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.
|#1||The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL|
|#2||University of North Texas Denton, TX|
|#3||East Carolina University Greenville, NC|
|#4||Utah State University Logan, UT|
|#5||Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA|
|#6||George Washington University Washington, DC|
|#7||University of Wisconsin-Stout Menomonie, WI|
|#8||West Virginia University Morgantown, WV|
|#9||Winston-Salem State University Winston-Salem, NC|
|#10||University of South Dakota Vermillion, SD|
Featured Online Schools
The Best Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Programs
With a student body of almost 38,000 and a Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education research level status of Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity, UA ranks as one of the top public institutions in the country.
The online master of arts in rehabilitation counseling program, offered through the College of Continuing Studies, requires 60 credits for completion. Admission requirements include official transcripts proving minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, minimum 300 GRE or 50th percentile MAT scores (waived 2021 applicants), and virtual interview.
UNT currently serves over 40,600 students across 109 bachelor programs, 94 master programs, and 36 doctoral programs.
The College of Health and Public Service offers a completely online master of science in rehabilitation counseling degree requiring 60 credits for completion at a total cost of $27,800 for in state students. U.S. News ranked the program number 12 in the country for best graduate rehabilitation counseling programs and number one in Texas.
Prospective students will submit official transcripts for proof of undergraduate degree with minimum 3.0 GPA and standardized test scores.
ECU currently offers 125 online programs to a student body of almost 28,000. Over 10,500 current students attend the institution fully online.
The Department of Addictions and Rehabilitation Studies offers a completely online master of science in rehabilitation and career counseling degree which requires 62 credits for completion. The CACREP accredited program requires students to take and pass the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) exam.
Admission requirements include bachelor degree, official transcripts, minimum 30th percentile MATor GRE scores, and statement of intent.
Founded in 1888, USU currently hosts nearly 28,000 students across 114 undergraduate programs and 132 graduate programs.
The Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services offers an online master of rehabilitation counseling degree requiring two one-week, on-campus seminars. Students can attend two consecutive weeks or attend one week over the course of two summer semesters.
Students will complete a background check and submit official transcripts with minimum 3.0 GPA, one page letter, ethics exam results, and Praxis Test results as part of the admission process.
The Rams of VCU currently host almost 30,000 students across more than 200 offered programs of study.
A collaboration of VCU, King's College London and the University of Adelaide in Australia combine to offer a completely online master of science in addiction studies program requiring 36 credits to complete. Students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA with no courses below a "C" for graduation requirements.
Admission requirements include official transcripts, statement of intent, three reference letters, official test scores, and resume.
Chartered by an act of Congress in 1821, GW has grown to support more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
The Graduate School of Education and Human Development offers a completely online master of arts in rehabilitation counseling degree requiring 48 credits for completion. Coursework highlights include social and cultural dimensions of counseling, medical and psychosocial aspects of disabilities, and vocational assessment of individuals with disabilities.
Students applying to the online program can apply for spring, summer, and fall terms by submitting a resume, statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, GRE or GMAT scores, and transcripts.
UW-Stout offers 45 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs of study to over 9,500 students.
The online master of science in rehabilitation counseling program ranks fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Students can typically achieve coursework completion for the 60 credit program in two to three years at a cost of $600 per graduate credit.
Applying students must have two years of related work experience and submit official transcripts through the UW system application.
The Mountaineers of WVU currently support over 29,000 students across 14 colleges and schools. In total, students can choose from 359 programs of study.
WVU's College of Education and Human Services offers an online master of science in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling degree requiring 62 credits for completion at a cost of $630 per credit. The low residency program requires two site visits to campus.
Prospective students will complete an online application and submit official transcripts with proof of minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose.
Founded in 1892, WSSU currently supports over 5,100 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14-to-one.
The fully online master of science in rehabilitation counseling program requires 63 credits for completion with a completion window of two and a half to three years. Students can choose from five concentrations: clinical mental health, rehabilitation counseling, deaf and hard of hearing, vocational evaluation, and transition.
Admission requirements include official transcripts with minimum 2.7 GPA, GRE scores, interview, and three professional references.
The Coyotes of USD currently host nearly 10,000 students with a 16-to-one student-to-faculty ratio.
Students can enroll in the fully online master of arts in addiction counseling and prevention program through two avenues, a standard track consisting of 45 credits and an advanced track consisting of 33 credits. Curriculum highlights include addiction studies research, advanced legal and ethical issues, and case management and assessment of co-occuring disorders.
To apply, students will submit official transcripts with proof of minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited institution, statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, resume, and background check.
Online learning encompasses over 450 of the more than 700 programs of study available at the private, nonprofit institution across its 15 schools and colleges.
The 48 credit, fully online master of arts in addiction counseling program typically takes two years for completion. Students can transfer up to 24 credits into the program. Featured courses include acute stress, grief, and trauma, biological aspects of addiction and recovery, and treatment and the recovery process.
Admission requirements include an online application and fee, official collegiate transcripts, three credits in statistics, and proof of English proficiency.
Founded in 1865, the Wildcats of UK currently encompass 16 schools and colleges with over 200 available academic programs.
