Addiction counselors work with individuals, families, and communities to support people struggling with substance use disorders. Counselors may specialize in specific substances, like alcohol or drugs, or focus on particular addictive behaviors. They may also help adolescents prevent and treat addictions. As a profession, addiction counselors are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects addiction counseling jobs to increase 23% by 2026, making it one of the fastest growing fields.

To work as an addiction counselor, professionals typically need a master's degree in addiction counseling. During the degree, graduate students build skills in counseling, the physiology of addiction, and treating substance use disorders. This article describes how to find the best program for your career goals, navigate the application process, and succeed during and after a master's in addiction counseling program.

Should I Get a Master's in Addiction Counseling?

A master's degree in addiction counseling prepares graduates for state licenses, professional certifications, and a career as an addiction counselor. As a degree that leads to a defined career path, an addiction counseling master's degree appeals to individuals with focused professional goals. The degree can also lead to careers in adolescent counseling, mental health counseling, school counseling, and social service management.

During a counseling program, graduate students strengthen individual and group counseling skills. They also study the physiological and social effects of addiction, with many students specializing in certain types of addictions or addictive behaviors. Master's students also complete a practicum to build their professional experience under the supervision of a counselor. The practicum helps students create a professional network while completing their degree.

As counseling students near graduation, programs offer assistance identifying jobs, completing licensing requirements, and applying for certifications. Students can also use professional organizations to find job opportunities. After graduation, counselors with a master's degree meet the education requirements for state licensure, and they benefit from increased competitiveness in the job market.

Prospective addiction counseling students must consider whether an on-campus or online program best meets their needs. Recent graduates of a bachelor's program or students seeking to relocate may prefer an on-campus option. Working professionals, people with family obligations, or professionals seeking a career change may prefer the flexibility of an online counseling program, where students complete the practicum requirements locally.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Addiction Counseling?

Earning a master's degree can lead to a professional career as an addiction counselor. Addiction counselors provide individual, group, and community counseling around substance use disorders, and they may also work for government agencies that study or manage addiction. The degree also qualifies graduates for other counseling positions, such as mental health or school counseling. Graduates may also move into management-level positions in social service organizations.

Addiction Counselor

Addiction counselors specialize in helping clients with substance use disorders. They may work with people suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, or other addictive behavior. Addiction counselors work in mental health centers, community service organizations, and private practice. A master's degree in addiction counseling meets the educational qualifications for the position.

Median Annual Salary: $43,300*

Counselors (Other)

Counselors who specialize in addiction may also work in related fields, offering family counseling, working for government organizations, or staffing outpatient care organizations. An addiction counseling master's degree qualifies graduates for most counseling positions.

Median Annual Salary: $43,370*

Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors support people struggling with mental health challenges. They may offer individual and group counseling to help clients modify behaviors and improve their mental health. Most mental health counselors need a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $43,300*

Social Service Manager

Social service managers coordinate and supervise social service programs, overseeing assistants and counselors who provide services. Addiction counselors who want to move out of practice and into management may become social service managers, and a master's degree qualifies candidates for the position.

Median Annual Salary: $64,100*

School Counselor

Addiction counselors who specialize in supporting adolescents may work as school counselors. Some schools, particularly at the high school level, may rely on addiction counselors to help students struggling with substance use disorders. School counselors must typically hold a master's degree and earn a state license.

Median Annual Salary: $55,410*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Master's in Addiction Counseling Program

Prospective counseling students can narrow their choices in master's in addiction counseling programs by considering several important factors, such as cost, location, and time to completion. By researching and comparing programs, students can identify the best programs to reach their career goals.

For many students, cost remains one of the most important considerations. The total cost of a counseling degree varies depending on the program and institution. For instance, some online programs offer tuition discounts for fully online students. Students may also apply for scholarships, grants, and fellowships to make programs more affordable. In addition to tuition, students should also research additional fees, technology costs, and living expenses for each prospective program.

Location often determines which program best fits a student's needs. Some students, particularly those with work or family obligations, cannot move to attend an out-of-state graduate program. These students may benefit from online addiction counseling master's programs, which provide access to top programs without the need to relocate. Students interested in online programs can research the best online master's in addiction counseling programs.

Prospective students should also consider the time to completion for each program. Program characteristics, such as practicum hour and curriculum requirements, play significant roles in how long it takes to earn a degree. These factors also influence the cost of a master's degree in addiction counseling.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Addiction Counseling Programs

Accreditation is a marker of an institution's standards for academic excellence. While regional and national accreditation review an entire college or university, programmatic accreditation evaluates a specific program within the university. Programmatic accrediting agencies review programs such as business schools, teaching programs, and social work programs. In counseling, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) confers programmatic accreditation. CACREP reviews counseling programs that voluntarily submit to the accreditation process and grants accreditation to those which meet the agency's standards.

