Best Online Master’s in Addiction Counseling Programs

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by Doug Wintemute

Published on July 6, 2020 · Updated on April 27, 2022

Reviewed by Megan Pietrucha, Psy.D.

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A master's in addiction counseling provides students with the skills to support, advise, and treat people with substance misuse challenges. They also learn about the effects of trauma on mental health and behavioral disorders. With this training, graduates can pursue many community and social service careers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 23% growth for addiction counselor occupations between 2020 and 2030. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $47,660 in May 2020. In both projected growth and median annual wages, this field exceeds the national rates for all occupations.

When considering graduate school, prospective students often think about program cost and length. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average graduate tuition and fees were $19,792 in 2019-2020. Learners usually finish their master's programs in less than two years, though the top online schools may provide accelerated program options.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Program?

The structure and content of a master's in addiction counseling depends on the specific school and program. Typically, students complete these programs in less than two years by completing 30-45 credits. The training usually combines classroom instruction, research, and hands-on learning experiences.

The programs equip learners with a set of professional ethics and practices, covering prevention, intervention, and care. Degree-seekers learn about the diverse addiction, traumatic, and mental health conditions people face and their many causes. The programs typically include supervised clinical experiences to satisfy state licensure requirements.

An online master's in addiction counseling may award an MA or MS degree. While these degree types may lead to similar outcomes in many cases, they can differ as well. For example, MA programs often focus on theoretical research and interdisciplinary applications. An MS program focuses more on analytical studies and clinical applications.

Depending on the school, addiction counseling may be a specialization within a counseling program. Students may also get to choose a concentration from within their master's in addiction counseling. Examples include gambling and process addictions, sex addiction, alcohol and other drug misuse, and eating disorders. When preparing for graduate school, students should understand their state's counseling licensure requirements before settling on a program.

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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Program?

Law and Ethics in Addiction Counseling

In this course, students examine the state and federal laws regarding addiction counseling. They also explore the professional standards for counselors and the ethical issues they face in their jobs.

Assessment and Treatment Planning

This course teaches students the skills and processes needed for patient assessment, including how to identify issues and causes. They also learn how to diagnose and develop specialized treatment plans that address these challenges.

Psychopharmacology

Students in this course learn about legal and illegal drugs and their effects on the human body. They examine how and why addiction and substance misuse occurs and how treatment can help these issues.

Diversity Issues in Counseling

In this course, students learn how to navigate diversity in counseling. They examine how culture, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity affect substance misuse and the perception of and reception to counseling.

Science of Addiction

Students in this course look at the scientific explanations for dependence disorders. Studies may include examining neurobehavior, genetics, and family and society influences.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

Financial Aid Guide for Graduate Students The Student's Guide to College Loans The Student's Guide to Financial Aid and the FAFSA

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Program?

For admission into a master's program, prospective students need a bachelor's degree, as per our graduate admissions guide. A competitive master's in addiction counseling may require a minimum GPA or a related undergraduate degree for entry, such as psychology or counseling.

In some cases, schools may require science prerequisites. For admission into an online master's in addiction counseling, prospective students usually must satisfy the program's technological requirements.

Application

Prospective students must provide their personal information on the standard college application, along with their program of interest. At the master's level, applicants typically apply directly to the school, though college application systems work with some graduate programs. Application systems can streamline the process, specifically when applying to many schools.

Test Scores

Schools often require candidates to submit test scores for admission, including GRE and GMAT results. Score requirements vary by program. Schools may even provide test waivers as a result of the COVID-19 situation. To improve their test scores and odds of being admitted, prospective students can complete GRE prep.

Letters of Recommendation

College applications at every level require recommendation letters. These letters typically come from relevant professionals who can provide insight into the applicant's strengths and potential in the program. For best results, prospective students should begin asking for letters of recommendation as early as possible.

Resume and Work Experience

College applications may require a resume and a minimum amount of work experience for admission. Along with highlighting relevant experience, college application resumes provide information about the candidate's skills and strengths.

Essays

Many applications include an essay, which may address the applicant's journey or answer a specific question related to their discipline of interest. When writing a grad school essay, prospective students often address their specific research interests and what appeals to them about the school and faculty.

Official Transcripts

Prospective students usually need to submit official transcripts with their applications. These records provide schools with details on the applicant's previous education, prerequisites, and grades. According to our transfer guide, transcripts are also essential to the transfer credit process.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Degree?

