Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees

Are you interested in becoming a substance abuse or addiction counselor? Pursuing a substance abuse counselor degree online might be for you. This format offers the flexibility needed to continue working full-time while studying—and a degree in the subject is a requirement to work in substance abuse counseling. Substance abuse counselors provide support and treatment to people struggling with alcohol and drug addictions. They offer client evaluations, behavior modification strategies, treatment plans, family education, and referrals to other services, among other support methods.

Addiction counseling degree programs include courses in theory and research, practical applications of counseling, and various aspects of substance abuse, addiction, and recovery. Supervised internships or practicums are required for most programs. However, there are many online substance abuse counseling degree programs available.

The field of substance abuse counseling is expanding as the need for qualified counselors increases. Employment opportunities for substance abuse counselors are expected to grow by 22% between 2014 and 2024. Consequently, substance abuse counselors can find employment in a wide variety of settings. From health care organizations and state and federal agencies, to schools and private practices, the field offers something for everyone.

If you enjoy helping people, are compassionate and patient, and have excellent interpersonal, listening, and communication skills, you will find success in a career in substance abuse counseling. The following information will assist you in determining if an online substance abuse counseling degree program is right for you.

Meet our expert

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Stephen Pfleiderer, MA, CADC, CAI Substance Abuse Counseling

“For a counselor to be effective you should posses…patience, empathy, assertiveness, and above all a non-judgmental, receptive, and compassionate attitude.”


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Degrees

Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $14,655 19.36% 2 years N/A N/A N/A
Bachelor's $15,997 9.79% 4 years $26,000 $35,534 N/A
Master's $18,183 9.43% 2+ years N/A $48,000 3.3%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

Employment as a substance abuse counselor requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. However, an associate degree can serve as a foundation for future education. It also allows for entry-level employment as a counselor’s support staff. With each degree attained in this field, job, certification, and salary opportunities improve. Substance abuse counseling degrees can be pursued online at each degree level.

Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees

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Online Associate’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Employment as a substance abuse counselor and related positions typically requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree. However, associate degrees provide a solid foundation for continued studies and career advancement in the field. They also assist in obtaining employment in entry-level support positions. These online substance abuse counseling degrees are affordable and take only two years to complete.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Psychology, Sociology, Group and Family Counseling, Physiology of Substance Abuse, and Ethics/Confidentiality in Addiction and Prevention

  • COMMON MAJORS

    Online substance abuse counseling degrees are available at the associate level. They are similar in scope but may have different names based on their specific concentrations. Examples include: Associate of Science (or Applied Science) in Addiction and Prevention Studies, Addictions Counseling, or Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling.

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    ]Most positions in this field require at least a bachelor’s degree. However, associate degree holders can obtain employment as social and human service assistants. These positions provide support to social workers and counselors, as well as to clients and their families.

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $30,830 for social and human service assistants

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    From 2014-2024: 11% increase for social and human service assistants

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

A bachelor’s degree is the foundation of a career in addiction counseling. It provides opportunities for employment in a variety of related positions and settings–from healthcare organizations and private practices, to state and federal government agencies and schools. Educational and licensing requirements vary by state. Most bachelor’s degree programs require field work, practicum experience, or internships. Programs traditionally take four years to complete, but can be completed in less time. Many opt to earn an addiction counseling degree online.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Pharmacology, Clinical Psychology, Contemporary Issues in Addictions, Crisis Management, and Substance Abuse Prevention

  • COMMON MAJORS

    Bachelor of Science Degrees are typically offered for addiction counseling. Depending on the college or university and the coursework concentration, they have different names. For instance, Bachelor of Science Degree in Addiction Studies, Substance Abuse Counseling, or Addictions Counseling. There are also programs for Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. Pursuing a substance abuse counselor degree online is becoming increasingly popular.

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Substance Abuse Counselor, Social Worker, Social and Community Service Managers

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $39,980 for Substance Abuse Counselors, $45,900 for Social Workers, and $63,530 for Social and Community Service Managers

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    From 2014-2024: 22% increase for abuse counselors, 12% increase for social workers, and 10% increase for social and community service managers

Online Master’s Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Master’s degrees are necessary for individuals seeking to advance in the field of addiction counseling. Many employers, including private practices, require them for counseling positions. Degree programs are rooted in counseling theory and also include specialty courses on different aspects of substance abuse, psychology, and counseling practices. A thesis can be a degree option or requirement, depending on the program. Typically, an in-field practicum or internship is necessary for degree attainment, even with substance abuse counselor degree online programs.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Alcohol and Drug Counseling Theories, Trauma and Addiction, Relapse Prevention, Substance Abuse Prevention, and Biological Perspectives

  • COMMON MAJORS

    Addiction Counseling, Addiction Studies, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling, and Psychology and Addiction Counseling

