Online Degree in Addiction Counseling

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College degrees for battling substance abuse

Addictions can be devastating. They can ruin finances, careers, families and even lives. Fortunately, there are kind souls who make it their life’s work to help those in the grips of addiction. Given the complexity of any addiction, that help requires specialized education and training. That’s where affordable addiction counseling programs come in. This guide will explore available online addiction counseling degree programs and share what students need to know before applying to and attending one.

By earning an online degree in addiction counseling, students will be set on the right path to achieving a career in the addiction counseling field. Students learning in this program will develop a comprehensive understanding of drug and alcohol addiction, individual and group counseling, and a variety of treatment methods, all without ever having to attending in-person classes. We’ve looked into what programs are out there and developed a list of the top schools throughout the country offering online addiction counseling degrees, basing our findings on class sizes, cost, and student success rates. Check out what we’ve found below, and find the addiction counseling program that will best fit your needs.

Top 7 Best Online Addiction Counseling Programs

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Best Online Addiction Counseling Programs

  • Methodology

    Best Online Addiction Counseling Programs

    Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors Data Sources:

    Eligibility Criteria:

    • Each college must be accredited
    • Each college must be a not-for-profit institution
    • Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
    • Each college must have at least one online program 1
    • Each college must have a maximum four-year tuition of $25,000 or a maximum two-year tuition of $5,000

    Ranking Factors:

    • Affordability
    • Quality
    • Flexibility
    • Program

    Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.

    1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.

    2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates. Notes:

    • A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
    • Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.

  1. Central Texas College

    Killeen, TX



    Established in 1965, Central Texas College is a community college located in Killeen with a distance learning program that encompasses more than 400 online courses and 60 degree and certificate programs. It offers a 2-year, fully online Associate of Applied Science degree with a specialization in chemical dependency. Full-time distance learners can complete the 60 required credits in 4 semesters, taking classes in such subjects as the pharmacology of addiction and the principles of intervention and counseling. Online students at CTC may begin their courses - which are delivered in an asynchronous format - on a monthly basis. Each course ranges from 5 to 16 weeks in length, so that students may select the duration that best fits their schedules. CTC recommends that online students devote a minimum of 6-9 hours per week for each course. Financial assistance is also available, with the CTC Foundation offering about 200 awards each year through approximately 170 scholarships. These awards are both need- and merit-based. Applications for scholarships may be submitted online between January 1 and March 31 each year. Online students may also transfer credits from previous accredited colleges and universities to count toward their degree requirements. Transfer credits must come from lower division classes in which the student earned a "C" or higher. To ensure that transfer courses are compatible with the student's major and specialty at CTC, transfers are considered on a case-by-case basis. CTC also makes special efforts to help military personnel and their families by offering maximum credit for military training and experience.

  2. Kansas City Kansas Community College

    Kansas City, KS



    Kansas City Kansas Community College is a 2-year public institution that offers distance learners an Associate in Applied Science in Addiction Counseling. Grounded in both theoretical and experiential learning, the addiction counselor training program will give you the chance to develop your skills and position yourself to begin a career in the counseling field or to prepare for further education. The associate degree program also provides a helpful foundation for those working toward the national counseling exams, but students should be aware that most states require you to have a bachelor's degree in a human services or a related field to obtain licensure. Graduates of this program should be prepared for work as counselors in treatment facilities, mental health agencies and private practices; as juvenile or adult probation and parole officers; or as workers in institutions that provide abuse prevention services. Careers as counselors or teachers in secondary and post-secondary schools are also an option. Depending on a student's chosen electives, it takes 61-64 credits to complete the associate degree. Courses may be completed online or in a blended format. Most classes are delivered in a synchronous format through the Blackboard system, with weekly assignments and fixed beginning and ending dates. There are no requirements for admission to this program; simply fill out the online application and contact the Arts, Humanities, and Social Science department for program-specific advising. Transfer credits may be accepted after the admissions and records office evaluates your official transcripts and determines the KCKCC course equivalent or most appropriate elective designation.

