Best Online Master’s in Addiction Studies

by TBS Staff

Updated September 15, 2022 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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As recovery and rehabilitation facilities become more established and indispensable, the demand for addiction and recovery professionals is increasing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that positions for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will grow 23% between 2016 and 2026.

Various job opportunities exist for students earning a master’s in addiction counseling online. Moreover, professionals with this degree are generally placed into higher pay brackets than individuals with a bachelor’s degree alone.

The Best Online Master's in Addiction & Recovery Programs

  1. Virginia Commonwealth University

    Richmond, VA



    A public university founded in 1838, VCU offers an online master of science in addiction studies through an international partnership with King's College of London and the University of Adelaide.

    Learners complete both taught courses and research-based courses. Required courses include public health issues and approaches to addiction, addiction policy, biological basis of addiction, and treatment of addiction and psychotherapies.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree to qualify for admission. Students outside the United States need a 2A honors degree or a bachelor's with five years of work experience to apply.

  2. University of South Dakota

    Vermillion, SD



    A public research facility founded in 1801, USD offers an online master of arts in addiction counseling and prevention. Students may complete the 45-credit general track or a 33-credit advanced track depending on credentials.

    Required courses include advanced legal and ethical issues in the addiction profession, addiction studies research, history and culture of addiction, and public policy and addiction. Students can take approved electives to specialize their studies, including rural telehealth and gambling and process addiction.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 for unconditional admission. Students with a background in addictions may petition for the advanced track.

  3. Liberty University

    Lynchburg, VA

    A private Christian university founded in 1971, Liberty offers an online master of arts in addiction counseling. Students complete 48 credits in a convenient eight-week format.

    Students explore addiction counseling through the lens of the Christian faith. Course topics include the biological aspects of addiction and recovery; treatment and the recovery process; and acute stress, grief, and trauma.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission.

  4. Governors State University

    University Park, IL



    A public university founded in 1969, GSU offers an online master of health science in addiction studies. Students complete 32 credits in a convenient online format.

    Required courses include substance abuse prevention, theoretical models for counseling and addiction-related issues, psychopathology and coexisting disorders, and substance abuse counseling. Students may also pursue a concentration in counseling.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a 2.5 GPA, six credits in behavioral studies, six credits in biological studies, and a statistics course to qualify for admission.

  5. Union College

    Barbourville, KY

    A private college founded in 1879, Union offers an online master of science in substance abuse counseling. Students complete 60 credits without needing to come to campus.

    Required courses include theories of counseling and psychotherapy, advanced developmental psychology, quantitative and qualitative research methods, and advanced behavioral neuroscience. The program also includes substance abuse core coursework, such as foundations of chemical dependency treatment and biological systems of chemical dependency, and a final internship.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. Students with an undergraduate degree from Union may waive the school's GRE requirement.

Best Online Master's

Online Master's in Addiction & Recovery Programs Ranking Guidelines

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

Our Methodology

Here at, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

Featured Online Master's in Addiction & Recovery Programs

Choosing a Program

A master’s degree in addiction counseling varies among institutions, but most schools require similar coursework and projects. Common core courses are substance abuse counseling, biology of addiction, and techniques in counseling. In addition to coursework, some programs require thesis projects, internships, and capstones, each of which allows students to showcase what they have learned throughout their program.

Students who graduate with their master’s in addiction and recovery are often able to enter successful careers as rehabilitation counselors, substance abuse counselors, and clinical case managers.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master’s in Addiction and Recovery Program?

Several universities offer online master’s in addiction and recovery programs, teaching students about addiction, treatment, recovery, and how each affects the human brain and body. Again, while programs across the nation differ, they all equip students with in–depth skills in their area of interest.

The Curriculum for an Online Master’s Degree in Addiction and Recovery

  • Treatment and the Recovery Process : This course teaches students how to examine treatment models of recovery, addiction, and relapse. Among the topics considered are how to develop treatment plans, how to research treatment outcomes, and how to understand the culture of recovery and addiction. For practical experience, this course combines research and hands–on activities.
  • Stress, Grief, and Trauma : This course considers patients who have been impacted by acute stress, grief, trauma, and loss. Students learn about anxiety and depression and the different ways to treat patients who suffer from mental imbalances, survivor guilt, crisis, and trauma. They also study human stress responses to gain an understanding of how patients are impacted.
  • Biology of Addiction and Recovery: This course examines addictive behaviors and substance abuse and how both affect the brain and human body. Students delve into brain anatomy to learn about biological aspects of addiction. They also investigate treatments for patients struggling with substance abuse and discern how those medicines impact the brain.

Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Addiction and Recovery Prepares For

NCTTP certifies individuals to provide treatment to patients addicted to tobacco products. To qualify for the certification, individuals must have a bachelor’s degree or higher, be tobacco free for a minimum of six months, and complete a training program followed by 240 hours of tobacco treatment practice. With the certification, individuals can pursue a career as a tobacco treatment specialist. The RTP certificate program is for individuals interested in recovery–based practices for services related to addiction. The program teaches individuals skills, concepts, and practices related to recovery programs and garners more awareness about the benefits of those types of practices. To become certified, individuals must complete 15.5 hours of required coursework and 14.5 hours of flexible coursework.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Addiction and Recovery Degrees

There are two types of accreditation for institutions of higher education: regional and national. Regionally, accredited schools are typically schools that grant degrees, while nationally accredited schools give certificates or function as trade schools. Regionally, accredited institutions are more widely accepted than nationally accredited ones, largely due to the fact that credits from regionally accredited programs are easily transferable while credits from nationally accredited programs are not.

Prospective students may look up accrediting agencies on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s website, but most programs will cite their accrediting agency on their own websites. Keep in mind that some employers are unable to accept applicants who did not graduate from a regionally accredited institution, so it is important for students to research this information before choosing a program.

Online Master’s in Addiction and Recovery Careers

Individuals who have earned their master’s in addiction counseling online have a variety of career opportunities available to them in a field with a steady growth rate. As indicated below, most careers are focused on providing advice, treatment, and care to individuals suffering from different types of disorders and addictions.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors provide advice and guidance to individuals who suffer from alcoholism, eating disorders, drug addiction, and behavioral problems. They recommend and provide treatment to help patients overcome addiction and mental issues. Substance abuse counselors often work in private practices, community health centers, and prisons.

Median Salary: $43,300 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 23%

Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors care for and guide individuals with mental, physical, emotional, or developmental disabilities. They help patients learn how to live independently and overcome negative impacts of living with their disability. Rehabilitation counselors work in rehabilitation centers, youth guidance organizations, and senior centers.

Median Salary: $34,860 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 13%

Social Worker

Social workers help patients cope with everyday problems, and they diagnose and provide treatment for individuals who suffer from emotional, mental, and behavioral issues. Social workers work in mental health clinics, settlement houses, human service agencies, hospitals, and private practices.

Median Salary: $47,980 Projected Job Growth (2019-2029): 16%

Professional Organizations for Addiction and Recovery

Professional organizations are valuable to individuals in the addiction and recovery field for networking, sharing ideas, and further developing their careers.

NAADAC is a professional organization that represents 47 states, Canada, and other places abroad. Members work as educators, addiction counselors, and healthcare professionals focused on addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery. The NAATP is a nonprofit organization whose members, from the addiction treatment field, work together to collaborate on new ideas, communicate, and develop standards to practice in their work. ASAM’s members play an active role in creating government policies that affect their patients. Members have careers as physicians, clinicians, and other related professions in the area of addiction treatment and medicine.

Header Image Credit: FG Trade | Getty Images

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