The College of Education offers a completely online master of arts in counseling program requiring 60 credits for completion. Two specialty areas exist, clinical mental health counseling and rehabilitation counseling, both of which require a practicum and internship at the completion of studies.
The program admits students to the fall semester only. To apply, students will submit official transcripts with proof of minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA, three references, and a written statement and must complete a personal interview with faculty.
The small, private, nonprofit institution situated in Thomasville, Georgia currently hosts about 950 undergraduate students and 600 graduate students.
The 60 credit clinical mental health andl rehabilitation counseling master's degree program carries no in-person requirements. All core curriculum classes maintain a 10-to-one student-to-faculty ratio, while fieldwork supervision see a maximum six-to-one ratio. Students can sit for the CRC exam after completion of 75 percent of program coursework.
Prospective students will submit an online application and fee, resume, statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and official transcripts as part of the application process.
Founded in 1969, GSU has grown to support roughly 6,000 students annually across 85 total programs of study.
The fully online master of health science in addiction studies program requires 32 credits for completion. Program coursework concludes with an internship. Qualified students may also take the criminal justice internship option to meet the requirements for the Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professional.
Application requirements include an online application, official transcripts, and personal statement. Students can submit applications for fall, spring, and summer terms by July 30, November 30, and April 15, respectively.
Wright State currently serves more than 12,000 students annually across 276 degree programs of study.
The completely online master of rehabilitation counseling - addiction counseling program requires 60 credits for completion and concludes with a practicum and internship. Curriculum highlights include counseling theory and practice, career counseling and development, and multicultural counseling.
Admission requirements include statement of purpose, minimum 3.3 cumulative GPA or satisfactory scores on either the MAT, GRE, or other required examination, letters of recommendation, and a personal interview.
Established in 1941 as the Baptist Bible Institute of Grand Rapids, the Christ-centered institution has grown to support 10 undergraduate divisions eight graduate programs.
The Grand Rapids Theological Seminary offers an online master of arts in clinical mental health counseling degree available in both synchronous and asynchronous formats. The 72 credit program consists of 18 credits of theology, 45 credits of clinical mental health, and nine credits of counseling concentration.
Admission requirements include online application, two references, and official transcripts showing bachelor degree completion with minimum 2.5 undergraduate GPA.
Founded in 1879, Union has grown to support over 1,100 students across 39 offered majors.
The completely online master of science in substance abuse counseling requires 60 credits for completion. Students will enjoy coursework designed to meet the criteria for licensure as a substance abuse counselor in the state of Kentucky. The institution urges students to check individual state requirements for other states.
Students will submit an online application directly to the program and official transcripts showing proof of minimum 2.5 undergraduate GPA as part of the application process.
UC currently serves more than 18,000 students both on campus and online, making it one of the largest and most affordable private institutions in Kentucky.
The online CACREP-accredited master's in addiction counseling program includes a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour clinical internships. Curriculum highlights include psychopharmacology and addictions, family therapy in addiction treatment, and spirituality and values in counseling.
Prospective students must complete an online application with associated fee and submit official transcripts showing completion of bachelor degree with minimum 3.0 GPA, writing sample, and two letters of recommendation as part of the application process.
Founded in 1865, OU has grown to support more than 4,000 students across campuses in Ottawa, Kansas, Surprise and Phoenix, Arizona, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kansas City, Missouri and online.
The master of science in addiction counseling program, offered online and at Phoenix, Kansas City, and Milwaukee campuses, meets the requirements for licensure in Arizona for the Licensed Associate Substance Abuse Counselor. Foundation course highlights include multicultural concerns in addiction counseling, co-occuring disorders, and law and ethics in addiction counseling.
Admission requirements include official transcripts, essay/personal statement, resume, awards and recognition, and three letters of recommendation.
The nonprofit addiction specialist foundation was founded in 1949 with a mission to provide intensive educational programs for medical students and professionals.
The online master's in addiction counseling program requires 60 credits for completion. Curriculum focuses on the integrated treatment of substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders. Students will attend two on-campus residency experiences in Center City, Minnesota.
Prospective students will submit official transcripts showing undergraduate degree completion, essay, three letters of recommendation, and complete a phone interview.
Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:
The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.
To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):
1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]
- Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
- Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
- Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
- Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
- Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
- Considers range of electives within that discipline
- Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline
2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]
- Considers education background of the faculty
- Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
- Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
- Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
- Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources
3. Reputation [weight = 20%]
- Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
- “Freshness” of academic knowledge
- Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
- Suitability of graduates for the workplace
4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]
- Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
- Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants
5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]
- Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
- Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business
6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]
Considers the following of the online classes:
- Types of online technology used to deliver content
- Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
- Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
- Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
Considers the following of instructors:
- Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
- Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
- Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
- Ratio to number of students in a class
- Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees
Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.
To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:
- Public or private status
- Acceptance rate
- Retention rate
- Graduation rate
- ACT/SAT requirements
- Cost in-state / out of state
- Undergrad, grad, or both offered
Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!
If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.
Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!
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.
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.
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.
|Median Annual Salary: $46,240||Projected Job Growth: 22%|
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: $50,470||Projected Job Growth: 11%|
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: $35,950||Projected Job Growth: 10%|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Learn more, do more.
Popular with our students.
Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.
Take the next step toward your future with online learning.
Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.