Career Outlook

The more we understand addiction, mental health, and behavioral disorders, the greater the demand for these services increases and the more support people can provide. Additionally, the legal system is increasingly looking for treatment alternatives to jail time, which may help drive demand.

The BLS projects the addition of over 75,000 new addiction counselor jobs between 2020 and 2030. The BLS also projects more than 41,000 annual openings on average. The median annual wage for these professionals was $47,660 in May 2020.

Along with positions directly related to substance misuse, graduates with a master's in addiction counseling may pursue careers in behavioral counseling. Other options include mental health counseling, school and career counseling, and community and social service management jobs.

Find out where a master's in addiction counseling can take you. Learn more about counseling careers.

Career Paths

Addiction Counselor

These professionals support individuals with substance misuse conditions and mental health challenges. They assess clients, develop and implement treatment plans, and connect clients with social service and support programs. Counselors need state licensure, which typically requires a master's degree and significant clinical experience.

Median Annual Salary: $47,660


Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists help law offenders in their rehabilitation. They evaluate probationers, develop rehabilitation plans, and advise the legal system on the offender's progress. These professionals may need additional academy training to qualify for employment.

Median Annual Salary: $55,690


Social and Community Service Manager

These professionals develop and run community service programs for organizations. They research opportunities, assess program effectiveness, and increase awareness. They also communicate with stakeholders. Social and community service managers may specialize in certain fields, such as substance misuse.

Median Annual Salary: $69,600


School and Career Counselor

School and career counselors help students and professionals work through their current paths and prepare for their next steps. They help them set goals, evaluate their progress, and assist them as they work through challenges. Licensure requirements vary by state. But counselors typically need a master's degree, supervised clinical experience, and a passing grade on a certification test.

Median Annual Salary: $58,120


Social Worker

Social workers help individuals and groups work through diverse challenges. They evaluate individuals and groups to identify their needs, provide support and services, and respond to crises. Social workers typically need a master's degree and supervised clinical experience for licensure.

Median Annual Salary: $51,760


Addiction Counseling Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Psychology Careers Behavioral Psychology Careers Social Work Careers

Continuing Education

While a master's in addiction counseling leads to many community and social service occupations, it can also grant access to doctoral programs. In addition to a doctorate in addiction counseling, the foundational counseling training may qualify graduates for a doctorate in family counseling or a doctorate in school counseling.

Depending on the state, these degrees may also lead to postgraduate licensure or certification. Check out what counseling licenses are available in your state and what licensure requirements it has.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Program?

Cost

Program cost is often a top consideration for prospective students. They should compare costs for online and on-campus programs, in-state and out-of-state programs, and private and public schools. Prospective learners should also think about the true program cost, which factors in their working income.

Program Format

Program format plays a large role in when and how students learn. Prospective learners should think about what format works best for them and look for schools and programs offering that option. Consider, for example, comparing synchronous vs. asynchronous studies and full-time vs. part-time studies.

Location

All prospective students choosing between online and on-campus studies should consider location. On-campus learners typically choose locations nearby or within traveling distance. While online learners can expand their parameters, they may still need to travel to campus to complete residency requirements.

Accreditation

According to our online college accreditation guide, institutional accreditation is one of the most important considerations for students. Accreditation can impact financial aid, licensure, and employment. While not mandatory, programmatic accreditation may influence postgraduate opportunities.

Student Support

The type of student services schools provide can add to higher education experiences and outcomes. Prospective students should investigate what their ideal schools and programs offer. They may look at the specific online student services, academic and wellness support, career services, college mentorships, and internships.

Best Accredited Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Programs

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  1. Virginia Commonwealth University
    Location

    Richmond, VA

    Tuition

    $20897

    VCU serves over 30,000 students every year. Distance learners can pursue an online master's in addiction studies that emphasizes a cross-cultural examination of treatment and prevention issues. Students may enroll part time or full time, gaining the skills needed to pursue careers in program management and international policy.

    The 36-credit curriculum covers topics like the biological basis of addiction, research methodologies, and relevant public health issues. Students examine various treatment strategies, including psychosocial interventions and pharmacotherapies. The program culminates in an intensive research project.

    Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also submit a statement of intent and three recommendation letters. The program does not require GRE scores for admission. Prospective students may apply for the fall semester.

