Best Online Substance Abuse Counseling Programs

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Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors help and support clients who struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, and other potentially destructive addictions. If you're looking to pursue a career in the field, you may be able to become a counselor with just a bachelor's degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that all 50 states require full licensure for all counselors in private practice, including substance abuse and behavioral disorder specialists. The requirements for substance abuse counselors outside private practice vary by state; some states require you to have a college degree. In others, you may also need to pass a mandatory addiction counselor certification or licensing exam.

An online substance abuse counseling degree helps students develop the foundational knowledge and skills they need to enter the workforce. The best online programs also prepare prospective counselors to tackle the licensure requirements in their state, including the licensing exam. Additionally, the web-based format is ideal for students who must balance their schoolwork with other important commitments, such as part-time employment or childcare duties.

Learn more about what you can do with a bachelor's degree in addiction counseling online and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.


A bachelor's degree is considered the first step toward a successful career in substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling. Students in the field learn about the psychological impulses behind addiction, as well as different techniques for administering client therapy. Most colleges and universities tailor their online bachelor's programs to fit state licensure requirements. Additionally, many programs include internships to help students meet clinical requirements in the state where they plan to practice. According to the BLS, state clinical requirements range between 2,000 and 4,000 supervised hours. Online substance abuse counseling certification is currently unavailable.


Online bachelor's programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional, classroom-based college education. Most programs are taught asynchronously, or in a self-paced format, allowing students to submit written assignments and take exams at their convenience. Current technology also enables them to study away from their home computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other device with Wi-Fi capabilities. For additional convenience, substance abuse counseling programs usually allow online students to coordinate clinical internships and practicum courses at sites near their current residence.


Students who graduate with a bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling and subsequently complete all of their state's licensure requirements will be able to offer their services in private practice. Additionally, these candidates will be prepared for positions in outpatient centers, addiction rehabilitation facilities, and other healthcare establishments. In order to boost their career standing even further, many substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors eventually pursue a master's degree in the field.


Below, we've ranked the top bachelor's in substance abuse counseling programs in the country. Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a school's strengths match your educational needs. If you are considering pursuing an online bachelor's in substance abuse counseling, be sure to take a look at these top schools.

See Methodology
Rank School Name Location Description
1 Washburn University LOCATION Topeka, KS

Misericordia offers its Addictions Counseling Certificate program entirely online. Those who intend to terminate their studies with the completion of this certificate have the option of replacing the field practicum with another 3-credit course. This program prepares students for the Certified Addiction Counseling (CAC) exam process. Applicants who reside in Pennsylvania should keep in mind that the minimum education requirements for state certification include a bachelor's degree.

Students attending online classes use the popular Blackboard learning management system to access digital course materials, discuss class topics on message boards and join interactive web conferences. Students use the e-MU system to access additional remote services, like campus announcements, grades, complimentary software and course calendars.

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2 Misericordia University COST LOCATION Dallas, PA

Prospective UC students may enroll in the Substance Abuse Counseling certificate program if they are currently pursuing or have completed a bachelor's degree. The courses for this certificate program are provided exclusively in an online format. While program graduates will meet the academic requirements of state licensure, they must also complete practice hours in the field to be eligible to take the exam in Ohio.

Online students sign onto the widespread Blackboard platform to access a virtual learning environment complete with features like multimedia web conferences, shared academic files and discussion boards. Distance learners can get technical support seven days a week by emailing or calling 513-556-HELP. Online students can also take advantage of other digital resources, including personal web hosting, online journal databases and webmail.

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3 University of Great Falls COST LOCATION Great Falls, MT

The Associate of Science in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling at National University blends an entirely online curriculum with a seven month campus-based practicum experience. Both the certificate and associate degree programs meet the basic requirements in all 50 states, as well as 72 countries for drug and alcohol counselor certification.

Students must take two prerequisite courses in psychology or sociology before they can move onto the nine required courses for this major. Undergraduates are expected to follow the standards of practice and ethics set forth in the counseling curriculum.