  3. Northcentral Technical College

    Wausau, WI



    Northcentral Technical College, established in 1912, is a technical community college in Wausau, Wisconsin. NCT's substance use disorder counselor (SUDC) associate degree program is for those interested in helping others overcome addictive issues and substance abuse. This 60-credit degree is available in both Online; Hybrid formats. Students will learn to develop treatment plans and management skills, document and maintain clinical records, and adhere to ethical and behavioral conduct standards in the field. NTC graduates find employment working in substance abuse counseling programs at correctional facilities, employee and student assistance programs, and other community and social service agencies. Distance learners are eligible for licensure in Wisconsin as abuse counselors-in-training, and graduates should be prepared to find entry-level employment or to use their educational background to pursue additional education at a 4-year institution. An internship is required for this major; however, a nearby internship site is not guaranteed, so online students should be aware they may have to move or drive a considerable distance to participate in supervised on-site training. A criminal background check is required for placement in clinical sites or field locations for the internship. In terms of licensure, this degree is also worth 500 hours of supervised experience toward the 4,000 hours required by the Department of Safety and Professional Services for substance abuse counselor licensing. NTC offers test-out options to new and transfer students, in both major-specific to general education classes, to let them apply credit for knowledge that has been previously attained either through work or college coursework. Official transcripts are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

  4. Tompkins Cortland Community College

    Dryden, NY



    Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) is a public 2-year college located in Dryden, New York, that offers an A.A.S. degree and a certificate in chemical dependency counseling. To complete this degree in 2 years, full-time students must take a minimum of 15 or 16 credits for 4 semesters, for a total of 62 credits. TC3 requires students to have a minimum grade of "C" in both college writing and major-specific, chemical dependency courses. The associate degree program is offered in a hybrid format, with 80% of courses available online. The certificate program, which is 26 credits in duration and designed for professionals already working in the field, may be completed entirely online. Associate degree students must also participate in 2 semesters of field experience. Each 4-credit fieldwork class requires 120-150 hours of supervised work experience plus 1 hour of classroom instruction a week. TC3 associate degree holders are prepared to work in professional settings such as therapy communities, rehabilitation centers, outpatient programs, correctional facilities, hospitals, and other support organizations. Degree holders may also begin careers at human service and criminal justice agencies, where they can find positions as case managers, case workers, social welfare examiners, and child care workers. TC3 offers distance learners career coaching and placement services, with job postings and regional employment information. As part of the State University of New York System (SUNY), transferring credits to and from TC3 is a straightforward process for most online students, provided they follow student transfer mobility guidelines for SUNY schools. TC3 also accepts non-high school graduates as non-admitted students who wish to pursue the 24-credit hour equivalency diploma.

  5. Allen County Community College

    Iola, KS



    Established in 1923, Allen Community College is a 2-year junior college located in Lola, Kansas, where online students can earn an Associate in Science degree, or an Associate in Applied Science degree, with an emphasis in Addiction and Prevention Studies. The A.S. and A.A.S. degrees require 65 and 60 credits to graduate, respectively. Each degree requires 2 years of full-time coursework focusing on areas such as substance abuse awareness, introductory topics in counseling, pharmacology, and cultural anthropology. Both online degrees from ACC prepare you for careers in addiction counseling, social work, personal counseling, mental and public health, rehabilitation services, and work at corrections facilities. For students who already hold a bachelor's degree, ACC also offers a 33-credit hour addictions counseling certificate. All courses and requirements, which require about 6-8 hours of work per class each week, can be completed entirely online. Courses are delivered asynchronously, but there are regular deadlines for assignments and online meeting times through the Blackboard system. As a distance learner, you also have online access to the library and writing center, as well as 24/7 technical support. ACC has transfer agreements with all six Kansas Regent Universities, Washburn University, and other local colleges and universities, making it easy for online students to transfer credits to 4-year institutions. ACC also has an established equivalency credit guideline for work that students completed in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. While online tuition fees are slightly higher than those for on-campus courses, distance learners are eligible to receive financial aid via private and federal sources, as well as through programs offered through the school. All prospective ACC students must complete a FAFSA to be considered for internal and federal awards.

  6. Rio Salado College

    Tempe, AZ



    Located in Tempe, Arizona, Rio Salado College is a community college with online associate degree, certificate and continuing education options in behavioral health, addiction, and substance abuse disorders. The Associate in Applied Science in Addictions and Substance Use Disorders program can be completed entirely online and prepares students for careers as addictions and substance abuse professionals in behavioral health clinics, support programs and substance abuse awareness organizations. Depending on the elective courses you choose, you must complete 61-64 credit hours to graduate. The curriculum focuses on scientific theories and technique, counseling ethics, communication skills, interviewing and documentation, and recovery and relapse. Advanced courses in this program explore family dynamics, relationships, and cultural components of daily life and their relation to addiction and recovery. In all general education and major-specific courses, distance learners are required to earn a "C" or better and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0. Full-time online students should plan on taking 12 credits or more per semester to finish the degree in 2 years. Part-time students can follow the same sequence of classes as full-time students, but will need additional terms to complete all requirements. The degree program also helps prepare online students for licensure; however, licensing and certification requirements vary by state, so students should familiarize themselves with their state's guidelines and conditions before starting the program if they intend to pursue licensure. For online students with previous coursework or applicable work experience, Rio Salado accepts transfer credits from U.S. regionally accredited colleges and universities and ACE-evaluated credits, including military credit, CLEP, and DANTES.

