Ph.D. in Addiction Psychology Program Guide

The demand for substance use disorder treatment is growing. Learn about the best Ph.D. in addiction psychology programs and related careers.
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  • A Ph.D. in addiction psychology can prepare you to work with clients, conduct research, or teach.
  • To become a licensed addiction psychologist, you need a doctorate in psychology.
  • Both a Ph.D. and a Psy.D. include extensive research requirements and a research thesis.
  • A Ph.D. emphasizes research and teaching, and a Psy.D. emphasizes clinical practice.

With the opioid crisis devastating lives all over the country, earning a Ph.D. in addiction psychology can prepare you to help. With this degree, you can treat people with substance use disorders, perform research on the best ways to prevent and treat substance misuse, or teach others how to become addiction psychologists.

This guide explains how to earn a Ph.D. in addiction psychology and what you can accomplish and earn with this degree. Explore more today to make a difference tomorrow.

Should You Get a Ph.D. in Addiction Psychology?

A Ph.D. in addiction psychology is a significant investment of time and money. However, psychologists often earn more than twice the national median salary. In independent practice especially, they can enjoy a high level of professional autonomy.

If you are looking for a growing field where you can make a difference, a Ph.D. in addiction psychology can be a promising option. You need a doctorate — either Ph.D. or a Psy.D. — and a license to become a psychologist.

If you already know that you want to become a psychologist, addiction psychology can be a personally rewarding choice. Similarly, as our understanding of the brain, medicine, and addiction itself grows, it can be a very exciting field with the opportunity to use or discover new developments.

Popular Online Psychology Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What to Expect from a Ph.D. in Addiction Psychology Program

Earning a Ph.D. in addiction psychology takes four to seven years, depending on the pace and how much time you can dedicate to study. You will learn about the many biological, social, and personal factors that affect addiction, psychological interventions and treatment, and how to conduct research in the psychology of addiction.

What You'll Learn

The curriculum for a Ph.D. in addiction psychology covers the social, socioeconomic, and personal factors that influence addiction in individuals and communities; the biology of addiction; the psychology of addiction and substance misuse disorders; and effective practices in treatment.

It also includes an extensive emphasis on conducting research, both literature reviews and original research studies. Skills you will learn include how to:

  • Effectively communicate with people with substance use disorders
  • Apply different psychological interventions
  • Understandand follow ethical and legal guidelines
  • Conduct various kinds of research
  • Write and publish research findings

What You'll Pay

Average Tuition, Fees and Expenses Per Year | 2019-20


How Long You'll Spend in School

4-7 Years

Source: NCES

Ph.D. Program vs. Psy.D. Program: Addiction Psychology

Program and Career Goals

You can apply for a psychologist license with either a Psy. D. or a Ph.D. in addiction psychology. In general, the Ph.D. curriculum emphasizes research, teaching, and publishing, while a Psy.D. emphasizes learning and applying effective practices as a psychologist. Both contain extensive research and practice elements, which is why you can practice or teach with either degree.


While both a Psy.D. and Ph.D. in addiction psychology include courses in psychology research methods and analysis, a Ph.D. puts more emphasis on research methods and on teaching.

Capstone Experience

Both a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. in addiction psychology include fieldwork and a dissertation.For a Ph.D. in addiction psychology, the final project is a dissertation that seeks to add to the body of knowledge in addiction psychology. A dissertation in a Psy.D. program also seeks to advance knowledge, but often focuses on how to best apply research.


The cost of earning a Ph.D. in addiction psychology depends on the school, but in general, a Ph.D. costs an average $38,764 per year for tuition, fees, and expenses, while a Psy.D. costs an average of $60,500 per year. However, financial aid can significantly reduce your cost.

Average Salary

According to Payscale, the average salary for a Psy.D. is $87,000 and the average salary for a Ph.D. in psychology is $99,000. Please note that this includes all fields of psychology, not specifically a Psy.D. or Ph.D. in addiction psychology.

How to Choose a Doctorate in Addiction Psychology Program

The right Ph.D. in addiction psychology program for you depends on personal factors as well as the program. Consider:

  • Cost
  • Financial aid and loan forgiveness eligibility
  • The curriculum and its match to your interests
  • Location
  • Online format
  • Fieldwork placement
  • Faculty who have expertise in your area of interest and would be good thesis advisors
  • Program and school reputation
  • Student-to-faculty ratio

How to Get into a Doctorate in Addiction Psychology Program

You do not have to have a master's related to addiction psychology to apply for a Ph.D. in addiction psychology program. However, your master's should have some connection to addiction psychology or significant coursework in the area, such as counseling, psychology, or social work.

You should also have a solid research background, with at least some graduate-level coursework in data analysis. Having an academic paper published in a peer-reviewed journal can be very valuable, if not a requirement. Other typical requirements include:

  • A 3.0 or higher GPA
  • Standardized test scores like the GRE (some schools waive this or waive it for students with a GPA above a certain limit)
  • At least two references
  • Work experience related to addiction psychology

What Can You Do with a Ph.D. in Addiction Psychology?

Most graduates with a Ph.D. in addiction psychology either become practicing psychologists, research, teach, or some combination of all of these addiction and psychology roles. Others may work in nonprofit administration, public health, or other leadership roles.

  • Academic Researchers and Teachers: Academic researchers and teachers typically work in a college or university, but may also work in think tanks or nonprofits. They conduct and publish research to expand the body of knowledge and teach based on the latest findings.
  • Mental Health Counselor: Mental health counselors may specialize in substance use and addictions. They work in independent practices or as part of a larger organization, such as a hospital or health system or government agency, and provide counseling.
  • Substance Use and Addictions Counselors: Substance use and addictions counselors provide counseling related to substance use, helping patients to understand their behavior and how to change it. They may work with patients in individual, group, or family sessions. Not all substance use and addictions counselors have a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. in addiction psychology, as the requirements vary by state.
  • Clinical Psychologists: Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions through psychological interventions. Many graduates with a Ph.D. in addiction psychology become clinical psychologists, since you need a doctorate to become a psychologist.

How Much Can You Make with a Ph.D. in Addiction Psychology?

A graduate with a Ph.D. in psychology earns an average of around $99,000 annually, according to Payscale. Overall, clinical psychologists make an annual average of $102,740, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Those working in research at colleges and universities make $78,300, but may have additional benefits, such as summers without a teaching schedule. College and university psychology teachers make an average $88,470, also according to the BLS. Research scientists (across all sectors) make an average $87,311, according to August 2023 Payscale data.

By comparison, addiction counselors make an average $44,445 annually and substance use counselors make $44,805, but do not have to have a Ph.D. in addiction psychology.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting a Ph.D. in Addiction Psychology

What degree is best for a substance abuse counselor?

The best degree for a substance use counselor depends on your state requirements and your goals. In most states, the minimum degree for a licensed counselor is a master's degree in social work, psychology, or a related field. Substance use counselors can also get a certified specifically in drug and alcohol counseling.

What kind of psychologist deals with addiction?

Clinical addiction psychologists deal with addiction, but other psychologists can also provide counseling for addiction. Clinical addiction psychologists deal specifically with addiction.

Where do substance abuse counselors make the most money?

According to the BLS, substance use, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors make the most in Alaska (annual salary of $68,770), Hawaii ($66,610), Utah ($65,180), New Jersey ($65,090), and Nevada ($64,890).

What are other names for substance abuse counselors?

Other names for substance use counselors include addiction counselor, substance use disorder counselor, or alcohol and drug use counselor. States regulate who can describe themselves as a counselor and the required training and license.

Page last reviewed August 22, 2023 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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