Each online course runs for one month at a time. Distance learners use the Blackboard Learn digital classroom to read academic texts, chat with classmates and submit their assignments to instructors. Courses are delivered asynchronously, so that students have the flexibility to sign on and participate 24/7.

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4 Community College of Vermont LOCATION Winooski, VT

The online Associate Degree in Addictions Counseling offered by the University of Great Falls is designed to meet Montana state licensure requirements. Through this program, students explore coursework on human services, pharmacology, and counseling. Prospective students must be able to present completion of a high school diploma or GED to be considered for this program.

Synchronous class lectures and discussions are hosted through the Microsoft Lync system, a highly interactive platform where students can follow along with presentation slides, streaming video of speakers, and even whiteboard alterations. Asynchronous coursework is delivered through the Moodle course management system, which supports students and instructor communications through webmail, chat, and discussion boards.

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5 Tompkins Cortland Community College LOCATION Dryden, NY

This two-year college provides students with an opportunity to earn an Associate of Applied Science in Addictions and Prevention Studies completely online. The program is designed so that students can easily transition into a bachelor's program at a Kansas state academic institution upon graduation. To qualify for admission, applicants must submit their high school or GED transcripts, along with test scores such as the ACT, SAT or COMPASS.

Distance learners log into the Blackboard system to access online classes, discuss course materials via chat and electronically submit assignments. Students can sign on at their convenience, as courses are delivered on an asynchronous schedule. Technical support can be reached by emailing

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6 Vincennes University LOCATION Vincennes, IN

Great Basin College's hybrid Certificate of Achievement in Substance Abuse Counselor Training blends several learning formats, including online, independent study and interactive video. Students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 during their studies to earn the certificate. Prerequisite course topics include English, math and human relations. The entire program can be completed within a single year of study.

The Great Basin College WebCampus is powered by the Canvas learning management system, a versatile platform compatible with Macs, PCs and mobile devices. Through Canvas, students can access shared cloud documents, assemble ePortfolios, take quizzes and connect to synchronous web conferences. Students take interactive video courses in groups on campus or at satellite locations.

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7 Mohave Community College LOCATION Kingman, AZ

Washburn University's Addiction Counseling Certificate can be earned online with the completion of an internship in a student's area of residence. The curriculum is based on the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) standards. Students are familiarized with professional competencies as defined by the Technical Assistance Publications (TAP) 21.

Online courses at Washburn U are delivered through the Desire2Learn platform, a robust system where students can take quizzes, share academic materials, submit assignments and participate in threaded discussions. The webmail and course calendar systems are driven by Microsoft Office 365. The Information Technology Services department provides online students with assistance seven days a week through a hotline that can be reached at (785) 670-3000.

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8 National University COST LOCATION La Jolla, CA

The certificate and Associate of Applied Science (AAS) programs in Chemical Dependency Counseling can both be earned in a blended format or 100% online at TCCC. The AAS can be completed within four semesters, while the certificate requires just two semesters. Students may also pursue re-credentialing through these programs. It is important to note that a full year of supervised field experience is required for both options.

Online learners use the Blackboard platform to read academic materials, connect with their classmates and instructors through discussion boards and view presentation slides from lectures. Courses are delivered asynchronously, allowing students to participate 24/7.

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9 Great Basin College LOCATION Elko, NV

Undergraduates can earn a certificate or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Addictions and Substance Use Disorders entirely online at Rio Salado College. Those wanting additional professional development can explore three certificate levels, designed to expand counseling skill sets. Generally, applicants should have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 to be considered for these programs.

Rio Salado has a host of 24/7 resources for online students, including helpdesk support, remote tutoring and a digital library. Distance learners sign into the RioLearn system to access these services, along with course materials, assignments and educational software. Students can reach instructional technicians by phone or by signing onto a live chat session between 9am and 5pm daily.