  7. Mohave Community College

    Kingman, AZ



    Mohave Community College is 2-year, public institution located in Kingman, Arizona. Founded in 1970, this community college offers an online Associate of Arts in Substance Abuse Counseling. Online students must complete 62-68 credits to graduate, which typically takes 2 years for full-time students. While major-specific courses for this degree can be taken through MCC's self-paced, asynchronous format, students should note that general education requirements cannot. Those courses follow more traditional formats, with start and end dates, regular deadlines and cohort learning technology. For the self-paced portions of the degree program, online students work closely with professors who provide individual guidance intended to support students from the outset and ensure their mastery of specific competencies within each course. You must earn an "A" or "B" in major-specific courses before moving on to the remaining requirements. General education coursework must be completed with a "C" grade or higher and a minimum 2.0 GPA. Prospective students in the substance abuse degree program should contact the department and receive approval before registering for major-specific courses. Graduates of MCC pursue careers in substance abuse and mental health counseling and may work at schools, correctional treatment facilities, and social, human service and religious organizations. The associate degree also serves as a strong foundation for students who wish to pursue a bachelor's degree before entering the workforce. All incoming students must take a placement test to determine their entry point into the curriculum. For students with prior college learning, MCC accepts credits with a grade of "C" or higher. Pass/fail grades may be accepted for students with a minimum cumulative 2.5 GPA. All applicable credits must have been earned at a regionally accredited college or university.

National Median Annual Salary & Job Growth For Addiction Counseling

The bureau of labor statistics provides the following data about job growth in the Addiction Counseling industry. As well as the following national median salary data for several different careers in the field of Addiction Counseling.

Addiction Counselors22%$39,270Bachelor’s degree
Marriage and Family Therapists15%$48,040Master’s degree
Mental Health Counselors20%$40,850Master’s degree
Psychologists19%$70,700Master’s degree, but doctorate recommended
Social Workers12%$45,500Bachelor’s degree

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Milestone Map

The journey to becoming an addiction counselor can start as early as high school and may involve many twists and turns along the way. The path below shows what someone might expect to accomplish in their own professional and academic life.

High School

Volunteers at a homeless shelter after school

Bachelor’s Degree

Majors in psychology and interns at a substance abuse clinic

Entry-level Job

Works as researcher at alma mater’s department of psychology

Master’s Degree

Obtains an online master’s degree in addiction counseling

Job Change

Begins working in private practice


Co-writes a widely recognized paper on treating opiate addiction

Addiction Counseling Degrees: Learning Online

Students who obtain their addiction counseling degree through an online program have the advantage of tremendous flexibility. Like most other online programs, online addiction counseling programs offer students the ability to study at their own pace, take classes when it’s convenient for them and continuing working while taking those classes.

In order to take advantage of the flexibility made possible through distance learning, students need a broadband Internet connection and a computer with enough memory to run specific software. Once online, students can watch live or recorded video lectures, ask questions at any time through message boards or chat rooms, review class work and participate in discussions with other students.

Even though online addiction counseling degree programs offer classes that are fully online, some certificate programs require students to attend online lectures at specific times, or synchronously. Additionally, most programs have a supervised internship or practicum requirement. However, many schools allow these hands-on elements to be fulfilled at locations near the student as long as the site and/or internship is approved by a program director.

Types of Online Degrees in Addiction Counseling

For those interested in getting an online addiction counseling degree, there are several options. The most prevalent online programs are at the graduate level, either as certificates or master’s degrees, but bachelor’s degrees are also available.

Because each state has its own requirements for what it takes to be a licensed or certified counselor, every school tailors its program to meet the requirements of the state in which it is located. Therefore, many degree requirements are state-specific. However, a general overview can be given:

  • Bachelor’s
    (4 years)

Those who want to become an addiction counselor must hold at least a bachelor’s degree, but baccalaureate programs in addiction counseling are not very common. Prospective students are more likely to find psychology programs with concentrations in addiction or substance abuse.

To enroll in a bachelor’s degree program, students must have a high school diploma or GED and meet typical admissions requirements. However, some bachelor’s programs are designed for students who already have at least two years of undergraduate class credits.

