Earning a Master's in Addiction Counseling Online

Students who earn a master's degree in addiction counseling online cover advanced theories and practice related to substance abuse prevention, diagnostics, and treatment. Master's degrees in addiction counseling build the knowledge and skills needed to counsel individuals, groups, and communities, while also preparing learners for licensure in the field. With a curriculum that also incorporates information on clinical psychology, sociology, and human services, a master's in addiction counseling online program can open career opportunities in healthcare, social work, and educational settings.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse, behavioral health, and mental health counselors are projected to experience 23% growth in employment between 2016 and 2026. Most states require addiction counselors to have a master's degree, making pursuit of a graduate degree in the field even more desirable.

With the continued demand for substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral disorder counselors, understanding the requirements and opportunities of a master's degree in the field is essential. Learners should look for a program that meets their financial and professional needs.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling?

Individuals with a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field often work in entry-level human service, healthcare, and social service positions. With a graduate degree in addiction counseling, learners gain expertise through advanced coursework and specialization options applicable to careers as professional counselors. Licensure for professional counseling positions often requires a master's degree, and many programs prepare students for certification examinations.

Addiction counselors can specialize in topics like substance abuse issues, behavioral disorders, and mental health issues. Addiction professionals with a master's degree in counseling expand their career opportunities and salary potential.

Pursuing Specialization

Addiction counselors often work with individuals, families, and groups in the context of substance abuse disorders; this can extend to categories including alcohol and narcotics. Addiction disorders encompass a variety of behaviors, and learners can focus on behavioral disorders that manifest themselves through gambling, gaming, or similar activities. Addiction counseling programs with specializations create experts within the larger discipline.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Counselors with a general psychology degree or training in a counseling-related field learn theoretical and practical knowledge specific to addiction counseling. This allows for career advancement, professional licensure opportunities, and potential salary increases. Addiction counselors may also advance into leadership and administrative roles.

Online Learning Technology

n online master's degree in addiction counseling offers a convenient, flexible way to earn a degree, while also training learners how to use new technology. Counseling has become increasingly technological, and mental health providers often administer therapy to clients and patients via phone, text, or video chat. An online program can prepare counselors to use these tools. Discussion forums, electronic classrooms, and online chats give future counselors valuable insight into the various uses of computer-based resources.

Prerequisites for Online Addiction Counseling Programs

Online addiction counseling programs require learners to have a certain educational and experiential background. Applicants may also need to submit letters of recommendation and formal writing samples, and some programs require an interview.

  • Work Experience: Work experience is not usually required for an addiction counseling graduate degree, but applicants can benefit from a familiarity with the content and profession. Some programs may award academic credit for prior professional experience or training.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Graduate programs in addiction counseling may require learners to submit GRE or GMAT scores for admission. Minimum score requirements vary by school and program. Exams taken within the previous 3-5 years may be required. Students who speak a language other than English may also need to submit English proficiency exam scores.
  • Coursework: Applicants with a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field benefit from having taken previous coursework in statistics, research, and theory as it relates to addiction counseling. Some programs may require applicants who hold a degree in an unrelated discipline to complete prerequisite classes in statistics for admission. Students must submit transcripts for consideration, although minimum GPA requirements vary by school and program.
  • Recommendations: Graduate programs may require applicants to submit letters of recommendation from professional and personal references. Individuals should ask former instructors and/or supervisors to write letters on their behalf, describing an applicant's work ethic, experience, and abilities for graduate study.
  • Essays: Most graduate applicants must submit a personal statement detailing their academic and career goals. Essays can also include information on counseling experience, reasons for pursuing graduate study, and opinions on the field.
  • Interviews: Programs with interview requirements may hold meetings with students online or in person. Often a final step in the application process, interviews may be held with a group of faculty and staff or with a single representative of an institution.
  • International Students: International students must meet the same requirements as other learners, although non-native English speakers may also need to complete an English proficiency examination. International applicants may also need to provide additional financial and immunization information.

What to Expect from an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Program

Most online addiction counseling programs comprise 36-60 credit hours, which most full-time students can complete in two years. Learners complete coursework in theory and practice, encountering several milestones used to assess competencies built into the program. Online classes may include individual and group activities to facilitate discussion and the exchange of information in anticipation of internship and/or practicum requirements. Research exercises throughout the curriculum often lead to a summative capstone experience or thesis.

Major Milestones

  1. Capstone Coursework

    After students complete foundational coursework, they enroll in a capstone course. Capstones are often offered alongside a practical internship experience and integrate research with discussions and interactive assignments. Capstone coursework may also include group project requirements.

  2. Internship or Practicum

    Internship and practicum requirements vary by program, but learners often work alongside a licensed addiction counselor to gain insight into the profession. These experiences give students hands-on experience, which they may discuss and/or document in a capstone course.