Prospective graduate students should choose a CACREP-accredited program to improve their career prospects after graduation. Programmatic accreditation benefits students by meeting the qualifications for state licensure, and many certification programs only accept candidates with a CACREP-accredited degree. Graduates from CACREP-accredited programs also receive higher scores on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification, according to CACREP.

Master's in Addiction Counseling Program Admissions

Students pursuing a master's degree in addiction counseling should research the admission process for potential programs. The requirements and deadlines vary depending on the institution, and students should plan to spend several weeks preparing their applications. Prospective students should start by ensuring they meet each program's prerequisites, including any required courses, degrees, or experience. Many programs offer opportunities to take prerequisite classes or receive provisional admission for candidates who do not meet GPA minimums.

The admission process often differs between on-campus and online programs, with some online programs requiring applicants to work with an admissions adviser. When researching the admission process, students should consider applying to some programs that may be a reach and some safety schools. Applying to multiple programs increases the chances of acceptance and receiving financial aid opportunities, such as scholarships or fellowships.


  • Bachelor's Degree: Most master's in addiction counseling programs require a bachelor's degree in counseling, and many set coursework prerequisites. However, some may admit students with a bachelor's in a related field, particularly if they completed core classes in counseling.
  • Professional Experience: While most programs do not require professional experience, many consider work experience when deciding to admit students. Applicants should detail their experience on the application.
  • Minimum GPA: Programs may set a minimum GPA for applicants, with many requiring a 3.0. Students who do not meet the requirement may qualify for provisional admission.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Candidates must submit an online or paper application, which covers their educational and professional experience. Many graduate programs also require a statement of purpose or essay detailing the applicant's professional goals.
  • Transcripts: Applicants submit transcripts from all postsecondary education. Programs use these transcripts to evaluate a candidate's readiness for graduate-level work.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Most programs require two or three letters of recommendation, which speak to the applicant's qualification for a graduate program in counseling. Applicants should give their letter writers at least three weeks' notice.
  • Test Scores: Programs may require standardized test scores, most commonly the GRE. Applicants should check the requirements for each program.
  • Application Fee: Prospective students pay an application fee to cover the cost of reviewing the admission materials. Students may apply for a fee waiver through the school.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Addiction Counseling Program?

While each addiction counseling master's program sets its own minimum practicum hours, concentrations, and curriculum, prospective students should research typical program requirements. By learning about concentrations, for example, incoming students can customize their coursework around their career goals.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling
Concentration Description Careers
Alcoholism Specialists in alcohol counseling may take classes in alcohol dependency, methods of breaking addiction to alcohol, and lifelong treatment for alcoholics. The track may prepare graduates to work in alcohol addiction research or for organizations that target alcoholism in the broader population. Addiction counselor, researcher
Drug Abuse A drug abuse concentration focuses on substance use disorders that involve drugs, including methamphetamines, pharmaceutical drugs, and heroin. Students may take classes on physical and mental dependency, and their counseling training may target these substance use disorders. Addiction counselor
Clinical Some programs may offer a clinical addiction counseling concentration, where graduate students learn to assess, diagnose, treat, and prevent substance use disorders. This track may include additional internship hours to gain clinical experience. Addiction counselor, clinical counselor
Adolescent Addiction Graduate students who concentrate in adolescent addiction build skills in supporting young people struggling with addictive behaviors or substance use disorders. They may take additional classes in counseling teens, school counseling, and social services for adolescents. Adolescent addiction counselor, school counselor
Mental Health Addiction counseling programs that offer a mental health track emphasize mental health disorders in addition to substance use disorders. Counseling students take classes in assessment, group counseling, and clinical counseling. Mental health counselor

Courses in a Master's in Addiction Counseling Program

Addiction counseling programs set their own curricula based on graduation requirements and available concentrations. However, most include the sample classes described below, including classes on treating families struggling with addiction, techniques for managing adolescent addiction, and a practicum to gain clinical experience.

Counseling Theories

Students in counseling theories class learn about the theories and models for treating substance use disorders. They may also look at drug classifications, assessment models, and the effects of substance use disorders. Graduate students also gain experience with research and learn about professional resources for counselors.


Addiction counseling students learn about the principles of psychopharmacology and the physical, social, and behavioral effects of addictive substances. Students study the symptoms of intoxication, addiction, withdrawal, and toxicity. The class may also cover screening tools, the legal context, and using pharmacotherapy in treating substance use disorders.

Families and Addictive Disorders

This class examines the impact of substance use disorders on family systems from the perspective of children, parents, and spouses. Counselors study the treatment roles of the addicted individual and their family members, and learn group counseling skills to help families deal with addiction.

Adolescent Addiction

Classes that focus on adolescents with substance use disorders emphasize prevention, treatment, and intervention. Counseling students study the symptoms and patterns of adolescent substance use, screening methods for young people, and assessment tools. The class may also include counseling techniques for young clients.


