Top Online Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling

Updated November 14, 2022

An online master's in substance abuse counseling provides flexibility. Students can gain experience while earning their degree.

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Substance Abuse Counselor Master's Degree

Online master's in substance abuse counseling programs train learners to provide client treatment and support. Many graduates work as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for these counselors to grow 23% from 2020-2030. This rate exceeds the average projected growth of 8% for all occupations.

Many schools offer online substance abuse counseling programs. An online format allows degree-seekers to enroll in top programs without relocating. Many online programs run asynchronously. Learners can listen to lectures and complete assignments around work and family responsibilities.

This page provides information on substance abuse counseling degrees. Read on to learn about costs, common classes, and potential jobs for graduates.

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Questions About Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees

  • Do you need a degree to be a substance abuse counselor?

    Yes. These professionals need at least a bachelor's degree. Private practice substance abuse counselors need a master's degree.

  • How do I become a certified alcohol and drug counselor (CADC)?

    Requirements vary by state. Most states require candidates to hold a master's degree and to gain at least 6,000 hours of clinical counseling experience. They should also complete at least 300 education hours. Some of these hours may need to cover specific topics, such as substance abuse disorders.

  • How long does it take to get CADC certified?

    Timing depends on how fast students move through coursework. Full-time learners can earn CADC certification in one year or less. Students first need a bachelor's degree, which takes four years. Learners can earn a master's degree in two years.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Why Get a Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling?

Earning a substance abuse counseling degree can prepare learners for rewarding careers in a variety of settings. Degree-holders may work in mental health centers, prisons, or juvenile detention facilities. Graduates with a master's degree can earn licensure and start their own practice.

An online master's in substance abuse counseling provides flexibility. Students can gain experience while earning their degree. All states require related work experience for certification.

How Much Does a Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Cost?

Tuition varies by school and learners' residency status. Students attending in-state public schools usually pay the most affordable tuition. Master's degrees cost an average of $66,340, according to EducationData.org. Learners pursuing a master's at a public school spend an average of $54,500. Students attending private schools spend $81,100 on average.

Students earning an online master's in substance abuse counseling can save money compared to their on-campus peers. Online learners do not need to pay for campus housing or meal plans. They can often continue earning an income while completing their degree.

Additional Online Student Fees

Just like on-campus students, online learners must buy supplies and books. They may also need to buy a new computer or upgrade their internet. Some schools charge technology fees to cover tech support and virtual classroom platforms.

Substance abuse counseling students may need to pay for extra software to practice entering client data. Degree-seekers should also budget for fees for background checks and certification exams.

How Much Do Substance Abuse Counselors Make?

Salary depends on many factors, including counselors' education level and geographic location. Substance abuse counselors earn a median annual salary of $47,660, according to the BLS. Those who live in New York earn an average annual salary of $57,210. Substance abuse counselors in Florida earn $45,960. Counselors living in Nevada, Utah, and Alaska earn the highest salaries.

Earning a master's degree can lead to higher pay. According to the BLS, professionals with a bachelor's degree make median weekly earnings of $1,305. Master's degree-holders make a median of $1,545 per week. This difference amounts to almost $12,500 more in earnings per year for those with a master's degree.

Courses in a Substance Abuse Counseling Program

Most online master's in substance abuse counseling programs require 60 credits. Learners can often choose a concentration or specialization. Options may include addiction recovery or alcohol misuse counseling. Most courses follow a lecture-based format. Students also gain supervised clinical experience.

See below for three common classes in online master's in substance abuse counseling programs. Keep in mind that courses vary by program.

  • Pharmacology and Substance Abuse

    Learners examine prescription medications through a substance misuse lens. Students learn how to identify drugs that may trigger substance dependence. Coursework covers how addictive drugs impact the human nervous system. Enrollees study drug therapies like opioid replacement therapy.
  • Drugs and Behavior

    Most online substance abuse counseling programs include a class on drugs and behavior. Learners explore how societal factors and genetics play a role in addiction. Degree-seekers also study how chemical dependency impacts behaviors and psychological processes. Coursework helps students understand prevention models.
  • Ethics in the Counseling Profession

    This class helps students form ethical frameworks in the counseling field. Coursework covers informed consent, boundaries in patient-client relationships, and conflicts of interest. Learners examine case studies about hypothetical ethical dilemmas. They also study the code of ethics for organizations like the Association for Addiction Professionals.

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Aspiring substance abuse counselors need a bachelor's degree. Earning a master's degree can enhance job opportunities and earning potential. Degree-seekers can begin earning clinical hours while completing an accredited program.

All counselors need a master's degree and a license to start a private practice. Aspiring addiction counselors should earn an online master's in substance abuse counseling.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Licensure for Substance Abuse Counselors

Before taking a licensing exam, prospective counselors need a degree from an accredited program. The National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission is one of the field's top accrediting agencies.

Students also need supervised practicum hours and on-the-job experience. Licensure and certification requirements vary by state.

