2019 Best Online Colleges for Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees
An online degree in substance abuse counseling can be earned at all degree levels, from associate to doctoral, and will help to prepare students to work with clients facing acute behavioral crises. Also known as addiction and behavioral disorder counselors, substance abuse counselors help people overcome issues such as alcoholism, drug use, gambling addictions, or eating disorders. Our list of best online addiction counseling programs highlights the top schools, based on tuition rates and alumni salaries provided by PayScale.
Prospective students are advised to choose an online substance abuse counseling degree program at an accredited school. Accredited schools meet established academic standards set by independent agencies to ensure students receive a quality education. The US Department of Education provides a database of recognized accrediting agencies and accredited schools.
Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees (61)
Annual Tuition: $11,581 - $16,246
|Full List||Accreditation||Annual Tuition||Recommend Rate|
|Full List (60)|
|SACS COC||$16,136||Add Review|
46 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
19 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|WASC WSCUC||$13,438||50% (123 reviews)|
88 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
33 Programs, 2 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|NECHE||$33,557||100% (1 review)|
60 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
26 Programs, 3 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|HLC||$36,210||100% (1 review)|
70 Programs, 2 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|MSCHE||$15,326||80% (15 reviews)|
105 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
103 Programs, 2 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|HLC||$14,250||65% (575 reviews)|
234 Programs, 3 in Substance Abuse Counseling
23 Programs, 2 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|HLC||$25,430||100% (1 review)|
83 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|MSCHE||$52,002||60% (5 reviews)|
296 Programs, 5 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|SACS COC||$23,420||100% (4 reviews)|
148 Programs, 2 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|SACS COC||$18,250||33% (3 reviews)|
88 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
85 Programs, 2 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|HLC||$14,832||60% (5 reviews)|
154 Programs, 2 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|SACS COC||$19,738||Add Review|
10 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|HLC||$17,050||53% (411 reviews)|
220 Programs, 3 in Substance Abuse Counseling
1 Program, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|HLC||$25,980||47% (17 reviews)|
129 Programs, 3 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|HLC||$25,980||29% (7 reviews)|
152 Programs, 4 in Substance Abuse Counseling
|SACS COC||$11,700||60% (242 reviews)|
543 Programs, 4 in Substance Abuse Counseling
31 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
29 Programs, 1 in Substance Abuse Counseling
2019 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees
The best online substance abuse counseling degrees are offered by the 16 colleges on this list. Union College - KY is our top-ranked school, offering a Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling for $6,750 per year. The median salaries for graduates of these top programs ranges from $39,500 to $83,100. The most affordable school on the list is Fort Hays State University with an annual tuition of $6,560 for a Bachelor of Science in Sociology - Addictions Counseling.
|Rank||School||Annual Tuition||Median Salary|
- Annual Tuition: $6,750
- Median Salary: $83,100
Operating for more than 135 years, Union College - Kentucky offers students a bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling that can be completed entirely online. Part of the school’s Division of Online and Graduate Studies, this online degree program includes 39 hours of core courses. To apply for this undergraduate program, students must submit all of their previous transcripts along with their high school diploma or GED. Offered in eight-week schedules, this online degree can be quickly completed.
- Annual Tuition: $9,600
- Median Salary: $78,300
One of the largest purveyors of online degrees, Southern New Hampshire University offers a bachelor’s degree in human services with a concentration in substance abuse. This online degree will prepare students to enter the growing field of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. Students will complete 16 different courses in order to graduate. Southern New Hampshire University accepts up to 90 transfer credits that can be applied towards the completion of this online undergraduate degree.
- Annual Tuition: $8,550
- Median Salary: $74,800
The University of Central Arkansas offers a fully online bachelor’s degree program in addiction studies, allowing students to study the courses wherever they find most convenient. In the program, students will cover topics including mental health, drug education, and abnormal psychology. In order to enroll, students must have already completed an associate degree, as this is an accelerated program. This online degree program will prepare students for a career in addiction counseling so they can make a difference in the lives of others.
