The Best Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Programs

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As the number of people suffering from substance abuse and addiction grows, so does the demand for licensed substance abuse counselors. A master’s degree in addiction counseling online or a master’s in substance abuse counseling online typically meet the education requirement for licensure, a necessary step to pursuing a career in substance and addiction counseling. A master’s degree also provides increased career opportunities and higher pay.

Whether already working in the mental health field or just exploring a career change, individuals interested in a career in professional substance abuse counseling may consider a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, substance abuse counseling, or addiction counseling. Some individuals acquire a general master’s degree in psychology, community counseling, or social work – supplementing the degree with a certificate in substance abuse counseling.

Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Program Ranking Guidelines

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We selected these online degree programs based on the quality of the program, the types of courses offered, the faculty, rankings, awards, and reputation, including the school’s reputation for effectively providing quality online degree programs.

The Best Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Programs

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University of South Dakota 

Vermillion, SD

About this school

Established in 1862, 27 years before South Dakota gained statehood, the University of South Dakota currently enrolls over 10,000 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs at its main campus in Vermillion, several off-campus sites throughout the state, and online. U.S. News & World Report ranks USD among the best national universities over the past several years.

The master of artsin addiction studies, one of USD’s 40 online programs, provides flexibility for professionals already employed in the field of addiction counseling who desire to move ahead in their careers. Administered through the School of Health Sciences, the master’s degree in addiction studies online program admits students with at least one year of professional experience or supervised volunteer experience.

Graduates of the program acquire the credentials and skills to meet the needs of clients seeking counseling in a variety of settings, from healthcare centers and mental health facilities to criminal justice agencies and employee wellness programs.

The program offers two tracks. The 33-credit advanced track serves either professionals already licensed or certified as an addiction counselor or those who have completed an addiction studies bachelor’s degree. The 45-credit standard track designed for students entering the field offers foundational courses in substance use and addiction treatment, the psychopharmacology of addiction, and advanced legal and ethical issues affecting the profession. USD charges the same tuition rates to all students, regardless of location.

Graduation Rate

Liberty University Online 

Lynchburg, VA

About this school

Liberty University offers over 550 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs at its Lynchburg, Virginia campus and online to over 100,000 students. This evangelical Christian institution, founded in 1971, has become the largest nonprofit university in the United States.

Liberty’s online master of arts in addiction counseling requires 48 credits. Students take classes in self-paced, eight-week formats through the Blackboard learning platform. The curriculum integrates Christian therapeutic principles with training in the theories and practices of substance abuse counseling, diagnosis and treatment planning, and assessment techniques.

Students who earn this online addiction counseling master’s degree qualify for licensure as substance abuse or addiction counselors, fulfilling the requirements for most accrediting boards. Completion of 12 additional credits beyond those required for the master’s meets the requirements for the Virginia licensed substance abuse treatment provider credential.

Distance learners may also participate in optional intensives such as week-long or weekend on-campus classes. These intensives, strongly recommended for students without previous educational or professional experience in addiction counseling, provide the opportunity to interact face to face with professors and other students, enhancing overall educational engagement.

Liberty maintains committed to affordability, keeping tuition rates stable and charging the same flat rate to all online students, regardless of location. Military personnel receive a substantial graduate tuition discount.

Graduation Rate

Nova Southeastern University 

Fort Lauderdale, FL

About this school

Established in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1964, Nova Southeastern University awards undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees across 16 different colleges. NSU’s College of Psychology offers a master of science in counseling featuring several tracks that allow students to focus on a specific field. Two of these concentrations prepare students to enter or advance in substance abuse counseling or related careers: the 48-credit substance abuse counseling specialization and the 60-credit substance abuse counseling and education concentration.

The fully online curriculum accommodates the educational needs of administrators and practitioners already working in substance abuse counseling, allowing students to acquire career-enhancing advanced training and qualifications without interrupting their work obligations. Both concentrations share a common 33-credit core addressing counseling theories and practice; research, and evaluation; diagnosis and treatment; psychological testing; and ethical, legal, and professional issues.