The bachelor’s curriculum prepares students to obtain their certifications or move on to additional graduate studies. The typical program consists of about 120 to 130 credits and lasts about four years, although some accelerated programs can be completed in two to three years.

In addition to general education requirements, such as English and math, students can expect to learn about general psychology principles, pharmacology, theories of addiction, and abnormal behavior. They will likely also be required to take an in-person counseling practicum.

  • Master’s
    (2 years)

Online master’s degrees in addiction counseling (also commonly called addiction studies) are very popular. That’s because a master’s degree is often required by the state to provide client counseling services. Master’s programs are ideal for those who want to begin treating addiction patients in addition to other types of patients. It is also good for those who are already treating addiction patients but desire the increased responsibility and autonomy that comes with a more advanced degree.

Typically lasting two years and totaling between 30 and 50 credits, most graduate programs bestow either a Master of Science or a Master of Arts. Practically, there is very little difference between the two because they both prepare students to meet the licensure or certification requirements of the state or organization they choose. Depending on the program and the student’s prior background, the number of credits required to graduate might be reduced. To enroll, students need to have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in an area similar to addiction counseling.

Students at this level can expect to learn the same general concepts that are taught in a bachelor’s degree program. However, there are opportunities to specialize in a more specific area of addiction counseling, such as public health, children and youth, families, and trauma counseling. In addition to the required coursework, all master’s level programs in addiction counseling have a hands-on requirement, whether it’s called a residency, practicum or internship, that consists of at least several hundred hours of supervised experience. This component cannot be completed online.

  • Doctorate
    (3 to 6+ years)

There are few doctoral degrees specifically in addiction counseling available online. There are a handful of online options available in areas similar to addiction counseling. Those that are available include an online PhD in psychology with a specialization in addiction and a DSW (Doctor of Social Work) with a concentration in addictions.

  • Graduate Certificates
    (less than 1 year)

Online graduate certificates are meant for those who are already professionals in a related field but desire specialized training in addiction. Doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors and therapists who seek expert instruction in addiction issues are ideal candidates for graduate certificates. At the completion of most certificate programs, students should be ready to take the necessary certification exams and obtain licensure.

Most online certificate programs consist of about 12 to 16 credits and can be completed in less than one year. Topics covered include cultural diversity, group counseling, chemical dependency and professional ethics. In most cases, students need to hold at least a bachelor’s degree for entry into a certificate program, usually in a field related to addiction counseling. In addition to classroom time and assignments, students often need to meet practicum or internship requirements as well. However, these requirements vary based on the state in which licensure or certification is sought. Students should make sure the certificate program contains the necessary requirements set forth by the state they want to work in.

Standard Addiction Counseling Degree Courses

Because each state has its own counseling requirements for licensures and/or certification, most schools tailor their addiction counseling curriculum to meet those requirements. However, the core courses are typically similar, no matter which school a student chooses to attend. Here are five common courses students might encounter.


Students learn how the human body interacts, utilizes and absorbs drugs. They also learn both the intended effects and side effects (including withdrawal) of commonly used and abused drugs and how the body becomes addicted to drugs.

Counseling Practicum

Students complete a supervised work experience session at a location approved by the practicum coordinator. Through this practicum, students apply the theories and concepts learned in class to actual patients.

Ethical and Cultural Addiction Treatment Considerations

Since addiction affects people from all cultures, students study techniques and strategies to more effectively treat a wide variety of patients from different backgrounds. This course also presents common ethical dilemmas and how to deal with them.

Individual and Group Counseling

The different techniques and protocols when treating individuals versus groups are examined in this class. How addiction affects individuals and groups, such as families, is also reviewed.

Drug and Alcohol Studies

This class focuses on alcohol and drugs, which make up a large percentage of addictions. Students learn how to apply scientific theories and research to more effectively treat patients for addiction.

Things to Check Before Enrolling

Enrolling in the right online addiction counseling degree program depends heavily on one’s professional goals. There are several major factors students should consider when choosing which school to attend.

  • Figure out which state you would like to practice in. Since each state has its own requirements for licensure or certification, you should choose the school that will help you meet these specific requirements.
  • If there are any addiction concentration areas you would like to practice in, make sure the school has electives or specializations in those areas.
  • Confirm the school’s accreditation. A degree without accreditation is most likely going to be worthless.
  • Check admission requirements and be sure you can meet them before applying.
  • Find out if the school has any financial aid or scholarship opportunities that can help limit the cost of tuition.
  • Research the school’s career services and alumni network. These can prove valuable in your job search after graduation.
  • Before enrolling, speak with current or past students to see if their opinion of the school coincides with your understanding of what to expect. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to speak to an admissions officer.

