Top Online Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Programs

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What is a Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Online program?

A Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Online program is about helping addicts. Students learn how chemicals alter the brain and behavior. Then study ways to work with people to aid in their recovery process.

Earning a Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Online is often life friendly. Students usually complete their courses from wherever they are. While practicums occur at local and agreed-upon sites.

Associate of Science Degree with an emphasis in Addiction and Prevention StudiesBachelor of Arts in Human Services with a concentration in Substance AbuseMaster of Science in Clinical Mental Health with a concentration in Addiction Counseling
Students take general education classes and learn the basics of substance abuse, addiction and prevention. They may also gain an overview of social work, general psychology and counselingStudents gain insight into the core functions of a drug and alcohol counselor. This means learning basic skills to assess, diagnose and interview clients. Other topics revolve around prevention and treatment as well as ethics and legal issues


Students study mental health counseling from all sides. In addition, they take classes to better understand addictive behaviors. Other topics deal with ethics and ways to diagnose and assess clients. Students also take part in a practicum and internship. This aspect is a core requirement for state licensure exams.


  •  Substance Abuse Awareness in Addiction and Prevention
  • Medical High Risks Issues
  • Ethics/Confidentiality in Addiction and Prevention
  • Foundations of Addictions
  •  Abnormal Psychology
  •  Introduction to Human Services
  • Counseling Addictive Disorders
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Intro to Mental Health Counseling

Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Online program

Substance abuse counseling fuses knowledge of social work, psychology, counseling, and mental health. A typical study plan usually stresses theories, methods and some hands-on practice.

Many topics explore the science of drugs and alcohol. How people get addicted, and ways to help them heal. This means learning how to prevent relapse, step in during a crisis and provide therapy.

To gain these skills, students often learn patient observation and screening techniques. In so doing, many students develop a keen sense of how to assess, diagnose and treat people.

Yet other classes discuss the daily tasks of substance abuse counselors. Things like how to manage a caseload, file reports and evaluations.

In other topics, students may gain a sensitivity to issues like recovery and relapse. Most reputable programs also discuss ethics, applicable laws and professional standards.

Associate of Science – Addiction and Prevention Studies

If you are starting out, an associate degree lays down some basics about substance abuse. Here you might get an overview of human behavior. Plus, insight into chemical dependency and how it impacts mental health.

Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling

A bachelor’s degree is the entry point for most jobs in addiction counseling. So, most programs stack field studies with courses. Some of these pertain to the science of substance abuse. While others pertain to counseling theories, ways to check patients and craft a plan to treat them.

Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling – Substance Abuse

If you want to pursue a state mental health counselor license, you need a Master’s. A master’s in substance abuse includes practical training and research. You are also likely to study various ways to assess, diagnose and treat clients one on one and in groups.

While each program is unique, it may be helpful to take a deeper look into a few common classes. Below are 4 topics many substance abuse counseling degree programs feature.

Foundations of Addiction This type of class studies 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 This type of class explores 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 This type of class often looks 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-one and group therapy

Abnormal Behavior This type of class may foster a better understanding of human behavior. Students may look at both normal and abnormal reactions to external stimuli. As such, they often develop better diagnostic skills.

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

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

Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Programs That Could be Completed in 96 weeks

SchoolDegree Level# of Credits RequiredStart DatesMinimum Months to Complete
Indiana Wesleyan UniversityBachelor120622
Grand Canyon UniversityBachelor120654
Liberty UniversityBachelor120642

The Cost of a Substance Abuse Counselor degree program

Average tuition costs for substance abuse counseling degree programs is $5,257 for in-state public colleges. The average tuition is $25,403 for out of state private colleges.

SchoolDegree Level# of Credits RequiredCost Per CreditTotal Tuition Cost
Southern New Hampshire UniversityBachelor120$320$38,400
Purdue University GlobalBachelor180 Quarter CreditsN/AMax $45,000
Liberty UniversityBachelor120$390$46,800

Top Schools that offer Substance Abuse Counselor degree programs

According to the NCES, there were over 197 schools that offer Substance Abuse Counseling degrees or programs.  From those schools there were 5,461 Substance Abuse Counseling degrees or programs awarded to students. The majority (29%) of these programs were associate degrees.