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10 Allen County Community College COST LOCATION Iola, KS

The Associate of Applied Science in Chemical Dependency program can be completed online through both synchronous and asynchronous learning modules. Additionally, students must participate in a field experience at a health care institution. Prerequisite course subjects include critical thinking, technology and communications. Mohave has partnered with 19 other Arizona-based colleges and universities to create online associate programs that seamlessly transfer into four-year degree programs. A minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 in all courses is required to graduate.

Online learners sign into the ANGEL learning management suite to rent digital textbooks, read their course syllabi, turn in homework assignments and contribute to classroom discussions. The Mohave helpdesk is available via email ( or phone (866-664-2832) to assist distance learners with technical issues. Students should expect to spend 6-9 hours a week studying for each digital course.

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This Certificate in Substance Abuse Services can be earned through the completion of nine fully online courses and a fieldwork study experience. The program takes approximately 12 months to complete. Students should note that the state of Vermont requires additional academic credentials beyond this undergraduate program to fulfill its certification requirements.

The Center for Online Learning manages their digital courses through Moodle, a system that features learning tools like shared classroom files, interactive wiki pages, surveys, quizzes and workshops. Prospective students are invited to try out the Moodle system with an online demo course. Distance learners have two technical support avenues to use when they need assistance: the Vermont State Colleges Help Desk at (802) 828-2810 or the online Moodle Medic.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Location Description
1 Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion RANKING SCORE 67.81 COST Graduation Rate 70% LOCATION Marion, IN

Indiana Wesleyan, an evangelical Christian university of the Wesleyan Church, is the biggest private college in Indiana and the largest member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. The 350-acre campus in Marion is home to 3,000 students; an additional 10,000 adult learners attend classes at satellites in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and in virtual classrooms. IWU offers more than 80 undergraduate degree programs, including a bachelors in substance abuse counseling online.

IWU’s Bachelors of Science in addictions counseling explores substance abuse issues from a Christian perspective. The cohort-based degree is offered completely through the web, with a 350-hour, in-person practicum at an agreed-upon location. The curriculum delves into theory, physiology, pharmacology, personality types, dysfunctional families, and the best practices to deal with the growing problem of addiction. The degree can be earned in 22 months. Graduates meet the licensure requirements in most states. Five start dates are available for added flexibility. The school’s Off Campus Library Service is available to assist online learners.

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2 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus RANKING SCORE 61.25 COST Graduation Rate 62% LOCATION Cincinnati, OH

UC, one of the country’s leading research institutions, sits in Ohio’s third-largest city on a campus nationally recognized for its beauty. The school has a student population of 44,000. UC has a virtual campus where students can pursue more than 75 degrees and certificates, from the associate’s to the masters’ level. The bachelor’s in substance abuse counseling is offered by the university’s college of education, criminal justice and human services.

The addiction counseling degree online prepares students to become practicing clinicians in the field of chemical dependency treatment and prevention. Students can choose to concentrate in several areas, like child abuse, or another human-service field. Classes are designed to simulate clinical settings. The Blackboard platform is used to deliver curriculum materials in an asynchronous format. Even though UC’s distance learners are commonly part-time, they complete their degrees at a rate comparable to full-time on-campus students. Graduates meet the coursework requirements for licensure in Ohio; other states may differ. UC provides an array of support services to distance students, including OhioLink Library Resources, exam proctoring, and tutoring.

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3 Northwestern State University of Louisiana RANKING SCORE 60.00 COST Graduation Rate 36% LOCATION Natchitoches, LA

NSU, located in Natchitoches, was founded in 1884 as the state of Louisiana’s normal school. It’s a comprehensive public university with 9,000 students, the majority of whom are undergraduates. In addition to the main campus, the school has satellite facilities in Alexandria, Fort Polk, Shreveport, and online. NSU’s web arm, eNSU, has been offering web-based learning longer than any other college in the state and has the most options: 39 degree programs. These include a substance abuse counselor degree online.

ENSU’s bachelor of science in psychology with a concentration in substance abuse is a 120-credit program that explores human behavior, addictive personalities, and modern advances in the field of substance abuse treatment. The curriculum features classes like family dynamics, pharmacology of addiction, and group counseling. The program has been nationally ranked for both affordability and quality; online students pay in-state tuition. ENSU hosts a variety of support services for online learners including a Student Help Desk, advising, and tutoring.

