Best Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling 2021

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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
#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

The University of Alabama true View School Profile $$$$ Tuscaloosa, AL 72% 39% 39% The University of Alabama is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

University of North Texas true View School Profile $$ Denton, TX 53% 50% 46% The University of North Texas is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

East Carolina University true View School Profile $$ Greenville, NC 65% 55% 45% East Carolina University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

Utah State University true View School Profile $$ Logan, UT 50% 29% 50% Utah State University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

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.

Virginia Commonwealth University true View School Profile $$$$ Richmond, VA 67% 49% 29% Virginia Commonwealth University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

George Washington University View School Profile Washington, DC 82% 36% 24% George Washington University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

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.

University of Wisconsin-Stout View School Profile $$ Menomonie, WI 58% 59% 48% The University of Wisconsin Stout is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

West Virginia University View School Profile $$ Morgantown, WV 60% 50% 29% West Virginia University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Winston-Salem State University View School Profile $$ Winston-Salem, NC 48% 74% 50% Winston-Salem State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

University of South Dakota View School Profile $$$ Vermillion, SD 57% 52% 46% The University of South Dakota is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Liberty University View School Profile Lynchburg, VA 50% 60% 90% Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

University of Kentucky View School Profile $$$ Lexington, KY 65% 42% 25% The University of Kentucky is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

Thomas University View School Profile Thomasville, GA 20% 60% 100% Thomas University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

Governors State University View School Profile $$$ University Park, IL 60% 48% Governors State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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 University-Main Campus View School Profile $$ Dayton, OH 39% 49% 31% Wright State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Cornerstone University View School Profile Grand Rapids, MI 53% 74% 34% Cornerstone University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Union College View School Profile Barbourville, KY 27% 72% 61% Union College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

University of the Cumberlands View School Profile Williamsburg, KY 33% 40% 85% The University of the Cumberlands is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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.

Ottawa University-Online View School Profile Ottawa, KS 51% 54% 100% Ottawa University Online is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies View School Profile Center City, MN 91% The Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, 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 AcademicInfluence.com, 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.

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.

Substance Abuse Counselors
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.

Social Workers
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.

Rehabilitation Counselors
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

true 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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