  2. University of North Texas
    Location

    Denton, TX

    Tuition

    $12600

    UNT offers more than 60 online certificates and degrees through the Canvas platform, including an online master's in rehabilitation counseling. This 60-credit program allows distance learners to complete all of their required coursework online or take some courses on UNT's Denton campus.

    Required courses include medical and psychosocial aspects of disability, counseling theories and techniques, and research and program evaluation. Students can explore various addiction counseling models and treatments through electives. All learners must complete at least 700 hours of supervised fieldwork.

    Admission requirements include a current resume, two professional recommendation letters, and a personal statement. Applicants may also be asked to complete an on-campus interview.

  3. Governors State University
    Location

    University Park, IL

    Tuition

    $15304

    GSU serves approximately 5,500 students in over 80 programs, including an online master of health science in addiction studies. After completing this 32-credit program, graduates are prepared to work as policy experts, certified counselors, and program managers.

    Required coursework covers topics like substance abuse prevention, psychopharmacology, and psychopathology and coexisting disorders. Students may pursue an addictions counseling concentration and complete a criminal justice internship to become a certified criminal justice addictions professional. The program culminates in a comprehensive exam.

    Applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA and submit a personal statement discussing their professional interests and goals for the program. This program is accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission

  4. University of South Dakota
    Location

    Vermillion, SD

    Tuition

    $17354

    The state's flagship higher education institution, USD educates about 10,000 students annually and offers a variety of innovative programs, including an online master of arts in addiction counseling and prevention.

    The curriculum totals 33 or 45 credits, depending on a student's academic and professional background. Required courses include advanced legal/ethical issues, relapse prevention, and case management and assessment of co-occurring disorders. All students must also complete an internship.

    Prospective students must have a minimum 3.0 GPA, and applicants with at least one year of relevant work experience are preferred. This master's program is fully accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission.

  5. Monmouth University
    Location

    West Long Branch, NJ

    Tuition

    $30320

    Based in West Long Branch, New Jersey, Monmouth offers over 20 graduate programs, including an online master of arts in addiction studies that prepares students for careers as licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselors. The curriculum covers topics like human growth and development, group dynamics, and assessment of individual clients.

    After completing required coursework, students complete a 100-hour field placement. Learners can complete all coursework online or take some on-campus evening courses.

    Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA, two professional recommendations, and a personal narrative. Applicants must submit GRE scores unless they already hold a graduate degree in a related field. Monmouth's master's in addiction program is accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission and the International Coalition for Addiction Studies Education.

  6. Regent University
    Location

    Virginia Beach, VA

    Tuition

    $16779

    Regent offers programs in over 135 different fields, including an online master's in human services in addictions counseling. A non-licensure option, this 30-credit program prepares graduates to work as pastoral counselors, clinical case managers, and medical/health services coordinators.

    Required courses include addiction intervention, addictive behavior and substance abuse, and advanced counseling skills and techniques. Students also delve into the psychological and physiological aspects of process addiction. The program features eight-week courses and no residency requirements, providing distance learners with plenty of flexibility.

    Prospective students must have a BA or BS earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA from a regionally accredited school. Regent prefers applicants with degrees in psychology, counseling, or a related human behavioral field.

  7. Liberty University
    Location

    Lynchburg, VA

    Tuition

    $27432

    Liberty is a leading provider of distance learning, offering over 300 online graduate programs, including an online master of arts in addiction counseling. This program teaches students the skills needed to work as managed care specialists, clinical case managers, and rehabilitation counselors. Students can fulfill up to 50% of degree requirements with transfer credits, and most students graduate in under two years.

    The 48-credit curriculum includes coursework in multicultural counseling, theories of family systems, and diagnosis and treatment planning of addictive disorders. Through electives, learners can examine specialized topics like acute stress, grief, and trauma. All students must also complete an internship.

    To qualify for full admission, applicants need a 3.0 GPA or higher. Prospective students who do not meet this threshold can enroll on a provisional basis.

  8. University of the Cumberlands
    Location

    Williamsburg, KY

    Tuition

    $17588

    Based in Williamsburg, Kentucky, UC serves approximately 13,000 students every year. Distance learners can choose from more than 40 programs, including an online master's in addiction counseling. Graduates can pursue careers as licensed counselors, public health educators, and regulatory affairs directors.

