in their local areas. The coursework includes training in individual counseling, group counseling, diagnosing substance use disorders, and addiction and recovery services. Students complete 36 credits of coursework and must meet fieldwork requirements to earn their degrees.

The program offers a fast-track option that allows students to earn both a bachelor's and a master's degree in human services in only five years. WU also offers in-state tuition rates for residents of states that neighbor Kansas.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA in their final two years of coursework. Transfer students can apply up to nine credits from an accredited graduate program toward the master's degree.

Graduation Rate
39%
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Ranking Methodology
Best Online Programs

Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

What Is an Online Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling Degree?

Online master's in substance abuse counseling programs are tailored to counseling students interested in helping people who are living with drug and alcohol abuse challenges. To prepare for this area of counseling, learners develop skills in cultural sensitivity, critical thinking, and substance abuse counseling ethics. Aspiring counselors learn to design and conduct treatment plans to help patients overcome drug and alcohol abuse challenges.

Many substance abuse roles only require a bachelor's degree, but students who earn a master's can specialize and seek more advanced roles. This degree also attracts established counselors looking to bolster their credentials or switch specialties.

Choosing an Online Program

When shopping for a program that suits your unique goals and needs, consider enrollment options, curriculum requirements, and how each program aligns with relevant certifications. You can find tips about choosing an online master's in substance abuse counseling at the link below.

How To Choose Your Major

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling Program?

A master's in substance abuse counseling prepares you for licensed counselor work and an addiction counselor's specialized responsibilities. Coursework for this degree typically covers addiction in diverse populations, addictive family counseling, and legal and ethical issues. Some degree tracks may award you a certificate in substance abuse counseling upon graduation.

Substance Abuse Counseling Curriculum

  • Legal and Ethical Issues in Addiction Treatment: This course covers the laws and regulations that govern substance abuse counseling, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, especially as they relate to confidentiality, informed consent, and mandated protection. The course also covers ethics issues, such as responsibility to the client, value conflicts, and counselor-client relationships.
  • Substance Abuse and Addiction in Diverse Populations: This course explores how multicultural and socioeconomic issues influence treatment approaches for drug use and abuse among diverse populations. Students leave the course with cultural sensitivity skills they can use to create effective, individualized treatment plans in multicultural settings.
  • Addictive Family Systems: In this course, learners investigate traditional and contemporary theories of family counseling as they relate to the treatment of addictive families. Students receive a better understanding of the dynamic roles that family members play in the cycle of addiction and examine appropriate practices for intervention and treatment.

Certificates and Licenses

Becoming an independent counselor in most specializations begins with pursuing licensure. Once licensed, you can start the process of earning optional certifications in specialties like addictions or substance abuse counseling.

Private practice substance abuse counselors must be licensed, and the number of required clinical hours for licensure vary by state, ranging from 1,000-6,000 hours. Most states also require substance abuse counselors to pass a state exam for licensure — either the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination, administered by the National Board of Certified Counselors. 

Outside of private practice, licensure requirements are even more variable. You should look up requirements in your state if you want to pursue this career.

After licensure, you can then earn optional certifications, such as a master addictions counselor (MAC) certification, or additional certifications from the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals, like nicotine dependence specialist.

State reciprocity generally guarantees that an established professional moving from another state can gain licensure by endorsement, though actual agreements vary by state, and less-established applicants may need to fill in gaps in clinical hours or education requirements.

Substance Abuse Counseling Careers

Earning a master's in substance abuse counseling opens the door to careers helping people overcome addiction challenges and achieve independence. Some graduates transition directly into substance abuse counseling work, while others branch off into other mental health roles, like rehabilitation counseling or social work.

The following list touches on some career choices applicable to substance abuse counseling graduates, though there are many other career options also available.

Substance Abuse Counselors

Substance abuse counselors provide treatment for people facing alcohol and drug use challenges. These counselors must have at least bachelor's degrees and must obtain licensure to work in private practice as professional counselors. Many also earn specialized credentials relating to substance abuse counseling, such as MAC certification.

This career path usually appeals to people with strong listening skills, empathy, and willingness to work with underserved populations. Some substance abuse counselors gravitate toward the field because they have personally known people with addiction challenges or faced them personally.

Median Annual Salary

$46,240

Projected Growth Rate

22%

Social Workers

Social workers help people with everyday social issues, including facing the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. Some social work roles only require a bachelor's degree, but you usually need at least a master's degree to work in a clinical setting. Not all states explicitly require social workers to hold licensure, but many employers expect it.

Social workers need strong interpersonal skills and an interest in working with low-income populations. A master's in substance abuse counseling might lead you toward working as a clinical social worker who provides individual and group therapy to people with addiction challenges.

Median Annual Salary

$50,470

Projected Growth Rate

11%

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors help people with mental, developmental, and physical challenges to achieve independence. Like most counselors, a rehabilitation counselor needs a master's degree and must obtain professional counseling licensure to work independently. Certifications can also help counselors specialize in rehabilitation work.

Rehabilitation counselors work with people who have experienced personal setbacks, injuries, disabilities, or medical issues, which can sometimes be related to drug and alcohol abuse. This environment requires workers with patience, empathy, and strong interpersonal skills.

Median Annual Salary

$35,950

Projected Growth Rate

10%

Substance Abuse Counseling Professional Organizations

Students and counselors at all experience levels can benefit from membership in a substance abuse counseling professional organization. These organizations offer access to professional certifications, networking opportunities, and job placement services. Professional organizations can provide a sense of community and job opportunities.

National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers

NAATP supports nonprofit and for-profit addiction treatment providers with clinical and operational resources, plus legal and policy-related advocacy. Members can also access search engine visibility in the organization's member directory, the Member-to-Member forum, and regional roundtables around the country.

NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals

At 10,000 members strong, NAADAC is one of the country's largest organizations that advocates for addiction professionals. The organization's resources include professional certifications — like national certified adolescent addictions counselor — and webinars that can fulfill continuing education requirements for substance abuse counselors and other addiction professionals.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

SAMHSA is an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It improves mental and behavioral health services for those facing mental health and substance abuse challenges. The organization also offers grants for substance abuse counseling students, with many tied to specific initiatives, such as suicide prevention awareness.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling Program?

It typically takes two years to complete a master's in substance abuse counseling, depending on part- or full-time enrollment. Some colleges also offer accelerated degree tracks.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling?

A master's in substance abuse counseling prepares you for general and specialized counseling work and other careers dedicated to helping people who are facing addiction challenges.

How Much Do You Make as a Substance Abuse Counselor?

According to PayScale, the bottom 10th percentile of substance abuse counselors earn an annual salary of $30,000, while those in the 90th percentile take home about $52,000 annually. The median salary is $39,540.

What Is Substance Abuse Counseling?

Substance abuse counseling is a specialized area of counseling devoted to treating, advising, and rehabilitating people living with drug and alcohol abuse challenges. Note that substance abuse counseling is not the same as rehabilitation counseling, which focuses on helping people with injuries or disabilities.

What Is a Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling?

A master's in substance abuse counseling differs from a master's in counseling through its specialized curriculum, which prepares students for certification as addiction and substance abuse specialists.

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