Graduates of the MS program acquire the competencies to provide modern, effective counseling to clients dealing with alcoholism and drug dependency issues. Depending on the specialization, students learn the techniques for intervention and treatment to become familiar with generally accepted approaches to prevention programming and education. Graduates qualify for Florida’s certified master’s-level addiction professional.

Entrance requirements to this MS program include a bachelor’s degree in psychology, behavioral science, or a related field, and either an overall 3.0 GPA in undergraduate courses or a total score of 300 on the combined verbal and quantitative sections of the GRE.

Graduation Rate

University of North Texas 

Denton, TX

About this school

Established in 1890, the University of North Texas enrolls more than 37,000 students in 105 bachelor’s, 88 master’s, and 37 doctoral programs. As a major provider of online credit courses among Texas public institutions, UNT provides more than 20 online graduate programs. Among these graduate degrees, the university’s fully online master of science in rehabilitation ranks 12th in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.

Administered through the College of Health and Public Service, the MS in rehabilitation counseling offers a unique focus on human rights with a commitment to best practices in treatment and healing. The 48-credit degree builds upon a 36-credit core that provides students with a strong foundation in rehabilitation counseling theories, applications, and group work. Online students in the MS program can sharpen their training and experience in substance abuse and addiction counseling through electives and by choosing relevant settings for their required nine-credit practicums and internships.

The curriculum incorporates the course requirements for national certification as a rehabilitation counselor and licensure as a professional counselor in Texas. Although new students may enter the program in either the fall or spring semesters, the department recommends a fall starting date to complete required courses in sequence.

Graduation Rate

Regent University 

Virginia Beach, VA

About this school

Regent University, a private Christian institution located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, offers over 130 areas of study, online and on-campus at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Regent’s fully online master of arts in human services with a concentration in addictions counseling delivers an innovative 30-credit curriculum that features podcast lectures and real-time interaction with professors, asynchronous chatroom discussions, and small group projects. Distance learners progress through coursework in eight-week sessions, typically finishing the degree within two years.

The curriculum focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of addictive disorders, including process addictions such as food, sex, and gambling. In addition to web-based courses, this online addiction counseling master’s degree requires students to complete 150 hours in supervised field experiences. Regent’s MA distinguishes itself as one of the few counseling programs based on Christian principles and values. The curriculum incorporates spiritual aspects into its treatment and prevention programs.

Graduates of the program find employment at inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, hospitals, publicly and privately funded community and family agencies, and church-supported outreach programs. Each applicant to the MA program must hold a bachelor’s in counseling, psychology, or a related human services field and a minimum 3.0 GPA in all undergraduate coursework. The program does not require students to submit GRE scores. This affordable degree, compared to similar programs, charges all online enrollees the same flat tuition rate, regardless of location.

Graduation Rate

Virginia Commonwealth University 

Richmond, VA

About this school

Virginia Commonwealth University, a Tier I public research university, enrolls over 31,000 students in 11 schools and three colleges. VCU has partnered with King’s College London and the University of Adelaide in Australia to offer a unique International Program in Addiction Studies (IPAS) that prepares students for local, national, and international policy roles; program management positions in prevention and treatment; and other leadership responsibilities in the addictions field.

Designed for students who seek in-depth content exposure, research experience in preparation for a doctoral degree, or whose career paths require the completion of master-level requirements for licensure, the IPAS master of science in addiction studies does not include any practical components or training in counseling or medical skills.

This 36-credit MS degree, delivered through distance learning technologies, compares international perspectives on addictions-related knowledge and exposes students to cross-cultural approaches to prevention, treatment, research and evidence-based policy. Coursework emphasizes public health and policy, critical issues in treatment, biological bases of addiction, psychosocial interventions, and pharmacotherapies.