  3. Thesis Preparation and Defense

    Programs with a thesis requirement include research coursework that prepares students to write, present, and defend a formal research project. Students propose a research idea to a faculty advisor or committee. During the final year of their program, participants conduct research, collect data, and write up their findings before presenting their work to faculty and peers.

  4. Licensure Exam Preparation and Exam

    Many programs help students prepare for professional licensure. Some graduate degrees in addiction counseling may have classes specifically geared toward state licensure, whereas others may incorporate fundamental knowledge throughout the program. During their final semester, students may have the opportunity to participate in review sessions in anticipation of a licensure exam.

  5. Intent to Graduate Paperwork

    Students need to submit paperwork related to graduation during their final semester. Intent to graduate forms indicate to faculty, staff, and the institution that all degree requirements will be met within a specific time frame.

  6. Application to Professional School or Resume Writing

    As students approach graduation, they need to decide what steps to take next. Those continuing on to a professional school or doctoral study gather application materials during their final year. Similarly, students entering the job market after graduation must prepare a resume.

Master's in Addiction Counseling Coursework

Coursework for graduate programs in addiction counseling varies, but many programs offer comparable classes. Courses in psychological theory and practice provide foundational knowledge, and classes in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment build practical skills.

Introduction to Addiction and
Substance Abuse

As a comprehensive class designed to broaden understanding of addiction and substance abuse disorders, this course comprises information on the stages, processes, and effects of different disorders. Additional content includes theories and models of treatment.

and Addiction

Students in this course explore the basic principles of psychopharmacology and the effects of psychoactive substances. Learners gain foundational knowledge of the behavioral, social, and psychological effects of substance abuse intoxication and withdrawal.

Counseling Theories

Counseling theory coursework introduces students to major counseling theories such as psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, and person-centered therapy.

Counseling Chemical
Dependency in

Coursework trains learners to identify signs, symptoms, and patterns of substance abuse and addiction in children and teens. Students also learn about screening methods and assessment tools.

Case Management of

This course emphasizes treatment practices while training learners to recognize when referral, outside assistance, and additional resources are needed. Students also study substance abuse and addiction policies, regulations, and laws as they relate to addiction counseling.

Licenses and Certifications

States have individual licensure and certification requirements, so students should check the requirements where they live. Online master's degrees in addiction counseling prepare students for licensure and certification exams, often offering coursework that matches standards set by credentialing agencies. Professional licenses and certifications also demonstrate a counselor's expertise to their patients, clients, and colleagues.

  • National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I: Offered by the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) and the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC), the NCAC I credential is an entry-level certification. Individuals with state licenses and certifications take the NCAC I exam after completing three years or 6,000 hours of supervised experience related to substance use disorders and addiction counseling. An additional 270 contact hours of education and training are required. Initial certification costs $235, and renewal every two years is $200.
  • National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II: As an advanced certification, the NCAC II credential requires applicants to have current state or comparable licensure in substance use disorders and addiction counseling or general professional counseling. Learners must complete five years or 10,000 hours of supervised counseling along with at least 450 contact hours of education and training related to substance use disorders and addiction.
  • Master Addiction Counselor: To obtain the MAC certification, applicants must have a master's degree in substance use disorders, addiction, or a related counseling discipline. Three years or 6,000 hours of supervised experience and 500 contact hours of education and training are required. To apply, applicants submit transcripts, evidence of current credentials, and a signed statement of adherence to NCC AP's code of ethics.

How Much Can I Make With a Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling?

Addiction counselors can work in private practice, healthcare settings, or with community and social agencies, providing assistance to individuals and groups alike. Substance abuse, mental health, and behavioral disorder counselors earn an annual mean wage just under $48,000. Addiction professionals who work in fields outside of a clinical or practical settings, such as in the insurance industry or academia, earn average salaries between $55,000 and $65,000.

How Careers for Master's in Addiction Counseling Graduates Stack Up Against Similar Careers

Substance Abuse and
Behavioral Disorder Counselor

Median Salary: $47,790

Job Growth: 15% or higher

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work with individuals and groups to help patients overcome dependencies and make positive life changes. Counselors keep detailed records, assess client and patient needs, develop treatment plans, and stay current with research and trends in the field.

Mental Health Counselor

Median Salary: $47,790

Job Growth: 15% or higher

Mental health counselors meet with patients and clients in clinical or community settings. Counselors interview and assess patients to develop treatment plans while maintaining confidentiality. Counselors also provide patients and clients with access to resources. Mental health counselors may specialize in topics like stress management, anxiety, marital counseling, or addiction counseling.

