Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Programs

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What is a Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Online program?

An online degree in this field studies how alcohol and drug abuse alter the brain and behavior. Then pairs this with other online courses to grow addictions counseling skills. These areas may help grads support clients’ recovery process.
While being able to access course work on your computer, some classes may be hands on. For these, many colleges approve sites in online students’ local areas. This adds a level of convenience and flexibility which may help you if you already work or have a busy life.

Types of Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Programs

Associate of Science Degree with an emphasis in Addiction and Prevention Studies

As a student, you would take general education classes to learn the basics of substance abuse. Study addiction and prevention. You may also gain an overview of social work, general psychology and counseling

Courses Include:

  • Substance Abuse Awareness in Addiction and Prevention
  • Medical High Risks Issues
  • Ethics and Confidentiality in Addiction and Prevention

B.A. in Human Services with a concentration in Substance Abuse

You would gain insight into the core role of a drug and alcohol counselor. This means you would learn basic skills to assess, diagnose and interview clients. Other topics you may cover involve prevention and treatment. Also, you may cover ethics and legal issue.

Courses Include:

  • Foundations of Addictions
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Introduction to Human Services

M.S. in Clinical Mental Health with a concentration in Addiction Counseling

Study mental health counseling from all sides. Take classes to better understand addictive behaviors. Other topics you may cover deal with ethics. You may learn ways to diagnose and assess clients. Also, you may take part in a practicum and internship. This aspect is a core requirement for your state’s licensure exams.

Courses Include:

  • Counseling Addictive Disorders
  • Psycho Pharmacology
  • Intro to Mental Health Counseling

Degree Levels

Associate of Science (A.S.) in Addiction

An online associate degree is one option if you have a high school diploma. Most programs are about 60 credit hours and take about two years.

The aim of most course plans is to introduce the field of social services. So, you are likely to study substance abuse in a basic way.

Here, you might get an overview of human behavior. Plus, how chemical dependency impacts mental health.

As a rule, you tend to have other general educational requirements too. Taking these classes may provide useful transfer credits if you attend an accredited community college.

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Substance Abuse Counseling

An online bachelor in this field may be an entry point for some jobs in this and related fields. Though as a rule, a drug counselor tends to need a graduate degree.

Most educational programs cover several areas. Including psychology, family systems and the science of substance abuse.

Through them, you may study theories about the brain and how addiction affects it. This type of program may also teach you ways to check patients and treatment planning.

Some online schools also offer certificate programs. Adding one may help you grow niche skills.

Master of Science (M.S.) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

An online master’s in this field may be a path to fulfill state licensure requirements in the United States. Most programs thus have a hands on aspect which may provide useful experience.

There may be two types of programs. A Master of Arts (M.A.) or Science. As a rule, the M.S. is more technical and may prep for a doctoral degree.

Both programs may entail research. And, you may take a deeper look at ways to assess, diagnose and treat clients both one on one and in groups. For example, family therapy.

Online Substance Abuse Degree: Courses You’ll Study

You will find that each program is unique. However, it may be helpful for you to take a deeper look into a few common classes. What will you study in a substance abuse counseling program? You will likely take courses in social work, psychology, counseling, and mental health. Your study plan will likely cover theories, and methods. In addition, it will offer you hands on practice.

You may explore the science of drugs and alcohol. Do you how these work on the brain? You may cover how people get addicted, and what ways you can help them heal. As such, you may learn how you can prevent relapse, and step in during a crisis. Also, you could learn how to provide therapy.

To gain these skills, you will often learn patient observation. You may also practice screening techniques. In so doing, you will develop a strong sense of how you can assess, diagnose and treat people.

What other classes would you take? You could take a course that would cover your daily tasks as substance abuse counselors. Also, you could learn how to manage a case, file reports and evaluations.

In addition, you may study issues like recovery and relapse. You will find that in most reputable programs you will also discuss ethics. Learning applicable laws and professional standards is important in your career.

Course Examples:

Foundations of Addiction: In this course you may study addictive behaviors. Both the theories of what cause them and the impact they have on the person, family, and society. Students may also learn how to identify, prevent and treat them.

Pharma Factors in Substance Abuse Treatment: You will learn about the impact of illicit drugs on the human brain and body. Part of it may help students spot various drug groups and side-effects. Another aspect might look at issues in drugs of choice and medication assisted therapy.

Substance Abuse Counseling Theory and Practice: In this course you may look at a range of proven counseling models. All which focus on ethical ways to treat substance use disorder. treatment. Students may learn to record progress notes from one on one and group therapy.

