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2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Substance Abuse Counseling

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 6/21/2023
2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Substance Abuse Counseling Badge

An online master's in substance abuse counseling is designed to help students develop the advanced skills to help individuals recognize, treat, and overcome addictive behaviors to lead healthier lives. Its distance learning format helps provide convenience and scheduling flexibility for graduate candidates already balancing multiple obligations or living far from colleges and universities offering this advanced curriculum. 

We've ranked this list of programs by online enrollment to help you see which programs are popular with students who may share similar interests, backgrounds, and goals. If you're thinking toward the future but still need to complete an undergraduate degree, our list of affordable online bachelor's degrees in substance abuse counseling includes many options to help you find a program while staying within budget. View our methodology for more details about our list, or learn about OnlineU.

2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Substance Abuse Counseling Badge
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Online Substance Abuse Counseling Master's Degrees You May Be Interested In

Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,700
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Liberty University (LU) is a large, private, Evangelical Christian institution offering a non-licensure Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling with an online curriculum rooted in biblical principles and courses taught from a Christian perspective. Graduating requires completing 48 credits, taking about two years of full-time enrollment in 8-week courses. LU also offers an online Master of Arts in Human Services Counseling - Addictions and Recovery and an online Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling: Addictions & Recovery with slightly different career focuses.

LU's distance learners access the Canvas learning management system to participate in classes. Online addiction counseling courses include Integration of Spirituality and Counseling, Group Dynamics, Diagnosis and Treatment Planning of Addictive Disorders, and Ethical and Legal Issues in Counseling. An addiction counseling internship is also required to graduate.

Arizona State University

  • Annual Tuition: $29,438
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Popular for its online programming, Arizona State University (ASU) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Addiction Psychology, which pairs state-of-the-art research from internationally recognized experts with the clinical expertise of licensed psychologists and addiction counselors. This online master's degree program helps prepare students for licensure. They must complete 45 credits — 15 classes — to graduate, which includes a practicum and an applied project. Full-time students generally complete this online graduate program in two years or less because classes are only 7.5 weeks.

ASU's distance learners access online coursework and instruction via Canvas. Online addiction psychology graduate students take courses such as Comorbidity in Substance Use Related Problems, Psychopharmacology, Multicultural Issues Related to Substance Use Related Problems, and Group Therapy for Substance Use Related Problems.

Purdue Global

  • Annual Tuition: $14,436
  • Locations: Indianapolis (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Indiana-based Purdue Global (PG) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Psychology - Addictions blending traditional psychology with contemporary science applications relating to real-world situations. The online program curriculum helps prepare students for National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals Master Addictions Counselor certification. It is accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission. Graduating requires 40-50 credits, taking approximately two years of full-time attendance. According to PG, 94% of program graduates are employed or continue their education within 1.5 years of graduation. Potential job titles include social and community service manager and residential advisor.

PG delivers its online coursework and instruction via Brightspace. Online addictions program courses include Ethics for Addiction Professionals, Foundations of Professional Psychology, Chemical and Psychological Dependency Counseling, and Group Counseling. A practicum, capstone, and thesis are all required to graduate.

University of the Cumberlands

  • Annual Tuition: $9,875
  • Locations: Williamsburg (KY)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Kentucky's University of the Cumberlands (UC) is a private, nonprofit, Baptist institution offering an online Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling designed to help prepare students for professional licensure. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs accredits it. Graduating requires completing 60 credits and clinical experience, taking at least two years of full-time study. Students may transfer up to 30 previously earned credits into this online graduate program.

UC uses Brightspace as its learning management system for online curriculum delivery. Addiction counseling distance learners enroll in courses such as Spirituality and Values in Counseling, Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment, Motivation and Change, and Psychopharmacology and Addictions. Courses are offered in 8-week sessions, with two bi-terms each semester.

Nova Southeastern University

  • Annual Tuition: $34,570
  • Locations: Fort Lauderdale (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Fort Lauderdale's Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a private, nonprofit institution that serves Asian American, Native American Pacific Islander, and Hispanic students. It offers a non-licensure, online Master of Science in Counseling - Substance Abuse Counseling accredited by CACREP. Full-time students can complete this 48-credit program in about two years. NSU also offers an online Master of Science in Counseling - Substance Abuse Counseling and Education.