- Annual Tuition: $9,600
- Median Salary: $71,800
Northwestern State University of Louisiana’s bachelor’s degree in addiction studies can be completed entirely online, making it convenient for students with full-time jobs or other commitments. This undergraduate program is offered through the university’s eNSU Global Campus and the university’s psychology department for a curriculum that is challenging and informative. Students must receive a grade of “C” or higher in their major courses in order to graduate. Students are afforded 24/7 online access to their coursework and materials, allowing them to complete this degree on their own schedule.
- Annual Tuition: $22,545
- Median Salary: $59,300
Drexel University offers a variety of online degrees through its Drexel University Online platform, including a bachelor’s degree in behavioral health counseling. Completely online, this degree in substance abuse counseling prepares students for a career in addiction counseling. To complete this undergraduate program, students must finish a total of 180 quarter credits. Up to 135 quarter credits are accepted for transfer students. Drexel University requires 24 previous college credits as well as a GPA of 2.5 or above.
- Annual Tuition: $40,208
- Median Salary: $59,800
At Assumption College, students can select a bachelor’s degree in human services and rehabilitation studies that will prepare them for a career working in addiction counseling. This undergraduate program can be completed entirely online without students needing to visit Assumption College’s campus. Students must finish nine courses related to human services. By earning this online degree, students will be prepared for licensure and a career in counseling, or for graduate work in areas such as social work, special education, physical therapy, nursing, and more.
- Annual Tuition: $12,270
- Median Salary: $52,400
Offered through Eastern Kentucky University’s EKU Online platform, the bachelor’s degree program in psychology with a concentration in substance abuse can be completed entirely online. Students enrolled in this distance undergraduate program will not be required to visit the Eastern Kentucky University campus to graduate. To be admitted, applicants must have at least a 2.75 GPA. Prospective students are also able to transfer up to 90 credits to go towards the 120 credits needed to complete this degree.
- Annual Tuition: $10,201
- Median Salary: $51,300
The University of South Dakota currently offers students a bachelor’s degree in addiction studies. Offered entirely online, this undergraduate program in substance abuse does not require students to ever visit the University of South Dakota’s campus. Students will spend time learning the skills needed to work in addiction counseling. Students are able to either transfer into this program or begin as a first-year student. If starting as a first-year student, a total of 120 credit hours are required to complete this online degree.
- Annual Tuition: $10,633
- Median Salary: $50,900
SUNY Empire State College offers many different online degree programs through its SUNY Empire Online platform, including a bachelor’s degree in community and human services with a concentration in substance abuse services. This bachelor’s degree can be completed entirely online, making it easy for busy or non-traditional students to balance their other responsibilities. Accredited by the Middle States Commission of Higher Education, this undergraduate program accepts transfer credits for students who have already completed some college courses.
- Annual Tuition: $11,700
- Median Salary: $50,300
Liberty University students can enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in psychology with a concentration in addiction and recovery. This online undergraduate program in substance abuse counseling can be completed entirely online. Students are not required to visit Liberty University’s campus in Lynchburg, VA. To be admitted, students must have a minimum GPA of 2.0. Students with a lower GPA are still encouraged to apply, as they may be considered. Topics covered in this program include social psychology, abnormal psychology, and more.
- Annual Tuition: $6,560
- Median Salary: $47,600
Delivered through its sociology department, Fort Hays State University offers students a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an addictions counseling concentration. This undergraduate program requires students to complete 51 hours of sociology and addiction counseling coursework. Students can earn this degree entirely online without ever visiting Fort Hays State University’s campus. Students in the program are prepared for a variety of different careers in the field of substance abuse counseling thanks to the rigorous curriculum.
- Annual Tuition: $12,150
- Median Salary: $47,500
Students at New England College can enroll in a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in addiction and substance abuse. This undergraduate program in substance abuse can be completed entirely online. Students are prepared for careers as social service managers, drug and alcohol counselors, and much more. This online degree is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. Transfer credits are accepted for this program, allowing students the opportunity to graduate faster.