Abnormal Behavior: You will learn to better understand human behavior. Students may look at both normal and abnormal reactions to external stimuli. As such, this type of course may help you develop better diagnostic skills.

How Long Does It Take to earn a Substance Abuse Counselor Degree?

Earning a substance abuse counseling degree online may you take about four years full time. But many online colleges will offer you transfer credit. So, if you have an associate degree already, your path may be shorter. That said, if you prefer to take longer, there are part time options available to you, too.


How Much Does a Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Program Cost?

For in state public colleges, the average tuition cost for substance abuse counseling degree programs is $6,044. If you choose an out of state private college, the average tuition is $27,525. Here are a few cost examples for a bachelors degree.

School# of Credits RequiredCost Per CreditTotal Tuition Cost
Southern New Hampshire University120$320$38,400
Purdue University Global180$371$41,400
Liberty University120$390$46,800

Top Schools that offer Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Programs

Did you know that, according to DataUSA, there were over 379 schools that offer Substance Abuse Counseling programs?  From those schools, you can see 5,433 Substance Abuse Counseling degrees were awarded to students. The majority of these programs were associate degrees.

School2021 Degrees Awarded2023/24 Tuition (out of state unless *)
Grand Canyon University302$17,450*
Rio Salado College150$8,958
Palo Verde College99$12,880
Capella University93$14,436*
Allan Hancock College35$9,436
InterCoast Colleges Anaheim66N/A
Mt San Antonio College57$10,212
San Antonio College37$14,422
Camden County College37$4,056
City Colleges of Chicago Kennedy King College15$14,430

How do you choose an Accredited Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Program?

Did you know that many schools with regional approval offer online substance abuse counselor degree programs? Most programs you find will undergo a peer review to gain their status.

In choosing one, if you are eligible, you may apply for federal aid. This is possible if you choose a school the U.S. Dept. of Education recognizes. Also, many accredited colleges enable you to use transfer credits. This means you might use credits towards a earning a B.S., or for grad school.

If you choose an accredited program, it may increase your ability to seek a professional license. As such, employers often check if your degree is from a reputable source. Another quality measure you will find is for individual programs. What does program accreditation mean for you? It has to do with the courses and skills you will be taught. Also, it speaks to whether your program meets industry standards for substance abuse counselors.


Who is the main accreditor for substance abuse counseling programs in the US? The answer is CACREP. What does CACREP accredit? They accredit counseling programs and specialties at both the M.S. and PhD. levels. You will find that a full CACREP accreditation cycle lasts eight years. If your school submits a self study, CACREP reviews it for their standards. Both your counselors and counselor educators set these criteria. Your counselors help decide what core areas should be included in a study plan. These plans, you will find, cover skills for professional counselor identity, and practice.


Have you heard the term, “Approved NAADAC Education Providers?” NAADAC is the Association for Addiction Professionals. They represent addiction counselors, educators and other addiction focused health care professionals. You will find this in the US, Canada, and abroad. The accreditation commission for NAADAC is the NASAC. NASAC accredits higher education addiction studies programs. Each cycle lasts 7 years.

What is NASAC’s mission? Believing that addiction studies content go beyond drug and alcohol abuse. You will see it is a voluntary review process. However, some state licensing boards do ask you to have a NASAC accredited degree.

Top Salaries by State for Substance Abuse Counselors

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New Jersey11,790$65,090



These professionals help victims of drug and alcohol addiction. If you are a considering becoming a counselor, you will also help those who have been affected by behavioral disorders such as anxiety and depression. As such, you would work directly with patients and other professionals. You may work with psychiatrists and social workers, for example, to diagnose and treat patients.

Median Salary: $49,710 per year

Job growth through 2032: 18% (Much faster than average)

Typical Entry Level education: B.S.


As a rehabilitation counselor, your work may be more personalized. You may provide support to clients with emotional and physical disabilities. The goal should be to help them live independently and with ease.  You could also work in a mental health center, prison, or, you could have a private practice. Employers will often require you to have an M.S.

Median Salary: $39,990 per year

Job growth through 2032: 2% (As fast as average)

Entry Level education: M.S.


As a social worker, your responsibilities may be broader than substance abuse counselors. Social workers often identify people who need help. This may start by understanding their wide variety of challenges and assist them in finding resources. You could also develop plans to improve their well being.

People struggling with addictions is not the only group of people you may help. You could also help people struggling with divorce, unemployment, illness and other obstacles.

Median Salary: $55,350 per year

Job growth through 2032: 7% (Faster than average)

Entry level education: As a social worker, you may only need a B.S. in social work. However, as a clinical social worker, you must have an M.S. and 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting.  You must also be licensed by your state.

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