    The 60-credit curriculum includes core courses in etiology and diagnosis of mental disorders, advanced clinical assessment, and research methods and program evaluation. Students examine the theories and practices for group, multicultural, and grief/crisis counseling. All learners must complete an internship.

    Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. The program does not require GRE scores for admission and accepts up to 30 transfer credits. This master's in addiction counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

  9. Prescott College
    Location

    Prescott, AZ

    Tuition

    $22968

    Prescott College powers distance learning with the Moodle platform, overseeing 41 online certificates and degree programs. Among its offerings is a master's degree in counseling with an emphasis in addictions counseling. Using a hybrid, limited-residency delivery method, this 60-credit program combines asynchronous courses with in-person residencies where learners connect with professors and peers.

    Required courses cover topics like psychopathology; career and lifestyle development; and marriage, couple, and family counseling. Students also delve into pertinent ethical concerns and social justice challenges in the field. In addition to a supervised practicum, all students must complete a two-semester internship.

    This program offers fall and spring start dates. Applicants must submit a personal essay, a resume, and two recommendation letters. Financial aid opportunities include endowed scholarships.

  10. Wright State University
    Location

    Dayton, OH

    Tuition

    $14136

    Wright State serves more than 14,000 students annually, many of whom enroll online. The university offers an online master of rehabilitation counseling in addiction counseling through the Blackboard platform. After completing this 63-credit program, graduates qualify for professional counseling licensure in Ohio.

    The program includes required coursework in areas like group process counseling, treatment and prevention of addictions, and advanced personality theory and psychopathology. The curriculum also covers case formulation, clinical intervention, and supervision. All students must complete a practicum and an internship.

    Applicants can earn full admission if they have a minimum 3.3 GPA or a minimum 2.7 GPA and adequate GRE or MAT scores. Prospective students with a 2.3-2.7 GPA may be able to enroll on a conditional basis.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Addiction Counseling Programs

true Is a master's in addiction counseling worth it?

Yes. A master's in addiction counseling provides many benefits to graduates. They can access several counseling professions, along with general community and social service occupations. The degree also acts as a foundation for a doctoral degree in similar fields.

Online learners often enjoy the added value of an online degree as well. The flexible and accessible training allows learners to better balance their study, work, and home lives. They can also access more programs without being limited by travel requirements.

true What can I do with a master's in addiction counseling?

With a master's in addiction counseling, graduates typically pursue substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor careers. They can also access other community and social service positions, including social work and school and career counseling.

Master's degree graduates may qualify for state licensure, which permits them to work in clinical positions in many fields. For graduates looking to continue their training, several doctoral degree paths are available. For example, they can access family, mental health, or behavioral disorder counseling degrees.

true Are addiction counseling graduates in demand?

Yes. The increase in addiction and mental health services has created a lot of demand for professionals in this field. The BLS projects 23% growth for addiction counselors between 2020 and 2030. This is nearly three times faster than the projected growth rate of 8% for all U.S. occupations.

The BLS also projects 12% growth for all community and social service occupations between 2020 and 2030. That works out to nearly 350,000 new positions over that period. As local, state, and federal governments invest in more health services, the demand may continue to grow.

How much money can I make with a master's in addiction counseling?

The amount of money available to graduates with a master's in addiction counseling depends on the field, location, and employer. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for addiction counselors was $47,660 in May 2020.

The top industries employing these counselors varied in the median annual salaries they provided. For example, government positions paid $54,070, hospitals paid $50,460, and individual and family services paid $47,580 in May 2020. In the same year, outpatient mental health and substance misuse centers paid $45,960, and residential mental health and substance misuse facilities paid $40,560.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in addiction counseling?

The highest-paying job for graduates with a master's in addiction counseling was in social and community service management as of May 2020. According to the BLS, these professionals earned a median annual wage of $69,600. The highest 10% of earners in the field made more than $115,800.

The top employment industries for this career included local government agencies, religious organizations, and individual and family services. These industries paid median annual wages of $87,720, $72,860, and $64,330 in May 2020, respectively.

Check out our guide on how to become a mental health social worker. Learn about career requirements and what the position might look like. Considering a career in social work? Read our list of social work jobs featuring average pay and education requirements for each. Is a psychology degree worth it? Explore potential career opportunities for psychology degrees and the benefits of continuing your education in the field.

BestColleges.com 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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