Full-time students may complete the master’s in addictions studies online in 12 months, including a required research project. The program also offers a 24-month plan of study for part-time students. Entrance requirements for a U.S. student consist of a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field; strong academic references; computer literacy; and access to reliable internet. Graduates of the MS in addiction studies receive a diploma conferred by all three IPAS partner universities.

Graduation Rate

Thomas University 

Thomasville, GA

About this school

Thomas University, a private university founded in 1950, offers associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees at its main campus in Thomasville, Georgia, at satellite campuses across the state, and online. The Division of Counseling and Psychology administers a combined master of science in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling. This dually focused MS curriculum meets requirements in clinical mental health counseling in all 50 states and prepares students for national certification as a rehabilitation counselor.

This fully online 60-credit degree emphasizes theory, techniques, and diagnostic procedures; community services; crisis counseling; and cultural awareness. The MS does not require any on-campus residencies. Distance learners can arrange their required field placements, practicums, and internships near their places of residence.

The addictions and alcohol specialization requires an additional 12 credits in coursework in ethics, co-occurring disorders and trauma, the psychopharmacology of addictive drugs, and 450 clinical hours in a counseling internship. Students interested in this specialization choose electives and practicum/internship experiences that directly apply to this field.

Thomas offers fast-track admission that allows new students to enter the program in the fall, spring, or summer. Out-of-state students pay the same per-credit tuition rate as Georgia residents. Qualified students may apply for graduate assistantships to help offset the cost of their degree and gain experience within the field of study.

Graduation Rate

Assumption College 

Worcester, MA

About this school

Assumption College, based in the New England city of Worcester, Massachusetts, serves a student body of approximately 2,500. This Catholic liberal arts institution offers associate, undergraduate, and graduate programs, including the online master of arts in rehabilitation counseling. Ranked among the 50 best graduate schools for rehabilitation counseling by U.S. News & World Report, the MA integrates a strong academic foundation with experiential learning opportunities that provide students with real-world, practical training.

Drawing from the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, natural sciences, education, and the humanities, the multidisciplinary curriculum includes core coursework in substance abuse and addictive disorders in rehabilitation, introduction to assessment and appraisal of individuals with disabilities, introduction to counseling theory and practice, rehabilitation research and program evaluation, and case management and rehabilitation plan development.

Students satisfy the required clinical placements through a 100-hour practicum completed over one semester and 600-hour internship over two semesters. Distance learners may focus their studies on substance abuse and addiction counseling through relevant electives and field placements.

Graduates of the MA fulfill the eligibility requirements to sit for the certified rehabilitation counselor exam. The Department of Human Services and Rehabilitation Counseling sponsors a six-in-five program that enables qualified undergraduates to enroll in graduate-level courses during their senior year, completing the requirements for the master’s degree in five years, rather than six.

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University of the Cumberlands 

Williamsburg, KY

About this school

The University of the Cumberlands, a private Christian institution, serves over 11,000 students in undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs at its campuses in Williamsburg and Florence, Kentucky, plus online. The school’s Clinical Counseling Department offers an online master of arts in addiction counseling with a specialization in addiction counseling.

Designed for recent baccalaureate graduates who wish to enter the field, as well as mental health counselors seeking to advance their credentials, this online addiction counseling master’s degree provides the training for dual licensure as licensed professional counselors and licensed/certified addiction counselors.

The 60-credit program equips its graduates with the skills to work with diverse client populations, applying counseling practices, and selecting appropriate assessments to evaluate, diagnose, and develop treatment plans. The curriculum requires 48 credits in core requirements such as psychological assessment in clinical practice, human growth and development, and counseling during grief and crisis.

All students complete practicums and internship experiences as part of their degree requirements. The 12-credit addiction counseling track consists of four specialized courses in psychopharmacology and addictions, motivation and change, family therapy in addiction treatment, and spirituality and values in counseling. Distance learners typically complete four online courses each 16-week semester, taking two courses in each eight-week bi-term. Cumberland offers rolling admission, allowing students to begin their master’s at the start of any bi-term.