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Mental Health Counselors and Rehabilitation Counselors

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $43,190 for mental health counselors and $34,390 for rehabilitation counselors

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    From 2014-2024: 19% increase for mental health counselors and 9% increase for rehabilitation counselors

Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees
For the 2016 rankings, OnlineColleges.net has greatly refined its approach to evaluating schools and their respective programs. Our innovative method of assessing schools is what makes our rankings so distinctly authoritative. On the surface, every ranking we produce employs a basic formula: Academic Quality + Online Offerings + Cost and Student Aid = Final Score. This final score determines where a school ends up in our rankings. Of course, there's a lot more than meets the eye. Visit our methodology page to discover the data points that shape our formula and to learn more about our process.

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Substance Abuse Counseling Master’s Degree Rankings

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Rank School Name School Logo City Cost Address & Contact Info School Links Acclaim for Online Programs School Description
1

Virginia Commonwealth University

Richmond$$$$$910 W Franklin St
Richmond, VA 23284-2512
(804) 828-0100

A collaboration between three of the leading universities in addiction science: King's College London, University of Adelaide and VCU, this master's in addiction studies gives students a well-rounded, international perspective. The curriculum takes a holistic approach to studying addiction by covering areas outside the range of other programs, including:

  • Law Enforcement
  • Medicine
  • Nursing
  • Pharmacy
  • Public Health
  • Education

With a 40-student enrollment cap, the master's degree in substance abuse counseling is highly competitive. The coursework can be completed either full-time or part-time, taking 12 or 24 months respectively. Lectures are downloaded online, along with the lecture notes. Students access assigned reading through the different libraries of the three universities and discuss learning material with classmates using multiple interfaces. While the program does not give training in practical counseling skills, students will have the academic credentials needed to pursue licensing.

2

Governors State University

University Park$$$$$1 University Pky
University Park, IL 60484
(708) 534-5000

Focusing on evidence-based research, the curriculum of this Master of Health Science in Addictions Studies with an Addictions Counseling Concentration provides highly integrated counseling training. Upon receiving their degree, graduates will have the tools to draw from multiple clinical methods to develop a custom treatment plan for their patients. Among the therapy tacts students study include:

  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Online students connect through Blackboard, where they will be able to stream lectures and interact with classmates in real-time. Online classes discuss treatment programs from the initial stages of planning on through to their management. The master's degree in substance abuse counseling program culminates in an internship, ensuring students leave with a base of practical counseling skills.

3

Indiana Wesleyan University

Marion$$$$$4201 S Washington St
Marion, IN 46953-4974
(765) 674-6901

Indiana Wesleyan created their online master's in addiction counseling with the goal of producing "qualified Christian counseling professionals." Enrolled students address all addictive behaviors, ranging from chemical addictions to behavioral addictions such as eating, gambling and sex. Guided by licensed professors, students will be encouraged to integrate their Christian faith into their counseling endeavors.

Using a suite of online resources, students access course material, interact with classmates and submit assignments from anywhere with a broadband internet connection. As a Christian school, online students at IWU can be sure they won't be without faith resources. Adult students are guided into the teachings and community of Jesus Christ through the school's online Spiritcare program, providing support, resources and services.

4

University of South Dakota

Vermillion$$$$$414 E Clark St
Vermillion, SD 57069-2390
(605) 677-5301

Designed to prepare students for the highest level of certification for addiction treatment in South Dakota, the online Master of Arts in Addiction Studies at University of South Dakota produces highly qualified graduates. All courses for the program have been reviewed and approved by the South Dakota Board of Addiction and Prevention Professionals. Understanding that addiction occurs across all social and cultural lines, the Addiction Studies Department at USD stresses a curriculum of diversity, caring, understanding and cultural competency.

This online-only degree offers two tracks: a 33 credit hour advanced track and 45 credit hour standard track. Only those individuals with an undergraduate degree in addiction studies may qualify for the advanced track. Hosted on the Desire2Learn platform, students will have everything they need to participate in their coursework from anywhere with a broadband connection. Those unfamiliar with online learning can take the Online Learning Readiness Check for free.

5

Mercy College

Dobbs Ferry$$$$$555 Broadway
Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522
(800) 637-2969

At Mercy College, students have the option to pursue a Master of Science in Counseling with a focus in Alcohol/Substance Abuse Counseling. Unlike the other programs on this list, the master's degree in substance abuse counseling focuses primarily on counseling and counseling techniques, giving students a more technical education. Two supervised internships ensure that graduates will be ready to practice upon graduation, when they will be eligible to sit for the licensure exam.

Powered by Blackboard, the virtual classroom at Mercy College is replete with the latest in online learning innovations. As all class materials will be provided through this system, the school provides online training for students new to distance learning. Group chat sessions are encouraged, as they are designed to give students a greater perspective of human experience, a critical part of counseling.