- Annual Tuition: $12,000
- Median Salary: $46,600
Bay Path University offers students a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in foundations in alcohol and drug abuse counseling to help them obtain careers in this field. In this online undergraduate program, students will study topics including addictions and interventions, health psychology, and ethics and professional conduct in counseling. This program is made available to students entirely online and does not require students to visit Bay Path University’s campus, meaning students from across the country can take advantage of the program.
- Annual Tuition: $28,980
- Median Salary: $47,200
Nova Southeastern University currently offers students a bachelor’s degree in human services with a concentration in substance abuse studies. This undergraduate program in substance abuse can be pursued by students entirely online. Students will explore topics covering the treatment of substance abuse, counseling psychology, and much more. To complete this degree program, students must finish a total of 120 credit hours. Up to 12 of those credit hours must be applied toward the substance abuse studies concentration.
- Annual Tuition: $21,786
- Median Salary: $44,000
At the University of Michigan-Flint, students can choose to enroll in an online bachelor’s degree program in substance abuse. This bachelor’s in substance use treatment and intervention degree will prepare students who are seeking a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counseling certificate. In this online program, students are required to complete 124 hours of coursework. During their studies, students will examine topics including social work, criminal justice, as well as a variety of psychology-related courses.
- Annual Tuition: $8,730
- Median Salary: $39,500
Students in search of an online bachelor’s degree in substance abuse can enroll in the bachelor’s of mental health and human services degree offered at the University of Maine at Augusta. This undergraduate program is offered entirely online and can be modified with a concentration in addiction counseling for a more specific education on this subject. By completing this program, students will be eligible for a variety of different licenses related to social work and addiction counseling.
Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Overview & Career Information
A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement to become a substance abuse counselor in many states; others require a master's. In the undergraduate program, students study alcohol and drug use, counseling skills, group counseling, and pharmacology. Fieldwork experience is also required. The master's degree is required to earn a counseling license in most states. This degree requires two years of coursework as well as an internship. If you're interested in conducting intensive research into the physiological and psychological aspects of addiction, a doctoral degree would be appropriate.
During the course of treatment, substance abuse counselors may evaluate a patient's condition, identify causes and triggers of the abuse, develop a treatment plan or course of action, and help the patient develop positive behaviors and routines that avoid the abused substance. They may also coordinate social services for the patient and meet with the patient's family and friends to ensure that they are assisting with the recovery process. In the course of carrying out these job responsibilities, substance abuse counselors meet and talk with patients frequently, either in an individual or group setting.
Some substance abuse counselors work with individuals who have been sentenced by a court to complete a rehabilitation program; they may need to incorporate the court's ruling into the length or nature of the treatment. As part of the treatment plan, counselors help clients develop coping mechanisms to deal with troubling situations that could cause a relapse in their behavior. Some counselors diagnose and treat patients, while others focus on helping patients find useful community resources.
An online associate degree in substance abuse counseling will help to prepare graduates for further education in addiction counseling or general counseling. In some states, an online associate degree may be sufficient education to enable students to begin working with people with substance abuse or behavioral problems. Graduates of these programs may use their skills and knowledge to build relationships with patients and clients, recognize conditions, and develop treatment plans for work in settings like clinics, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, other types of social service organizations.
Online associate degrees in substance abuse counseling require between 85-95 units to earn a degree, and take between two to three years depending on how many credit hours a student takes per semester. In addition to the online courses, students are required to complete a minimum amount of practicum experience hours at approved practicum sites. The only requirement needed to apply for an online associate degree program in substance abuse counseling is a high school diploma or GED. Online associate substance abuse counseling programs are offered by community colleges and for-profit institutions.
Students in an online substance abuse associate degree program will take classes in psychology and sociology to better understand the people and environments associated with substance abuse. The programs also require classes that will develop the student’s communication skills, such as English and public speaking courses. Most importantly, students will take counseling classes where they will learn the techniques necessary to help people in the field.