NSU delivers online coursework and instruction via Canvas. Substance abuse counseling distance learners take courses such as Issues in Clinical Supervision, Psychopharmacology of Illicit and Licit Drugs, and Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders. A practicum is also required to graduate.

Regent University Online

  • Annual Tuition: $18,820
  • Locations: Virginia Beach (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Regent University Online (Regent Online) is a private, Christian institution in Virginia offering a non-licensure, online Master of Arts in Human Services - Addictions Counseling for students interested in integrating Christian beliefs into their study and future practice. They must complete 30 credits to graduate, which generally takes students around two years of full-time enrollment to finish. Graduates often pursue careers as substance abuse counselors, clinical case managers, and pastoral counselors. Regent Online also offers an online Master of Science in Psychology - Addictions that helps students develop technical skills.

Regent Online students participate in classes via Canvas that are both synchronous (scheduled at set days and times) and asynchronous (to be completed as schedules allow). Addictions counseling distance learners engage in courses such as Addiction Intervention, Process Addictions, Addictive Behaviors & Substance Abuse, and Advanced Counseling Skills & Techniques.

Drexel University

  • Annual Tuition: $57,136
  • Locations: Philadelphia (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Drexel University (DU) is a private, nonprofit institution in Philadelphia offering an online Master of Science in Addiction Counseling to help graduate candidates become eligible to sit for certification exams, such as the Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor and Master Addictions Counselor exams. This 57.5-quarter-credit program (38 semester credits) is organized into four 10-week quarters per year and takes full-time students approximately two years to complete.

Drexel's online students access assignments and participate in classes via the university's proprietary Drexel Learn learning management system. The online addiction counseling curriculum courses include Treatment Planning and Relapse Prevention, Diversity and Contextual Factors in Clinical Practice, Understanding Prevention and Prevention Programs, and Substance Use Counseling with Special Populations. Practicum courses are optional.

Indiana Wesleyan University Online

  • Annual Tuition: $18,868
  • Locations: Marion (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Indiana Wesleyan University Online (IWU Online) is a Methodist university offering an online Master of Arts in Counseling - Clinical Addictions Counseling that helps students meet credentialing requirements and become qualified Christian counselors. IWU Online is an Approved Education Provider of the National Association for Addiction Professionals, and this online graduate program is also accredited by The National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission. Graduating requires completing 48 credits and generally takes at least two years of full-time study.

IWU uses the Desire2Learn learning platform to deliver course instruction and assignments to distance learners. Online clinical addiction counseling students enroll in courses such as Psychopathology, Counseling Addicted Families, Appraisal of Individuals and Families, and Theory and Techniques in the Helping Relationship. A supervised internship is also required to graduate.

Aspen University

  • Annual Tuition: $5,110
  • Locations: Denver (CO)
  • Accreditation: DEAC

Located in Phoenix, Arizona, Aspen University (AU) is a private, for-profit institution offering a non-licensure Master of Arts in Psychology and Addiction Studies structured around the primary theories of addiction and treatment and prevention-related topics. This online program consists of 16 courses — 48 credits — culminating in a capstone project. Full-time students can generally complete this online master's degree in two years.

AU's distance learners access Desire2Learn to participate in classes and engage with instructors and peers. Online courses include Neurobiology of Addiction, Drug Enforcement, Psychopharmacology, Psychological Interactions, and Advanced Helping Skills.

University of North Texas

  • Annual Tuition: $20,906
  • Locations: Denton (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Hispanic-serving University of North Texas (UNT) is a public institution offering an online Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling that helps prepare students for certification as rehabilitation counselors and state licensure as professional counselors. To graduate, students must complete 60 credits — 19 classes, a practicum, and an internship. Completing this online master's program generally takes at least two years of full-time enrollment. Graduates work in various settings, including behavioral health and healthcare settings, community programs, Veterans Affairs, independent living centers, and schools.

