Best Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Programs

Addiction afflicts millions of people nationwide, with rates of the disease rapidly increasing. The National Institute of Drug Abuse recently reported that, in 2013, 22.7 million people needed treatment for substance abuse disorders (8.6% of the population), but only 2.5 million people received the needed care. Getting an online master’s in substance abuse counseling gives you the tools to approach this epidemic from a variety of perspectives. Graduates of these programs can work to increase public awareness of addiction, counsel families affected by addiction or work directly with individuals in treatment programs.

Because addiction affects communities across racial, cultural and socioeconomic lines, there is a widespread need for substance abuse counselors throughout the country. Earning your master’s in substance abuse counseling online allows you to continue to work in underserved areas while getting the education needed to move into higher level positions. Below, we have ranked the best distance substance abuse counseling master’s programs in the nation to help you make an informed decision about your graduate education.

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost Address & Contact Info School Links Acclaim for Online Programs School Description
1Virginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmond$$$$$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.

2Governors State UniversityUniversity 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.

3Indiana Wesleyan UniversityMarion$$$$$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.

4University of South DakotaVermillion$$$$$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.

5Mercy CollegeDobbs 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.

With the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting job growth for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors at 31% between 2012 and 2022, those with a master’s in substance abuse counseling enter a job market that’s in their favor. To further secure your position in this expanding market, it is highly recommended that you get state and national certification as soon as possible. The Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) offers several levels of national credentials, which, in turn, assures potential employers that your education and abilities pass muster. In addition, each state has its own licensing board that provides individuals with the necessary licensure to practice as a counselor. The requirements vary widely by state, so be sure to check with your state’s medical board.

Another important step in becoming a substance abuse counselor is to ensure that you secure an internship while studying. Many programs offer or even require an internship segment be completed before graduation. This experience not only bolsters your professional resume, it provides you with the skills and training in a supervised environment. There are certain things that cannot be taught in the classroom and an internship will ensure that you are prepared for your first day as a counselor.