Counselors may pursue the alcohol and drug counselor certification. Candidates can take up to three hours to complete a 150-question exam. The test covers topics like ethical responsibilities and treatment planning. The ​​advanced alcohol and drug counselor certification can help counselors show more expertise. This certification includes a rigorous test.

Aspiring substance abuse counselors should check with their state's licensing board for more information.

Top Online Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling

#1 Top Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling

Liberty University

  • Lynchburg, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Students interested in a first-class education in substance abuse counseling without compromising their schedule will find Liberty University's master's in addiction counseling to be an attractive choice. The private, nonprofit, four-year college provides education to students across 68 master's programs. Students can choose from on-campus master's programs or pursue online studies in one of 67 programs.

After enrolling, addiction recovery students connect with colleagues, faculty, and other members of the online academic community. Students also work with staff in academic advising and career services throughout their program, to ensure their academic and career goals are met. Students can work with faculty advisors to customize their degree trajectory so it suits their career goals. Students have the option to pursue studies full time or opt for part-time study.

Students should keep in mind the costs that come with a graduate education and expect to pay about $750 per credit. These expenses can be relieved by internal and funding opportunities, which the college has made available to enrollees. Interested students should speak with the financial aid office to determine if they are one of the 99% of attendees who are awarded aid.

Average Tuition
In-state
$15,417
Out-of-state
$15,417
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
51%
Students Enrolled
85,586
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#2 Top Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling

West Virginia University

  • Morgantown, WV
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

West Virginia University offers 87 master's programs in person, with 18 programs available for online study. Based in Morgantown, the public, four-year institution provides online learning to 9,196 online students. The MS in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling is a competitive option for students interested in the substance abuse counseling field.

Students are welcomed into a supportive online learning community, gaining access to institutional resources and faculty and staff. Students can supplement their education with faculty-led research projects, internships, and experiential learning opportunities. Students in the online program complete general education courses, as well as advanced classes relevant to the field.

Students can meet with the financial aid office to discuss funding opportunities. Of all attendees, 94% receive some form of aid.

Average Tuition
In-state
$8,976
Out-of-state
$25,320
Retention Rate
79%
Admission Rate
84%
Students Enrolled
26,839
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
34% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#3 Top Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling

University of South Dakota

  • Vermillion, SD
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of South Dakota's online MA in addiction counseling and prevention provides a flexible education to learners from all walks of life. The public, four-year institution educates students across 47 master's programs, including 10 online programs.

The college provides students with a robust online community, proving supportive for nontraditional students and working professionals. Students are paired with a faculty advisor, who can guide them on research opportunities, internships, and other learning opportunities relevant to the addiction counseling field. Students have the opportunity to collaborate with other faculty members, given the 15-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.

The college has several funding opportunities for students, including external financial aid and internal scholarships and fellowships. To learn more about these and other funding opportunities, students should speak with the financial aid office. Typically, 94% of students receive some form of aid, reducing tuition-related expenses and fees to $17,689, on average.

Average Tuition
In-state
$7,697
Out-of-state
$11,172
Retention Rate
78%
Admission Rate
86%
Students Enrolled
9,920
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
50% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#4 Top Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling

Emporia State University

  • Emporia, KS
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Emporia State University's online master's program in addictions counseling offers a premier education with the best bang for your buck. The public, four-year college's main campus in Kansas supports 29 master's programs, as well as 18 online programs for remote learners. The online modality proves flexible for busy students, working professionals, and learners across the world.

The program prepares students for the field through rigorous academic studies. The program curriculum consists of general educational courses, and advanced, counseling-specific courses that can be customized to suit students' career trajectories.

The program is competitive. Of all applicants, 85% are admitted. Online students can connect with institutional offices, such as career services and academic advising, to plan their studies and prepare for their future careers. Students can apply for scholarships, fellowships, and federal financial aid to offset their educational expenses.

Average Tuition
In-state
$5,154
Out-of-state
$19,071
Retention Rate
77%
Admission Rate
85%
Students Enrolled
5,877
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
58% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#5 Top Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling

New York University

  • New York, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The main campus of New York University, a private, nonprofit, four-year institution, is located in New York City. The institution educates students on campus, while reaching remote learners through 28 online master's programs. These online options allow students across the United States to participate in the institution's learning community.

For example, the MA in clinical counseling ranks competitively, providing premier education to students interested in the addiction recovery field. Online students benefit from a virtual classroom environment, connecting with other online learners, faculty, and institutional resources. Students partake in foundational classes and specialized coursework, both of which can be customized to fit their career interests in counseling.

Coursework, coupled with internship experience, prepares students for the demands of the counseling field. Online programs enable nontraditional students to pursue education without disrupting their current careers. This program proves flexible for students and workers alike, enabling advanced study at any pace. Enrollees can work with faculty members to modify their coursework to suit their career goals, while benefiting from the support of institutional offices, such as career services.

Average Tuition
In-state
$50,684
Out-of-state
$50,684
Retention Rate
94%
Admission Rate
16%
Students Enrolled
52,885
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

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