UNT provides Canvas access to distance learners so they can participate in the school's online curriculum. Rehabilitation counseling distance learners take courses, such as Group Work and the Rehabilitation Process, Disability and the Family System, Professional Issues in Case Management, and Medical and Psychosocial Aspects of Disability.

List Of Accredited Online Substance Abuse Counseling Schools

School Online Enrollment Annual Tuition
Liberty University 45,107 45,107 $11,700 $11,700
Arizona State University 15,537 $29,438
Purdue Global 10,981 $14,436
University of the Cumberlands 7,168 $9,875
Nova Southeastern University 5,468 $34,570
Regent University Online 5,113 $18,820
Drexel University 4,140 $57,136
Indiana Wesleyan University Online 3,730 $18,868
Aspen University 3,604 $5,110
University of North Texas 3,151 $20,906
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What Is a Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling Degree?

A master's degree in substance abuse counseling is an advanced credential for students who want to become substance use counselors or further their current careers in the field. Faculty teach students to listen to and advise patients from diverse backgrounds with a range of addictions. Students also study biochemistry and pharmacology to help understand the physical effects of substances.

Most substance abuse master's degrees have a general curriculum, but others feature concentrations in specialties such as group therapy, child and adolescent counseling, or mental health law. 

There's no universally recognized accreditor for substance use counseling programs. The National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC) does review some master's programs, but this is a fairly small organization whose stamp of approval might not affect your marketability much. Keep in mind that you should only apply to institutionally accredited schools, though.


Language is always evolving in the substance use counseling career field. Many practitioners find the word "abuse" to be judgmental and prefer the terms "substance use counseling" or "addiction counseling." We only use the term "substance abuse" on this page when referring to degree programs, many of which still carry this language.

Degree Requirements

Most master's degrees in substance abuse counseling have 30-36 credit hours of required coursework. This often takes two years to complete with a full-time schedule or three years with a part-time course load.

All accredited master's programs include many hours of field experience that will be required to earn a license in your state. The Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network (ATTCN) has details about licensure requirements in each state.

You need a bachelor's degree to apply for a master's degree. Your undergraduate program doesn't need to in substance use counseling — candidates come from a variety of educational backgrounds. You'll usually apply to online programs between November and February for the following year's autumn term.

Your application will typically include official transcripts showing a minimum 3.0 GPA, along with letters of recommendation, a personal statement on your career goals, a resume, and GRE scores.


Substance use counseling master's degrees usually have similar curricula. Classes cover basic knowledge and skills needed in the addiction counseling field while leaving space for advanced topics in research and leadership. 

We've given some examples of common courses below. If your program has a concentration, you'll typically take two or three electives in that focus area.

Addiction and Public Policy

Students learn the history and current landscape of government responses to substance use problems. Topics may cover federal versus state and local law, incarceration policies, and targeted interventions for rural and urban populations.

Clinical Supervision

This course seeks to teach leadership skills used to manage a team of counselors. Faculty may discuss the theory of clinical supervision, HR law, record keeping, and behavioral motivation.

Ethics in Addictions Counseling

This class examines ethical theories and how they've been embedded in counseling practice. Common topics include privacy, duty of care, involuntary commitment, and concerns about online counseling.

Maintenance and Relapse

Enrollees study different models of sobriety maintenance and relapse prevention in this course. Professors often cover sociocultural triggers, behavior modification techniques, public health, and risk-informed decision-making.

Other Counseling Specializations

It's fairly common to specialize your practice within the substance use counseling field. For example, you might work with certain populations, such as adolescents or older adults. You might also come to specialize in treating addiction to certain substances, such as opioids or alcohol. Many bachelor's degrees in substance abuse counseling don't leave room for specialization, so you might use your master's degree as an opportunity to focus on a specialty.

Still, you may be intrigued by counseling but unsure about treating substance use exclusively. You might find one of the following counseling specializations more appealing.

Child and Adolescent Counseling

Young people requiring counseling need people who are trained in the mental development of children and adolescents. These counselors work to establish trust with their young clients and understand their home, social, and school environments.

Clinical Mental Health Counseling

These counselors assess and treat individuals of all ages for mental health concerns that include anxiety, depression, and grief. All states require mental health counselors to hold an active license. This takes at least a bachelor's degree in counseling to earn, and some states require a master's in counseling.