Graduation Rate

University of Massachusetts – Boston 

Boston, MA

About this school

UMass Boston, a public research university within the University of Massachusetts system, serves a student body of over 16,000. Its School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s best graduate schools in rehabilitation counseling, offers an online master of science in rehabilitation counseling committed to training leaders who promote economic and social participation for diverse populations with disabilities.

The 60-credit MS degree offers two tracks. The clinical rehabilitation track trains counselors to assist people with mental health and other disabilities, while the vocational rehabilitation specialization prepares students for employment in community, state, and federal vocational rehabilitation systems. Both tracks meet the eligibility requirements for national certification as a certified rehabilitation counselor.

Distance learners may complete the program in two years of full-time study or within four years if attending part time. The program uses a cohort model that requires students to take synchronously delivered courses at scheduled weekly times, usually during the evening. Distance learners must attend a two-week on-campus residency for clinical training in the summer during their first year of study.

The MS also requires online learners to participate in practicums and internship experiences. Students may complete these field placements in local agencies near their geographic locations with online supervision. Students interested in alcohol and substance abuse counseling may focus their electives and field placements in this area.

Graduation Rate

Wright State University 

Dayton, OH

About this school

Based in Fairborn, Ohio, Wright State University, named after Ohio residents and aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright, confers degrees at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral level, including several online options. The Department of Human Services offers an online master of rehabilitation counseling (MRC) with a specialization in chemical dependency.

This 60-credit program equips students for career opportunities in the expanding fields of rehabilitation services, substance abuse and addictions counseling, and prevention and employee assistance programs. Completion of the MRC coursework qualifies graduates of the program to sit for the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor examination.

This fully online master’s degree provides a comprehensive foundation in counseling theory and practice; group process; clinical pathology; case management; and legal, professional, and ethical issues affecting the profession. The chemical dependency specialization requires two courses that cover the theory and epidemiology of addictions, plus addiction theory and practice.

Distance learners must participate in supervised practicums and internship experiences. Internship placements for students in the chemical dependency specialization require a total of 600 hours in a rehabilitation or social services agency that serves clients with chemical dependencies or with a dual-diagnosis of chemical dependency and another disability.

Incoming students may enter the program in the fall or spring semesters. Online learners receive a full set of student support services, including technological help for the Pilot learning management system, academic advising, career placement guidance, and remote access to library resources and databases from any OhioLINK institution.

Graduation Rate

Washburn University 

Topeka, KS

About this school

Washburn University, established in 1865 in Topeka, Kansas, serves a student body of 7,000 by conferring bachelor’s, graduate, and professional degrees. WU’s School of Applied Studies offers a completely online master of arts in human services/addiction counseling [PDF] that combines traditional methods of practice with a holistic and integrative approach for training substance abuse counselors.

The 36-credit master’s, approved by the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors and the Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board, prepares students to become licensed master’s addiction counselors and licensed clinical addiction counselors.

Students in the online addiction counseling master’s degree complete foundational coursework in pharmacology, group counseling, professional ethics, narrative practices, and addiction recovery. Distance learners may complete the required two semesters of practicum experiences in field placements within their own communities.

Admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s in human services, psychology, or a related field with an overall 3.0 GPA over the last 60 undergraduate course credits. Students with previously earned master’s-level coursework from another regionally accredited university may transfer up to 12 credits, subject to departmental approval. The MA typically takes full-time students two years to complete. WU offers a fast-track option that allows undergraduates in the human services program to earn both their bachelor of applied studies and the master of arts in human services-addiction counseling in five years.

Participation in online courses in this degree program requires a reliable internet connection, the ability to video-record and video-conference, and applications for faxing, scanning, and converting documents to PDF files.

Graduation Rate

End of list, bravo!

Substance Abuse Counselor Master’s Degree Program Options

Typically, both online master’s degree in substance abuse counseling and master’s in addiction counseling online degrees provide students with learning experiences via internships, practicums, and a curriculum that prepares them for licensing board exams.