Students of substance abuse counseling study the symptoms and causes of chemical dependency and are trained to provide clinical support for those suffering from addiction. The top online colleges for bachelor's degrees in substance abuse counseling offer a combination of academic strength and affordability to prospective undergraduates.
To qualify for an online bachelor's program, applicants must typically have a high school diploma, a strong high school GPA, qualifying scores on college entrance exams, and letters of recommendation. Most online bachelor's degrees in substance abuse counseling can be earned within four years, though some schools offer accelerated programs. To graduate, students are expected to complete about 120 to 133 semester credit hours.
Students pursuing online bachelor's degrees in substance abuse counseling can expect to take general education classes in English and the humanities, science, math, and the social sciences in addition to counseling-specific core courses. Most substance abuse counseling programs include courses in various topics within psychology and clinical counseling, including psychopathology, pharmacology, diagnosis of addiction, counseling, human services, ethics in clinical work, and assorted counseling methods for specific demographics, such as youth and families. In some cases, online schools offer students the chance to practice in-person counseling through supervised practicums. During a practicum, students work in the same capacity as a fully employed counselor or assistant counselor within a mental health facility. This can be a great way for students to gain work experience prior to graduation.
Most students of addiction counseling specifically pursue their degree to become substance abuse counselors. While a bachelor's degree may be enough to find a job, each state has its own employment standards for counselors. Some states only ask that job applicants have a high school diploma, while others require master's degrees. Be sure to review the educational requirements of the state you wish to work in before deciding on a degree.
An online master's degree program in substance abuse counseling is an excellent choice for students with a bachelor's degree who want a more in-depth education in counseling that will allow them to do clinical work. Graduates of these programs can work in a number of settings, including community agencies providing addiction and mental health services or rehabilitation centers. Some graduates choose to go into private practice, while others work at schools, universities, correctional facilities, or inpatient or outpatient treatment centers.
Applicants to a graduate degree program in substance abuse counseling must hold a bachelor's degree. Some schools will only consider prospective learners who have achieved a minimum grade point average in their undergraduate studies. Colleges or universities will ask to see official transcripts, a resume, and GRE scores. A 30-credit program can be completed in two years of full-time study.
Students enrolled in this type of program can expect to take courses in principles of theories of psychotherapy, group counseling, counseling and advocacy with diverse populations, ethics and legal issues in counseling, lifespan development, diagnosis and assessment, and group dynamics. The program may include one or more courses in research methodology. Depending on the concentration chosen, the master's degree program also includes specialization courses in subjects such as human sexuality, interventions, cultural factors in public health, mental health law, vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue, and child and adolescent counseling. The program may also include an internship.
The online PhD program in substance abuse counseling helps to prepare graduates to counsel patients and rehabilitate them from behavioral disorders. Professionals with doctoral degrees can sit for state licensure exams that are often required to work as licensed psychologists or counselors. This certification allows graduates to use particular professional titles and to work independently.
Candidates must have a master's degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field to be accepted into a doctoral program in substance abuse counseling. These programs require three to five years of coursework along with a clinical internship and dissertation.
The curriculum in the doctoral degree requires students to perform classroom work, clinical work, and research. Substance abuse coursework discusses topics like treating addiction, interviewing patients, diagnosis, human growth and development, adolescent treatment, psychopharmacology, and more. To complete the dissertation and clinical internship, it is common for students to work in a residential or outpatient substance abuse facility. Students work under the guidance of an experienced practitioner to treat patients. The dissertation is a lengthy report based on this clinical experience or research.
Substance abuse counseling certificate programs will generally require that students have a high school diploma or equivalent for admission. Some programs may not have educational requirements or require some experience in the field in lieu of education. Due to the various certificate degrees available, the length of the program will vary, although it will average about two years, and may include anywhere from 20 to 60 course units.