Rehabilitation Counselor

Median Salary: $35,630

Job Growth: 10%-14%

Rehabilitation counselors provide support to individuals with physical, developmental, and/or psychological disorders. Rehabilitation counselors may work with clients and patients on goals related to careers or independent living. Counselors keep records, identify resources, and advocate for clients and patients. They also work with other medical and healthcare professionals.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Median Salary: $50,090

Job Growth: 15% or higher

Marriage and family therapists focus on the needs of couples and families. Topics discussed can include divorce, separation, and childcare. Marriage and family therapists may work with individual members of a family one-on-one or with a group. These therapists develop strategies to facilitate communication and address behavioral concerns.

Social and Human Service Assistant

Median Salary: $33,750

Job Growth: 15% or higher

Social and human service assistants provide support to individuals and groups with problems related to relationships, rehabilitation, and substance abuse. They identify, develop, and organize community and social supports for patients and clients. These assistants communicate with agencies and organizations to advocate for patients and clients.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Median Salary: $44,840

Job Growth: 15% or higher

Mental health and substance abuse social workers assess and treat individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders. They assist and monitor clients and patients as they carry out treatment plans by evaluating progress and working with physicians, counselors, and other social work colleagues. Mental health and substance abuse social workers counsel family members to facilitate understanding and support of their clients and patients.

Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist

Median Salary: $53,020

Job Growth: 5%-9%

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with individuals in custody, on probation, or on parole. They monitor rehabilitation plans while working with law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and social service professionals to determine the needs of their clients. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists may testify in court, counsel offenders directly, or conduct drug and alcohol tests to ensure compliance with treatment programs.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET

Paying for an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling

Master's in addiction counseling online students can complete their degrees on a full-time or part-time schedule. Full-time students can often take as many credits as they want while paying a flat tuition fee, while part-time students typically pay per credit. Accelerated programs give students the chance to earn a degree even more quickly. Students should determine if part-time, full-time, or accelerated study makes the most sense for them in terms of their available time and money.

Funding options for students in online master's in addiction counseling programs include grants, loans, and scholarships. Learners may be eligible for subsidized or unsubsidized loans based on the information they provide in their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Organizations may also use the FAFSA to assess students for scholarship eligibility.

Scholarships for Online Addiction Counseling Master's Students

Scholarship opportunities for online addiction counseling master's students include general and specialized options. Many specialized scholarships are offered through counseling organizations, community agencies, and private funders to support counseling students at all levels.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations for addiction counselors provide opportunities for collaboration, networking, and career development. Members participate in online discussions, webinars, and trainings. They are also given opportunities to attend conferences and other face-to-face events. Job boards, mentorship programs, and career services provide additional benefits. Resources through professional organizations, government agencies, and private organizations also build knowledge and skills for counseling professionals, providing updates on research, policy, and social trends related to addiction behaviors.

  • NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals: NAADAC represents more than 100,000 addiction counselors, educators, and related professionals around the world. The organization offers certification programs, advocacy initiatives, and networking opportunities. Resources include professional development materials, access to conferences and events, and updates about addiction-related policies and research.
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association: AMHCA unites mental health counselors through advocacy initiatives, online and in-person events, and collaboration opportunities. Members receive access to job boards, continuing education programs, mental health counseling-related publications, and insurance discounts.
  • American Counseling Association: Founded in 1952, ACA serves as the largest association of professional counselors in the world. ACA provides continuing education programs, job postings, publications, and knowledge center resources to members.
  • International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors: As an organization of professional substance abuse, addiction, corrections, and education counselors, IAAOC seeks to improve the lives of individuals with addictive and criminal behaviors. Members receive newsletters and publications along with access to research, podcasts, conferences, and funding opportunities.
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers: NAATP promotes understanding of addiction behaviors and treatments through leadership conferences, networking opportunities, and law and policy advocacy. NAATP members receive newsletters, access to a resource portal online, and ethical guidance, as well as discounts, career listings, and retirement planning assistance.
  • National Board for Certified Counselors Foundation: Tasked with supporting individuals pursuing degrees in counseling, the NBCC Foundation offers scholarships and fellowships, webinars, symposia, and community capacity building programs. Volunteers, donors, and interns can access mentorship opportunities along with online and in-person networking resources.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA provides treatment resources for individuals with behavioral health, addiction, and mental illness needs. SAMHSA also offers practitioner training, grant and funding opportunities, and comprehensive research data.
  • PublicHealth.org: PublicHealth.org provides extensive information on issues related to public health, including substance abuse and addiction. Resources include video lectures, podcasts, and state-specific data. The website also offers financial aid information for students studying public health.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse: As a subset of the National Institutes of Health, NIDA advances the science related to understanding the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction. Resources include updates on the latest research, publications, funding opportunities, as well as extensive information on individual drugs and abused substances.
  • Center on Addiction: The Center on Addiction offers comprehensive information to individuals, families, and practitioners regarding types of addiction, as well as ways to prevent, treat, and recover from it. The organization promotes understanding of the various types of addiction and provides information about commonly used and abused substances.