Substance abuse counseling graduate programs prepare students in the prevention and treatment methods that help addicted clients. The programs cover subjects such as assessing clients, counseling techniques, community services, research methods, treatment methods for drug and alcohol abuse, the addiction and recovery process, diagnosis of substance use disorders, psychopharmacology and other drugs, and group counseling methods.

Some graduate programs provide specializations such as drug abuse counseling, alcohol abuse counseling, and clinical counseling. Individuals interested in working in medical and healthcare-specific settings may consider a program with a clinical counseling specialization. Those who wish to work in a social work setting may consider a rehabilitation counseling specialization.

Some of the master’s in substance abuse counseling online degrees and master’s in addiction counseling online degrees require a specific number of days for face-to-face meetings. Also, many of these programs require students to complete an internship.

Colleges and universities provide substance abuse counseling master’s programs such as:

Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Programs

Online degrees offer a convenient way to further your education and advance your career. Most online programs allow you to study from any location and on your own schedule. This flexibility makes it possible for you to maintain work and family responsibilities.

Instructors deliver online programs either synchronously or asynchronously. In a synchronous program, you must log in to your digital classroom at a designated time to interact with your professor and classmates. This format offers the convenience of no commute, but you must ensure that you attend at the required times. In an asynchronous format, teachers post required readings, discussion board topics, and other assignments.

Students must complete these assignments in a certain timeframe, often a week at a time. This popular style offers the most flexibility for completing coursework. Teachers may require a proctor for exams, lab hours, or work experience. Read each program’s graduation requirements and coursework expectations.

Self-directed students who excel at time management often achieve the most success. Online learning, while convenient, requires several hours of coursework, so plan enough time to complete assignments around your other responsibilities.

The Advantages of a Master’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Opportunities vary by state for a substance abuse counselor with a bachelor’s degree. In general, a bachelor’s degree qualifies you for entry-level positions such as a case manager, counselor, or drug and alcohol treatment specialist. However, some states may require a master’s degree and licensure to practice as a substance abuse counselor. A bachelor’s degree potentially limits your career and earning potential.

With a master’s degree, you can earn a higher salary, work as a licensed counselor, and grow your career in a private practice. A few common careers for someone with a master’s include substance abuse counselor, clinical social worker, and marriage and family therapist. By earning your doctorate, you can work as a practicing psychologist. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that this position will grow 14% over the next decade. A doctorate also opens up opportunities in research, academics, or supervisory positions.

Research different careers, salary potential, and education requirements to determine the best path for you.

Average Salary by Degree Level

Degree Level Average Salary
Bachelor’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling $53,000
Master’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling $56,000

Source: PayScale

Master’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling Salary Information

A few career paths in this field include substance abuse counselor, social worker, and clinical psychologist. The required level of education to attain positions in these areas vary based on your state of residence. In general, a master’s degree provides more opportunities. The best substance abuse counselors possess compassion, patience, and excellent listening skills. Working in this field can prove emotionally draining, so individuals should maintain boundaries and professionalism toward clients.

Marriage and Family Therapist:
This professional helps clients work through their emotions and experiences to overcome issues in their family or other relationships. Therapists work in a variety of settings including private practices and mental health centers. You need a master’s degree and a license to practice as a therapist.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $49,027
  • Mid-Career: $53,705
  • Experienced: $60,631
  • Late Career: $66,129
School Counselor:
This individual works with students to plan for their educational and vocational goals. A counselor typically uses assessments and student interviews to determine their skills and identify any issues affecting their performance. They work with all age groups — from elementary to college. Most states require that counselors possess a master’s degree and state licensure.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $44,373
  • Mid-Career: $50,289
  • Experienced: $57,369
  • Late Career: $64,276
Rehabilitation Counselor:
This professional helps clients adapt to their disability and gain the skills needed to live as independently as possible. They also help clients access services and may provide documentation of injury for worker’s compensation or personal injury cases. Some also work with employers to ensure that they comply with laws regarding workers with disabilities.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $39,362
  • Mid-Career: $44,523
  • Experienced: $50,450
  • Late Career: $58,564
Mental Health Counselor:
This individual works with people suffering from conditions such as depression, anxiety, grief, or addiction. They help clients identify negative behaviors and develop strategies to avoid them. Some counselor positions may only require a bachelor’s degree, but many states require a master’s degree and a license to practice.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $39,357
  • Mid-Career: $43,217
  • Experienced: $46,578
  • Late Career: $49,263
Clinical Social Worker:
A type of social worker, this individual holds a master’s degree. Clinical social workers are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. They develop treatment plans for clients to change negative behaviors and develop strategies to deal with difficult situations.
Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $48,576
  • Mid-Career: $55,582
  • Experienced: $60,181
  • Late Career: $64,839