Many addiction counseling programs conclude with a supervised practicum to build hands-on counseling skills. Students must meet the minimum required hours in counseling training under a clinical supervisor. This may range from 150 hours to more than 600, depending on the program. Online students can arrange to complete the practicum at a local facility.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Addiction Counseling?

Graduate students in addiction counseling typically spend two to three years earning their degree. During this time, students take advanced coursework in counseling, psychopharmacology, and substance use disorders. They also complete the program's practicum requirements. The practicum may add time to the degree, depending on the program. Because the practicum requirements vary by program, prospective addiction counselors should research each program's requirements.

Addiction counseling students can choose an accelerated option to earn their degree faster. These programs may require a higher course load and summer classes. Alternatively, students balancing school with work or family obligations may prefer a part-time option. These students may also prefer the flexibility of an online program, which allows students to complete their coursework around other responsibilities.

How Much Is a Master's in Addiction Counseling?

Several factors influence the cost of a master's in addiction counseling, including the type of program and the program length. In general, public, in-state schools charge the lowest tuition rates, while private schools charge the most. In addition to tuition, graduate students must also consider living expenses, technology fees, and the cost of books. Nearly all addiction counseling programs cost more than $10,000 a year in tuition and related expenses.

Students may be able to limit expenses by researching tuition reductions for in-state residents or fully online students. Financial aid opportunities, such as scholarships, fellowships, and grants, can also decrease the cost of a degree. Some programs also allow transfer credits or grant credits for professional experience, which can both decrease the total cost and the length of a graduate program. Program requirements, such as the number of clinical hours, may also affect the overall cost, which students can research during the admission process.

After paying for the degree, graduate students must also budget for licensing examinations, certification expenses, and other professional costs, which may exceed $1,000 in the early years of an addiction counselor's career.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Addiction Counseling Prepares For

Licensed Professional Counselor

Addiction counselors must meet the state licensure requirements for the state in which they practice. Each state sets its own licensure process, and a master's degree in addiction counseling meets the educational requirements. Many states also require candidates to pass the national counselor examination, and counselors must renew their license.

National Certified Counselor

Offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors, this certification demonstrates that counselors meet high standards for educational training and work experience. Candidates must pass an examination and receive a professional endorsement from a colleague to gain certification. Once they earn board certification, counselors must complete renewal requirements.

Master Addictions Counselor

A specialty certification offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors, addiction counselors who completed their national certified counselor designation can apply to become master addiction counselors. Candidates must demonstrate graduate-level training in addiction counseling, which a master's degree in addiction counseling fulfills, and pass the examination for master addictions counselors.

National Certified Addiction Counselor

NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, offers certification for addiction counselors. Candidates with a master's in addiction counseling qualify for the level II certification, which also requires five years of work experience and a passing score on the certified addiction counselor examination.

National Certified Adolescent Addictions Counselor

NAADAC offers a certification for specialists in adolescent addiction counseling. Candidates must have at least a bachelor's degree, five years of work experience, and 270 contact hours of education and training in addiction or related counseling subjects. Applicants must also pass an examination to earn the certification.

Resources for Addiction Counseling Graduate Students

National Board for Certified Counselors

Counselors can earn board certification through the NBCC. The organization also offers a specialty certification as a master addictions counselor.

ACA Career Central

The American Counseling Association (ACA) runs a career center for counselors in all fields, including addiction counseling. The page provides a job board, resources for job seekers, and career consultations for ACA members.

Addiction Science and Clinical Practice

An open-access journal dedicated to the science of treating addictions, Addiction Science and Clinical Practice contains valuable research for doctoral students and professionals.

National Institute on Drug Abuse

A federal agency centered on drug abuse, NIDA provides resources and research on addiction. NIDA also provides opportunities for federal research funding.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

The foundation offers resources and tools for all types of counselors, and provides training in suicide prevention.

Professional Organizations in Addiction Counseling

Many graduate students in addiction counseling benefit from joining professional organizations while still in school. These organizations connect students with professional counselors and others who work in addiction treatment, such as physicians. Professional organizations also offer opportunities to pursue specialized certifications, access continuing education resources, and stay up to date on the latest research in the field. Graduate students also benefit from scholarship opportunities offered through professional organizations in addiction counseling.

American Counseling Association

The association brings together counselors working in various fields, including addiction counseling, to provide continuing education resources, scholarly publications, and professional development resources for counselors.

NAADAC: The Association for Addiction Professionals

NAADAC represents professionals working in all areas of addiction. The association offers certifications, professional development resources, webinars and training programs, and networking events for addiction counselors.

International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors

A division of the ACA, IAAOC publishes research in addiction counseling, offers webinars and other professional development resources, and hosts events at the ACA annual conference.

American Society of Addiction Medicine

Primarily aimed at physicians, ASAM also welcomes qualified professionals in addiction counseling. The society offers educational resources, publications, and clinical resources.

American Mental Health Counselors Association

Addiction counselors may benefit from the resources available through the AMHCA, which provides ethical support for counselors, publishes research, and offers continuing education resources.