Accreditation of Addiction Counseling Programs

Whether the school is a brick-and-mortar college or an entirely online institution, accreditation is very important. Like other counseling disciplines, addiction counseling programs typically seek programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

For more information about the accreditation process, check out our Online Counseling Degrees & Programs guide and the Online Guide to Accredited Colleges & Universities.

Enrollment Steps: Master’s in Addiction Counseling

Getting an online master’s degree in addiction counseling can lead to a very rewarding career that provides much-needed assistance to some of the most vulnerable members of society. However, getting there doesn’t occur overnight. The below chart provides a rough step-by-step guide to enrolling in a master’s program.

Time Before Program Start Date
Step 1 Obtain a bachelor’s degree4 or more years
Step 2 Gain real-world experience at an entry-level job3 years
Step 3 Take the GRE, if necessary1 year
Step 4 Fill out and complete the FAFSA® to see if you’re eligible for federal financial aid9 months, assuming fall enrollment
Step 5 Complete admissions applications and submit to admissions offices6 to 9 months, depending on admissions type (rolling versus traditional)

In order to increase the chances of getting into the online master’s program of choice, students can do the following:

  • Take a workshop in interpersonal communications. The counseling profession is all about people, and the better you can communicate and relate to others from all walks of life, the more you will be able to help them.
  • Volunteer working in a shelter or clinic catering to people with addictions. It shows the school you have some insight into the population you’ll be working with.
  • Get an undergraduate degree in a field related to addiction counseling, such as social work, psychology or counseling.
  • Join a professional addiction or counseling organization such as the Association for Addiction Professionals, known as NAADAC, as an associate or student member.

Salary and Job Growth for Addiction Counselors

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for counselors is very bright. While the national average for all job growth between 2014 and 2024 is expected to be 7 percent, the job outlook for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is 22 percent. Much of this growth is due to the fact that more health insurance companies now cover counseling services.

The pay is also above average, with the 2014 median wage of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors at $39,270; the national average for all jobs is $35,540. Most available jobs for addiction counselors are at outpatient care and substance abuse facilities, although private practices also hire many addiction counselors if they hold master’s degrees.

The following table compares addiction counselor salary and job growth to related careers.

Becoming Licensed and Certified

First comes the education, then comes the licensing. Although not all addiction counseling jobs require licensure or certification, many require at least licensure. Even if neither are required, having one or both will dramatically increase a graduate’s marketability compared to someone who has the same training but is lacking certification or licensure. This is because addiction counselors need a master’s degree and licensure to enter into private practice.

Addiction Counselor State Licensure

The requirements to becoming licensed depend on the state in which the individual would like to work. Many states have similar requirements, but students should always check with their respective state’s counseling regulatory organization for precise requirements. The proper organization can be found by visiting the websites of the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network and American Counseling Association. Be sure to know and understand state requirements before choosing which online addiction counseling program to attend.

Each state has these general requirements in common:

  • Master’s degree in applicable field
  • Supervised counseling experience
  • Passing score on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) and/or National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)

Addiction Counseling Certifications

Unlike licensure, certification is usually not a prerequisite to practicing as an addiction counselor. However, it is strongly recommended, as it will improve an addiction counselor’s professional growth. There are several certifications available, including:

  • National Certified Counselor (NCC): This preeminent certification by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) is recognized in all states. It ensures that its holder has met certain professional counseling standards.
  • National Certified Addiction Counselor: This certification, offered by National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP), has three levels showing graduated knowledge in industry standards and recently developed addiction treatments.
  • Master Addictions Counselor (MAC): The MAC certification proves that its holder has met the high standards for addiction counseling knowledge and skills. It is bestowed by NBCC.

Similar Online Counseling Programs

Sometimes students research a degree program and realize that it isn’t quite right for them. Perhaps they still want to work in the helping professions but they don’t specifically want to work with addictions. The following careers allow for a related but distinct educational path.

Online Christian Counseling Degree

For a religious slant to counseling services, a Christian counseling degree may be ideal. Online Christian counseling degree programs teach aspiring counselors how to help those with a variety of problems in a way that follows the teachings of Christ.

Online Mental Health Counseling Degree

If a more diverse clientele is desired, a mental health counseling degree can give students an education that will help them treat people with all types of mental issues, in addition to addictions.

Online School Counseling Degree

For those who prefer to work with students in high school or college and help them achieve their academic and personal potential, an online school counseling degree may be a perfect fit.

Web Resources for Addiction Counselors

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