Source: PayScale

Choosing an Online Substance Abuse Counseling Graduate Degree Program

When choosing a program, you must consider a variety of factors, including cost and location. For example, a school located in your state of residence may cost less than an out-of-state program. Additionally, you should research the structure of online courses and whether the program prepares you for any additional career requirements, such as licensure or certification. With a growing number of online degree options, take your time to pick the best one for your career goals.

Program Cost:
Education is costly, so ensure that you invest in an accredited program that employers respect. When comparing costs, explore not only on-campus and online programs but also whether you can save on tuition for living in state.
Transfer Policies:
If you transfer credits, you can potentially save on tuition costs by completing your degree faster. Also, if you ensure that your program’s credits can transfer, you can pursue a higher-level degree or certification.
School Size and Type:
A school’s size and its status a private or public institution affects cost and, in some case, educational offerings. Public schools are generally larger and offer a variety of programs. Private schools are often smaller and may not offer as much variety. If you plan to enroll in an online program, a school’s size may not be important. However, bear in mind that private schools often cost more than public schools, even if they try to offset those costs with scholarships.
Program Length:
When researching program costs, note that most programs charge per term or per credit. Determine how many credits per term a school considers part time and full time, as this impacts tuition rates and how long it takes to complete a program.
On-Campus Requirements:
On-campus requirements may not phase a traditional student, but if you enroll as an online student you must determine whether your program requires on-campus lab time or proctored exams. It may take extra time and effort to coordinate these requirements especially if a campus is not located nearby.
Thesis, Fellowship, and Work Requirements:
Research whether a program requires a thesis, fellowship, or work experience to graduate. As an online student, you may not enjoy as many resources or faculty assistance as an on-campus student to coordinate these components. Determine whether your program maintains these requirements so that you can plan accordingly and avoid delaying your graduation.

Accreditation for Online Substance Abuse Counseling Master’s Degrees

Accreditation demonstrates that independent institutions assess the educational standards of a school. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education oversee the accreditation process and monitor accrediting organizations to ensure that they maintain their commitment to quality education. They also maintain a searchable database of all accrediting agencies and accredited schools.

There are two primary types of accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation applies to institutions located within a specific geographic area. The Higher Learning Commission, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, serve as examples. National accreditation applies to schools located anywhere in the United States. Several agencies, including the Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, and the Council on Occupational Education bestow national accreditation.

Credits from a nationally accredited school may not transfer as easily as those from a regionally accredited school. Regionally accredited schools are often degree-granting and academically based versus vocationally or religiously based, making them the more prestigious institutions.

You may also encounter programmatic accreditation. Not all fields require this accreditation; however, psychology, education, and social work require programmatic accreditation. This type of accreditation ensures that programs offer students an education that meets industry standards. A professional association linked to the field typically grants programmatic accreditation. For a degree in substance abuse counseling, you can check whether the program holds accreditation from the American Psychological Association.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling?