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4 City Vision University RANKING SCORE 57.19 COST Graduation Rate 50% LOCATION Kansas City, MO

City Vision is a fully-accredited university with the mission of providing “radically affordable Christian education.” The school is based in Kansas City, Missouri, and was established in 1998 by the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions. It offers web-based business administration, nonprofit management, technology ministry, and urban missions programs, along with an online substance abuse counseling degree.

The bachelors in addiction studies was developed in collaboration with the NET Institute, a national center for addiction and recovery education. It takes students through the twelve core functions of substance abuse counselors, from screening to aftercare. Designed to prepare graduates for licensure exams, the 120-credit curriculum explores crisis intervention, group therapy, counseling skills, and issues related to addiction, like family dynamics and mental illness. Up to 90 credits can be transferred from accredited programs. City Vision claims its tuition is cheaper than 95 percent of nonprofit, private colleges.

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5 Ohio Christian University RANKING SCORE 56.56 COST Graduation Rate 36% LOCATION Circleville, OH

Ohio Christian, based in Circleville, Ohio, was founded shortly after World War II as Circleville Bible College with the goal of educating ministers for the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. It has grown since, adding degrees in business, government, human services, and psychology, and adding online programs. More than 500 students live on the school’s campus, and another 4,000 are enrolled at satellites in Ohio, Georgia, and online.

Ohio Christian’s substance abuse counselor degree online is designed for adults and delivered with a Christian worldview. The BA in substance abuse counseling is a 120-credit program divided into three sections: general education (36 credits), electives (36 credits), and program requirements (48 credits). This includes courses like christian excellence and spiritual dimensions of illness and recovery. Classes are asynchronous, cohort-based, and offered sequentially. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1, students are able to work closely with classmates and teachers. Students can earn credits through a prior learning assessment. The OCU Discovery Service allows online students to explore and access the library online. The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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4 to 5 years
Program Costs
$10,000 to $20,000 for annual tuition
Popular Minors and Dual Areas of Study
Psychology, Family and Marriage Counseling, Community Counseling, Youth Counseling, Social Work, Child and Family Studies, Human Development and Family Studies, Health Services Administration
American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA); Council on Rehabilitation Education Commission on Standards and Accreditation

Job Placement

The career outlook for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is currently quite promising. An industry profile by U.S. News & World Report noted that the unemployment rate for counselors in this field is 3.3%. By comparison, the national unemployment rate is 5.0%. Furthermore, the BLS projects that positions in substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling will grow 22%from 2014 to 2024, leading to roughly 21,200 new jobs nationwide.

The growth rate is comparable to projections for other counseling fields. Using BLS data, the table below compares the industry outlook for four different counseling professions.

Profession Projected Growth Rate (2014-24) Projected Job Increase
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors 22% 21,200
School and Career Counselors 8% 22,500
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists 19% 31,400
Rehabilitation Counselors 9% 10,800

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Currently, the BLS projects that the economy as a whole will grow by 7%. As the table indicates, above-average growth is expected across the counseling industry from 2014 to 2024.

Earning a Living

According to the BLS, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earn a median annual income of $39,980 per year; this salary equates to an hourly wage of $19.22. However, it's important to note that the salary for an addiction counselor will gradually increase over the course of their career. The next table features the average salary for substance abuse counselors at four career benchmarks.

Career Stage Average Annual Salary
Entry-Level (0-5 Years) $33,577
Mid-Career (5-10 Years) $37,850
Experienced (10-20 Years) $40,422
Late-Career (20+ Years) $43,796

Source: PayScale

According to data in the table above, substance abuse counselors generally increase their annual earnings by roughly 30% between the entry-level and late-career stages. PayScale also notes that the average earnings for substance abuse counselors is on par with salaries for similar occupations, such as mental health counselors and licensed clinical professional counselors.