Substance abuse counselors have an important role in the health and well-being of others, and their coursework will reflect that responsibility. Common courses include history of drug abuse, psychology of addiction, physiological effects of drugs, criminology and drug use, individual and group counseling, treatment and motivation, continuing care, and depression and chemical dependence. Along with required courses, most certifications will require 150 or more hours of on-site training or instruction. These hours will vary depending on the state in which you want to practice; however, certification will not be complete without in-the-field hours logged.
Prospective online substance abuse counseling students should research the accreditation of their schools and degree programs before enrolling. Accrediting agencies carefully assess a school or program's ability to provide a high-quality education by reviewing its curricula, faculty members, student resources, and student outcomes. Choosing one of these accredited schools can help you feel confident that you are investing in a worthwhile education program that will be recognized by future employers, licensing boards, other accredited schools, and student financial aid agencies.
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits various types of graduate-level counseling degree programs, and several regional accrediting agencies accredit entire institutions that offer substance abuse counseling degrees. Both programmatic and institutional accreditation are acceptable as long as the accrediting agencies are officially recognized by either the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Please visit Guide to Online Schools' accreditation hub for more information about accreditation.
In addition to receiving a solid foundation in psychology, counseling theory, and addiction patterns, students will learn to provide both individual and group counseling in a substance abuse counseling program. They will also learn about community treatment resources so that they will be able to refer their clients to additional services and facilities outside their realm. Students will also learn about advocacy for increasing the funding and support of the programs they are aligned with. Another avenue of training for most students will be to work as a volunteer at a hospital or a rehabilitation clinic. This provides students with valuable experience and a realistic perspective of what to expect when they are employed as a counselor. Students should contact local addiction counseling groups and inquire about their volunteer opportunities.
The following courses are commonly required in substance abuse degree and certificate programs:
- Addictive Behaviors: This course provides students with an overview of what causes addictions and the consequences that can result from addictive behavior. It also introduces some of the theories of prevention and treatment being practiced today.
- Cognitive Neuroscience: Students will learn the basics of cognition with regard to memory, executive functions, emotion, and how people make decisions. Gaining a better understanding of how the brain functions will help substance abuse counseling students understand the physical mechanisms occurring behind the addictions.
- Developmental Psychology: An introduction to developmental psychology teaches students about cognitive development, language and motor skill acquisition, moral reasoning and empathy, and social development.
- Group Counseling: Students will explore the theories and techniques of group counseling, different group counseling styles, and ethical responsibilities for group counselors.
- Psychopathology: An introduction to psychopathology teaches students about the causes of mental illness and the ways in which mental illness can manifest itself in people's behaviors.
Unlike many other positions in the healthcare field, becoming a substance abuse counselor doesn't necessarily require a postsecondary degree. This doesn't mean that a degree isn't helpful; earning an online bachelor's degree may make you more competitive in the job market and may exponentially increase your earning power over the course of your career. As for what level of degree you'll need and in what field, that often varies according to state, employing institution, or position.
The types of treatment and services you can offer as a substance abuse counselor will depend on the state in which you live. The education requirements for addiction treatment specialists vary from state to state. In some states, counselors with only a high school diploma or certificate can provide certain services to clients. In other states, a bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling prepares graduates to earn a state substance abuse license. Some employers may require or prefer particular professional certifications, like those offered through The Association for Addiction Professionals. In many states, to diagnose and treat people with behavioral disorders, you will need to earn a master's degree or higher in counseling and complete 2,000-4,000 hours of fieldwork under the supervision of an experienced counselor. For information on the training requirements in your state, visit the National Board for Certified Counselors or the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network.
- American Counseling Association. Accessed March 8, 2018. http://www.counseling.org.
- Association for Addiction Professionals. Accessed March 8, 2018. http://www.naadac.org.
- CACREP. Accessed Accessed March 8, 2018. http://www.cacrep.org.
- Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network. Accessed March 8, 2018. http://attcnetwork.org/home/.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the US Department of Labor. Accessed March 8, 2018. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-and-behavioral-disorder-counselors.htm.