Completing a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling requires an average of 45 credit hours and takes two years to complete. Factors that affect the timeline include whether you attend school full time or part time, whether you transfer credits, and whether you possess work experience that qualifies you to skip courses. By reducing the number of credit hours needed to complete a master’s program, you can minimize your out-of-pocket costs since most online programs charge per credit hour. Whether a program requires an internship or clinical rotation also impacts your graduation date. Part-time students or individuals with responsibilities that limit their time for an internship or rotation may take longer to graduate. Once you select a program, develop an academic plan with your advisor to ensure timely completion of your master’s degree.

Courses in an Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Program

Introduction to Addictions and Substance Use Disorders:
This course outlines the stages of substance use disorders and the role social and psychological dynamics play in addiction. Students learn the models of treatment for recovery, relapse prevention, and drug classification. The course prepares students for licensure or certification in the counseling industry.
Counseling Theory:
This course provides a comprehensive overview of counseling theories. It covers psychoanalysis, existential psychotherapy, Adlerian, behavioral, and cognitive behavioral theories. Students learn the basic framework for each of these theories and how to apply them in a counseling practice.
Legal and Ethical Issues in Counseling:
This course outlines the American Counseling Association’s principles in key topics such as confidentiality, testing, malpractice, professional relationships, and ethical competence. Students learn how to remain professional in their relationships with clients and to identify and resolve any ethical dilemmas that may arise in a clinical setting.
Neurobiology of Addiction:
This course uses animal models and neuroimaging to examine the biological processes associated with addiction. The course also incorporates research findings in relapse prevention, including the ability to manipulate the biological process and change addictive behavior. By learning the process behind addiction and relapse, students gain a better understanding of addiction and can work as compassionate counselors.
Group Therapy in Addiction:
Group therapy presents unique challenges. This course teaches students the dynamics of this type of theory and the methods used. The course also covers ethical standards and outlines group leadership styles, group process components, group members' roles and behaviors, and appropriate selection criteria. The course typically incorporates an in-person group learning component.

Substance Abuse Counselor Licensing Requirements

Substance abuse counselors in private practice must hold licensure. Every state requires a master’s degree and 2,000–4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Counselors must also pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education every year.

Individuals interested in pursuing a career in any type of counseling should always check with their state board of licensure to determine certification and licensing requirements. The licensure or certification criteria for substance abuse counselors outside of private practice vary by state. Not all states require a specific degree; however, many states require candidates to pass an exam.

Substance Abuse Counselor Membership Associations

Professional organizations are a great tool for students, educators, and professionals. These organizations help members network with other industry professionals and offer educational resources through continuing education courses. Most professional organizations also publish their own publications and newsletters or offer discounts to other industry publications so that members gain access to the latest industry research and trends.

The Association for Addiction Professionals:
Founded in 1972, NAADAC is the largest organization for addiction professionals. In addition to serving as a networking tool for addiction counselors, educators, and other healthcare professionals, NAADAC promotes excellence in care. The group offers continuing education courses, clinical training, and certification for all members.
American Counseling Association:
Founded in 1952, this nonprofit boasts 19 chartered divisions that focus on specialized fields in the counseling industry. The ACA advocates for the counseling profession and ensures that all counseling professionals practice ethical and culturally inclusive standards.
International Association of Addictions & Offender Counselors:
IAAOC members are substance abuse or addiction counselors, corrections counselors, students, or educators. The IAAOC strives to educate members by disseminating industry news and research through a newsletter and published journal. The group also offers tools such as links to podcasts and information about industry-related conferences so members can connect with each other. IAAOC members must also hold membership in the ACA.
American Psychological Association:
Comprised of 188,000 researchers, students, educators, clinicians, and consultants, the APA strives to elevate the public’s understanding of the psychology field and further incorporate their profession into the field of healthcare and treatment. The APA also works to ensure quality education and plays a large role in program accreditation.
American Mental Health Counselors Association:
This organization provides mental health counselors with a forum to collaborate, learn, and advocate for their profession. Members gain access to free or discounted continuing education courses and industry publications so they can stay apprised of research and changes in their profession.

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