Career Opportunities

Students who graduate with a bachelor's degree in substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling and earn a state-issued license will be qualified for a variety of jobs in private and non-private practice. Below, we've covered four common positions for substance abuse counseling graduates.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors: These counselors work with clients who are currently battling addiction, as well as those who are in the treatment, rehabilitation, and recovery stages. They often focus on underlying psychological or emotional issues that trigger addictive behaviors. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors may deliver therapy in one-on-one, couple, family, or group-based settings.

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: Mental health counselors support clients who are battling various emotional and behavioral issues; common areas of focus include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Marriage and family therapists typically address the same mental health issues using couples or family-based therapy. These professionals typically specialize in cognitive therapy, which enables patients to understand their destructive tendencies and potentially replace them with more positive, goal-oriented habits and routines.

School and Career Counselors: These counselors can be found at all grade levels in public and private schools across the United States. Elementary school counselors generally focus on identifying behavioral problems, learning disorders, and other issues that could negatively impact a student's personal growth and academic progress. In middle and high schools, counselors support students with emotional issues while also providing advice about college, employment, and other post-diploma pathways for high school graduates.

Rehabilitation Counselors: These counselors primarily offer services to patients with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. They evaluate their clients' abilities and help them secure employment, prepare for college, and perform other tasks associated with independent adult living. Rehabilitation counselors also maintain active client files used to track individual progress and pinpoint areas where further improvement is needed.

Profession Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2014-24) Minimum Educational Attainment Licensure Requirements
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors $39,980 22% (21,200 jobs) Bachelor's degree For private practice, counselors must log 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical training and pass a state-issued licensing exam. Annual continuing education courses are also required.
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists $43,190 19% (31,400 jobs) Master's degree For private practice, counselors must log 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised postdegree training and pass a state-issued licensing exam. Annual continuing ed courses are also required.
School and Career Counselors $53,660 8% (22,500 jobs) Master's degree For public school employment, counselors must receive a state-issued certification. Some states also require 1-2 years of classroom experience and/or a teaching license.
Rehabilitation Counselors $34,390 9% (10,800 jobs) Master's degree Counselors who serve clients and patients must log 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised postdegree training and pass a state-issued licensing exam. Annual continuing ed courses are also required.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Many substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors choose to continue their education with a master's degree program.

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different counseling approaches is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you'll find three of the country's most prominent organizations established for physician's assistants. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • The Association for Addiction Professionals: This global organization (NAADAC for short) represents roughly 85,000 counselors, educators, and other addiction-related personnel in the United States, Canada, and overseas. Member benefits include reduced rates on professional development courses, complimentary journal subscriptions, and discounts for malpractice and liability insurance.
  • American Counseling Association: Founded in 1952, the ACA is considered the world's largest professional organization for professional counselors, and has more than 52,000 current members. The ACA website features a large virtual knowledge center that contains information about licensure requirements, diagnostics, ethics, and other important aspects of the field. Continuing education opportunities, journal publications, and an online job board are also available.
  • International Association of Addiction and Offender Counselors: The IAAOC represents addiction counselors, along with counseling professionals working in forensics and criminal justice. The association publishes a peer-reviewed online periodical, the Journal of Addictions & Offenders Counseling, and members are invited to participate in complimentary webinar courses.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.


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Rankings Archive

Best Online Substance Abuse Counseling Programs of 2016
Rank School Location
1 Stanford University Stanford, CA
2 Columbia University in the City of New York New York, NY
3 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
4 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
5 University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA
6 John Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
7 Georgia Tech Atlanta, GA
8 Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA
9 North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC
10 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA
11 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL
12 Clemson University Clemson, SC
13 University of California - Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
14 Texas A&M University College Station, TX
15 Villanova University Villanove, PA
16 Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA
17 University of Maryland - College Park College Park, MD
18 Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester, MA
19 University of Wisconsin - Madison Madison, WI
20 Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago, IL
21 Purdue University West Lafayette, IN
22 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH
23 University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN
24 Naval Postgraduate School Monterey, CA
25 New Jersey Institute of Technology Newark, NJ