School2017 Grads total/degrees awardedTuition (Out of State)
Grand Canyon University285$17,050
Rio Salado College172$7,854
Capella University93$14,579
Mt. San Antonio College92$9,414
Palo Verde College87$7,380
InterCoast Colleges – Anaheim73$22,550
Peninsula College69$5,023
San Diego City College66$7,024
Eastfield College61$5,220
Oxnard College60$7,050
City Colleges of Chicago – Harold Washington College59$11,544
Alvernia University58$34,900

Choosing an Accredited Substance Abuse Counselor Degree Program

Many schools with regional approval offer online substance abuse counselor degree programs. These undergo a peer review to gain their status.

Choosing one means if eligible, you may apply for federal aid. This is only possible at schools the U.S. Dept. of Education recognizes. Also, many accredited colleges enable the use of transfer credits. This means you might use credits towards a bachelor’s degree, or grad school.

Accreditation may also impact your ability to seek a professional license. Even so, employers often check whether your degree is from a reputable source. Another quality measure is for individual programs. Program accreditation has to do with the courses and skills taught. It speaks to whether it meets industry standards for substance abuse counselors.


For substance abuse counseling programs in the U.S., the main accreditor is CACREP. CACREP accredits counseling programs and specialties at both master’s and doctoral levels. A full CACREP accreditation cycle is eight years. Schools that want to volunteer to submit a self-study. Then CACREP reviews it against their standards. Both counselors and counselor educators set these criteria. They help to decide what core areas should be on a study plan. These cover skills for professional counselor identity and practice too.


Some schools are also “Approved NAADAC Education Providers”. NAADAC is the Association for Addiction Professionals. It represents addiction counselors, educators and other addiction-focused health care professionals. Both in the US, Canada, and abroad. The accreditation commission for NAADAC is the NASAC. NASAC accredits higher education addiction studies programs. Each accreditation cycle lasts 7 years.

NASAC’s mission is that addiction studies content go beyond drug and alcohol abuse. It is a voluntary review process. But some state licensing boards look for it. These need you to have a NASAC accredited degree to qualify for licensure.

Top Salaries by State for Substance Abuse Counselors

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York14,610$51,380


These professionals help victims of drug and alcohol addiction as well as those who have been affected by behavioral disorders like anxiety and depression. They work directly with patients and other professionals like psychiatrists and social workers to diagnose and treat these conditions.

Median Salary: $44,630 per year

Job growth through 2028: 22% (Much faster than average)

Typical Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree.


The work of a rehabilitation counselor is more personalized in some ways but equally delicate. These professionals specifically provide support to clients with emotional and physical disabilities in the hopes of helping them live independently with ease. They work in similar environments compared to substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, including mental health centers, prisons and private practices. The educational requirements for these professionals is typically more rigorous as the average employer will require that employees have a master’s degree.

Median Salary: $35,630 per year
Job growth through 2028: 1o% (Much faster than average)
Typical Entry-level education: Master’s Degree


The responsibilities of a social worker are often broader than substance abuse counselors. They identify people who need help with a wide variety of challenges and assist them in finding resources and develop plans to improve well-being. While this may include people struggling with addictions, it can also include people struggling with divorce, unemployment, illness and other obstacles. They research and refer clients to other resources if necessary.

Median Salary: $49,980 per year
Job growth through 2026: 11% (Much faster than average)
Typical Entry-level education: Although some social workers only need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting after they’ve completed their degree. Clinical social workers must also be licensed by their state.

© Education Connection 2019. All Rights Reserved.

EducationDynamics maintains business relationships with the schools it features.

Sources for school statistics is the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer for nor a guarantee of employment. Students should consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific program curriculum.