Marriage and Family Counseling

This form of counseling treats the concerns of married couples, long-term partners, and families living in the same households. A master's degree in marriage and family therapy is necessary to become a licensed marriage and family therapist who can perform this kind of counseling.

Rehabilitation Counseling

Rehabilitation counselors work with clients adjusting to life-changing illnesses or injuries. They need a master's degree to practice, along with a license in some states.

School Counseling

School counselors help students at K-12 schools with learning, behavioral, and mental health issues. These counselors must hold a master's degree in school counseling to earn state licensure.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Substance Abuse Counseling Degree?

Further Education

An accredited master's degree is enough qualification for most substance use counseling jobs. But some roles might call for an even more advanced or specialized credential. Keep reading to learn about professional certificates and doctorates in this field.

Graduate Certificate

Certificate programs are short training opportunities for licensed counselors who want an extra credential in a focused area of practice. For example, a substance use counselor may earn a certificate in crisis counseling or lifespan mental development to fill out their clinical toolkit. 

Doctoral Degree

A doctorate in substance abuse counseling is generally only needed if you want to teach at the college level and conduct original research. Most doctorates take an average of seven-and-a-half years to complete because of the large amount of research needed to write a dissertation.

Substance Use Counseling Careers

Most master's graduates in substance abuse counseling go on to become substance use counselors. After all, this is an advanced degree in a relatively narrow specialty. Substance use counselors make median annual salaries of $48,520, which is a bit higher than the $45,760 median wage for all U.S. jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the job field to grow at a very fast 22% rate through 2031.

Substance use counselors typically need a state license to practice because of the responsibility they have to care for vulnerable people. Beyond basic licensure, you might study for a certification in substance abuse counseling, which may make you more competitive in the job market.

You might also use your clinical and research skills to fill non-counseling roles in management, policy, and healthcare. For example, you may be a good fit for a career as a health education specialist, a social or community service manager, or a health services manager. 

See our Substance Abuse Counseling Career Guide for more information on this job field.

Financing Your Master's Degree in Substance Use Counseling

A master's degree is a major financial commitment on top of any student loan debt you may already have from college. It's worth finding and applying for all the financial aid you can. Need-based grants and merit- and need-based scholarships are ideal because you don't need to repay them. You might also qualify for a work-study program if you agree to work a particular job while in school. 

Most graduate students take out at least some loans to help pay for their programs. Our helpful student loan repayment calculator might help you compare loan offers as you choose between financing options.

Review our list of the most affordable online master's degrees in substance abuse counseling if low tuition is a primary concern. You can also check out the most affordable online bachelor's degrees in substance abuse counseling if you're still in the early stages of planning your education.

FAQs About Master's in Substance Use Counseling Degrees

How Much Do Substance Use Counselors Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that substance use counselors earn median annual wages of $48,250. These counselors earn significantly more in government roles (a median $60,450) than in any other setting. 

How Long Does It Take to Get a Substance Use Counseling Master's Degree?

Most master's degrees in substance use counseling take two years to finish with a full-time schedule. Many programs feature part-time options catering to working students that may last up to three years.

Can I Get a Substance Use Counseling Master's Degree Online?

There are many substance use counseling degrees online with completely remote coursework. But all accredited programs require in-person clinical internships under the supervision of a licensed counselor. As an online student, you can arrange to work your clinical hours at a facility close to your home if the school is far away. 

What's the Difference Between Addiction Counseling and Substance Use Counseling?

Substance use counselors are trained to treat dependency to chemical substances such as drugs and alcohol. Addiction counselors may treat a broader range of psychological addictions in addition to substances, such as sex addiction or gambling addiction.

Bottom Line

A substance abuse counseling master's degree may provide a step toward a career as a licensed substance use counselor. It might also give a practicing counselor a boost in the job market and help them qualify for management roles.

Some substance use counseling master's programs have optional concentrations to help students specialize in treating a particular substance or demographic group. 

Check out our college planning resources if you're still deciding what to study, considering on-campus versus online programs, or figuring out how to apply for a degree. Once you know more, read through our Guide to Starting Your Online Education for help through the process.

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