Online Doctorate Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling

Individuals with substance abuse counseling degrees at the doctorate level often pursue careers in research and in higher education. Many others opt to become psychologists and work in the field–whether it be within a private practice, healthcare setting, school, non-profit organization, or government agency. These substance abuse counselor degrees are intensive and focus heavily on research standards and practice, theory, and experiments. Students must conduct original, independent research and present it in a comprehensive dissertation that typically must be defended (or presented) to a review panel. Internships may also be required, even for those pursuing an addiction counseling degree online.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Foundations of Theory and Practice, Addiction Research, Qualitative Analysis, Inferential Statistics, and Clinical Supervision

  • COMMON MAJORS

    Ph.D., PsyD (Doctor of Psychology), or Doctorate (available in variety of concentrations, such as Addiction Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology in Mental Health Administration, and Rehabilitation Counseling)

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Psychologist

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $72,580 for psychologists

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    From 2014-2034: 19% increase for psychologists

Online Substance Abuse Counseling Choose Your Career

Average Substance Abuse Counseling Salaries

$45,900
$34,390
$72,580
$43,190
$39,980

Social Worker

Salary: $45,900
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
12% 649,300 Bachelor's N/A

Social workers assist people in dealing with their life challenges – from coping with a terminal illness or past abuse, to adopting a child or managing a disability. They assess situations, provide support, identify available resources, and respond to crisis situations. They work in a variety of settings, including healthcare, private practices, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. Social workers are empathic by nature and enjoy working with people. They also have good time-management, problem-solving, and communication skills. A substance abuse counseling degree can prove helpful in a career in this field.

Rehabilitation Counselor

Salary: $34,390
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
9% 120,100 Masters State specific requirements may exist

Rehabilitation counselors assist individuals with developmental, physical, emotional, and mental disabilities to manage their daily lives more independently. They evaluate the health of their patients and design treatment plans, which may include medical, living, and job recommendations. Counselors assist their clients with accessing resources to improve their living and job situations, and work in conjunction with other providers to improve independence. They are excellent critical thinkers, communicators, and listeners. In addition, rehabilitation counselors are inherently patient and compassionate. Some hold an addiction counseling degree at the bachelor’s level as they work toward a career in rehabilitation counseling.

Psychologist

Salary: $72,580
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
19% 173,900 Doctorate State specific requirements

Psychologists assess and treat emotional, social, and behavioral issues. They often use scientific processes, analysis, and testing to observe and diagnose their patients. Treatment methods vary depending on the diagnosis, but may include counseling, psychotherapy, behavior modification, and medication recommendations. Effective psychologists have solid analytical, observational, and communication skills. They enjoy problem-solving and working with people, and are extremely patient and trustworthy. Those with a substance abuse counselor degree may pursue higher degrees in psychology to transition to this career.

Mental Health Counselors

Salary: $43,190
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
19% 168,200 Masters State specific requirements may exist

Mental health counselors may earn addiction counseling degrees to work with individuals with mental and emotional disorders. They diagnose these illnesses, support their patients in discussing associated feelings and experiences, offer coping strategies and life skills, and make referrals to other support and community groups. Mental health counselors must be excellent communicators and listeners, be compassionate, and be organized – as they typically work in private practices and must process payments and insurance claims.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Salary: $39,980
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
22% 94,900 Bachelor's State specific requirements may exist

A substance abuse counselor degree is required for a career in substance abuse counseling. These counselors provide assistance to people with alcohol and drug addictions. They evaluate the health of their clients, develop treatment plans, assist with behavior modification and skill-building, and educate and counsel families. Counselors may work in a healthcare setting or in a private practice. Those that excel as substance abuse counselors are compassionate and have the abilities to communicate, listen in a non-judgmental way, remain calm, and interact with different types of people. Pursuing a substance abuse counselor degree online is a budget-friendly solution for many.

Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degree in Action

Stephen Pfleiderer, MA, CADC, CAI Substance Abuse Counseling

Stephen Pfleiderer began his career as an interventionist after struggling with substance abuse in his early 20s. After attending therapy, he realized that his passion lay in helping others recover from substance use and other mental health disorders. He studied Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) under David Burns, MD, and received Level 3 certification as a TEAM therapist.

You decided to become an interventionist after recovering from substance abuse yourself. Is it common for professionals in this field to have suffered with issues involving addiction/substance abuse?

Yes, it is common for professionals in the addiction treatment field to have suffered with a substance use disorder. However, there are many professionals who work effectively in the field but do not have any history of substance abuse in their lives.

Do you find that you are able to empathize with patients on a different level because of your own struggles and subsequent recovery from substance abuse?

Absolutely. I discovered early on in my career that my past struggles with substance use provided me with important insights and a deep understanding of what many people are facing in dealing with substance abuse. I have no doubt that my experience has helped me to connect and empathize with others. I understand how challenging the work to overcome addiction can be. At the same time, based on my experience, I also know that there are tremendous benefits and rewards that come from living a life free from unhealthy habits and addictions. Knowing this makes every minute of working with others worth it.

What would you say are the most crucial skills you gained while studying to become a substance abuse counselor?

David Burns has equipped me with over 50 different powerful methods designed to address almost any behavioral problem, including unwanted habits and addictions. Many of the methods are highly sophisticated and have required many hours of practice, supervision, and training in order to master. I have found it to be very common in people struggling with substance abuse and other addictions to feel stuck and uncertain about change. Tools like the decision-making form and the devil’s advocate technique have been shown to be critical in helping people become unstuck and on their way to a lasting recovery.

How did you begin working at SF Intervention?

I founded SF Intervention after moving to San Francisco at the beginning of this year. I wanted to establish a practice to help people change their lives and actualize their full potential. My focus is on helping individuals, families, executives, and companies find pathways to healing and recovery from substance abuse as well as other co-occurring disorders. Through SF Intervention, I provide comprehensive assessments, crisis intervention services, individual and family recovery coaching, treatment placement and referral, as well as a variety of addictions recovery programs and workshops.

What type of person would excel in a career as a substance abuse counselor?

Addiction is no doubt a complex problem that requires critical thinking skills. In addition, for a counselor to be effective he or she should posses and want to cultivate the following traits: patience, empathy, assertiveness, and above all a non-judgmental, receptive, and compassionate attitude.

What are the greatest challenges you face in your career on a day-to-day basis?

One of the greatest challenges working as a substance abuse counselor and interventionist is helping family members and concerned others determine and implement healthy and appropriate boundaries. Most family members and concerned others experience the knee-jerk reaction to want to help or come to the aid to an addicted loved one who is suffering. This desire is completely normal but can be counterproductive in many situations when trying to help someone struggling with an addiction. Learning how to not take on excessive responsibility for someone else, especially when they are in pain, is probably one of the most difficult skills to teach, model and implement as an addiction professional.

…And the most rewarding?

The greatest reward of my work is having the opportunity to watch someone completely transform his or her life. It's incredibly rewarding to witness an individual avoid catastrophic consequences and go on to live a meaningful, productive, and fulfilling life. Seeing people restore their lives and go after their dreams never gets old.

What advice would you give others who are considering a career as a substance abuse counselor?

For anyone considering a career as a substance abuse counselor, I would suggest starting out by visiting a program and meeting with staff where substance abuse counseling services are offered such as an outpatient clinic or inpatient residential treatment facility. In addition, I'd definitely recommend taking a few online courses to get acquainted with the subject matter that will be covered on the state certification exams.

Online Substance Abuse Counseling Professional Requirements

Internship or Practicum

A supervised internship or practicum is typically required for individuals pursuing a substance abuse counseling degree at the bachelor’s level or higher. This provides on-the-job training, and is also a requirement for attaining state and/or national certification and licensure.

Is it required?

Yes

How long will it take?

Varies

State Certification Exam

State certification is necessary for anyone seeking to work in a private practice. While each state has different licensing requirements, a certification exam is the common denominator. Many states offer the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE), which is a 200-question multiple choice exam. Students who earn a substance abuse counselor degree online should make sure their program is accredited, otherwise they won’t be able to pursue certification.

Is it required?

Yes

How long will it take?

Varies

NCAC I

The National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC), Level I is a voluntary certification. Obtaining this certification demonstrates specialization in addiction and treatment, and adherence to high ethical standards. Applicants must have at least three years or 6,000 hours of supervised experience as a substance abuse counselor, along with state certification or licensure, and 270 hours of education and training in substance abuse disorder/addiction to complete the 200-question multiple choice exam.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

3 Hours

NCAC II

The National Certified Addiction Counselor (NCAC), Level II is a voluntary certification that can assist with advancement in the field of addiction counseling. Applicants must hold a substance abuse counselor degree at the bachelor’s level from an accredited institution and state certification or licensure in order to take the 200-question multiple choice exam. In addition, five years or 100,000 hours of supervised experience as a substance abuse counselor, and a minimum of 450 hours of education and training in substance abuse disorder/addiction is required.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

3 Hours

MAC

The Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) certification is voluntary. It distinguishes a commitment to providing quality care and services. Applicants must hold a substance abuse counselor degree at the master’s level from an accredited institution and state certification or licensure to sit for the 200-question multiple choice exam. Three years or 6,000 hours of supervised experience as a substance abuse counselor, 500 hours of education and training in substance abuse disorder/addiction, and written verification of competency by supervisors is also required.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

3 Hours