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The 10 Best Online Master’s in Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Programs

Few jobs are as intensely demanding- and profoundly rewarding- as that of substance abuse counselor.

There is no denying that our country is dealing with a national crisis of addictive behavior.Individuals all over the country are struggling with not only substance abuse and addiction but other addictive behaviors as well–sex , gambling, social media are some examples.Consequently, the demand for addiction professionals is greater than ever. In fact, a 2013 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Survey on Drug Use and Health report reveals that about 23.5 million people over age 12 in the United States have had some form of substance use disorder in the past year. An online Master’s degree in Addiction Counseling will prepare you to be a competent practitioner-scholar in the ever-changing field of addiction and substance abuse. As a substance abuse counselor, you will learn about addiction treatment and about the issues and trends surrounding addictions, such as legal standards, ethics, and cultural differences. You will gain a broad understanding of the impact of addiction on families; prevention, intervention, and treatment strategies for individuals and groups; psychopharmacology theories; biological systems of chemical dependency; and client education and rehabilitation. Additionally, because we live in a multicultural society, most programs offer cultural- and ethnicity-sensitive counseling/therapy services training. Why not go beyond the Bachelor’s degree and take the next step with a Master’s degree in Addiction Counseling?

More and more organizations now seek professionals who have completed graduate-level training in mental health counseling. In terms of employment outcomes, job growth for this profession is projected to increase steadily in the near future. Actually, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that addiction counselors are projected to see faster than average growth of 22% from 2014-2024. This trend can be further explained by the fact that addiction counseling is increasingly being covered by insurance. An online Master’s degree in Addiction Studies can prepare you for positions in rehabilitation and prevention programs, as well as general clinical settings where addiction professionals work as part of a crisis management and intervention team. Common jobs include Addictions Counselor,Case Manager, Behavioral Disorder Counselors, Clinical Counselor, and Correctional Substance Abuse Counselor. Potential occupations include administration and supervisory positions with government agencies, rehabilitation clinics, educational institutions, health care, government agencies, vocational rehabilitation, and criminal justice/corrections.Position yourself for increased career opportunity in the fast-growing field of substance abuse treatment with an online Master’s in Addiction Counseling. For your convenience, we have compiled a list of the ten best online Master’s degree in Substance Abuse Counseling based on the factors of affordability and flexibility.


  • Affordability: the estimated out-of-state tuition rate per credit hour and the percentage of students receiving financial aid
  • Prestige: a set of core measurements including faculty with terminal degrees, selectivity, and class sizes.
  • Flexibility: a range of factors including if the program can be taken asynchronously, if it grants life-experience or competency credits, if it can be accelerated, and if there are different specializations.

1. Washburn University

Washburn, founded in 1865, is a public, coed, liberal arts college geared toward professional studies. The school can be found on an urban, 160-acre campus in the center of Topeka, KS–the state capital, home to many notable restaurants, and one of Travel + Leisure America’s Best Cities in 2014. Washburn currently ranks #94 Regional Universities Midwest and ranks #24 Top Public Schools by U.S. News & World Report. Washburn enrolls roughly 5,793 undergraduate students, provides a student-faculty ratio of 13:1, and 49.5% of classes cater to fewer than 20 students.

Washburn’s Master of Arts in Human Services/Addictions Counseling is 100% online, and there are opportunities to do your fieldwork where you live. Approved by NAADAC and the Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board (BSRB) to fulfill the requirements to become a Licensed Masters Addiction Counselor (LMAC) and a Licensed Clinical Addictions Counselor (LCAC), this holistic, integrative approach-based program has an average completion time of 2 years. The 36-credit-hour curriculum requires 10 core and 2 elective courses focusing on theory and research in the area of human services with a specialty in addiction counseling. Some of the core coursework includes: Human Services, Individual & Group Counseling, Pharmacology, and
Substance Group Disorder. Electives to choose from include: Treatment Of Dual Disorders, Addiction & Recovery Services, Lifespan Development, Special Topic Seminar, and Narrative Practices. The program promises affordability thanks to a $493 credit-hour cost.

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  • Affordability: $493
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: N/A

2. Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University, founded in 1949, is a for-profit Christian university and can be found on a 100-acre campus in Phoenix, AZ–Phoenix was just named America’s best pizza city by Travel + Leisure. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission–which is recognized by the Council For Higher Education Accreditation–Grand Canyon ranks #Tier 2 National Universities and #281 High School Counselor Rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

Grand Canyon University’s Master Of Science In Addiction Counseling is designed with the career-oriented professional in mind. This fully-online master’s program will prepare you to seek the highest level of certification or licensure in the field as you gain knowledge to work as an addiction counseling professional in a variety of settings such as in a private or group practice, a substance abuse clinic, or a hospital setting. The 36-credit-hour curriculum requires courses that focus on the causes and treatment of addiction, including the different theories of addiction, drug classification, assessment and treatment; professional counseling orientation and ethics; counseling theories; group counseling theory and practice; social and cultural diversity issues in counseling; psychiatric disorders in combination with an alcohol and/or drug abuse disorder; diagnostics; and counseling chemically-dependent adolescents. Most courses are 8 weeks long, and participants will conclude the program with a pre-practicum or supervised field work experience, followed by an internship. The program guarantees flexibility because of an up to 12-credit-hour transfer policy (1/3 of the program credit requirement), 8-week course lengths, and multiple start dates. Finally, the program guarantees affordability due to a $500 credit-hour

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  • Affordability: $500
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: Transfer Credits, Several Start Dates

3. Capella University

Capella University, founded in 1993, is a publicly-traded, for-profit university of higher learning delivered mainly online; indeed, Capella offers over 1,600 online courses. Make no mistake, the online format does not sacrifice quality. Accredited by The Higher Learning Commission–among the 6 regional accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education–and also by NCATE–the standard of excellence in teacher preparation–86% of faculty members hold doctoral degrees. Capella University matriculates approximately 36,000 total undergraduate students, and offers a student-faculty ratio of 20:1

Capella University’s Master of Science in Addiction Studies will focus on the assessment of addictive and compulsive behavior, diagnosis, and treatment; principles of psychopathology and personality disorders; and therapeutic intervention treatments, including individual and group counseling. Additionally, the curriculum will cover issues of ethnic and cultural awareness and ethics associated with counseling. The program incorporates online coursework and a residency which allows students to practice their skills in a chosen area of specialization. The program is in compliance with International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium requirements and the state’s guidance for credentialing examinations. Based on the quarter system, students
generally take 1 to 3 courses per 10-week quarter, resulting in an estimated completion time of as little as 2 years. The 48-credit-hour curriculum requires competency-based coursework offered in 6-week sessions that blends theoretical and practical skills and emphasizes principles of addiction treatment and intervention for individuals and groups. Additionally, students will take a course in supervision and program management along with completing 300 hours of an internship. The program provides flexibility due to accelerated 10-week course options, an up to 12-credit-hour transfer policy, and a school-sponsored licensure team that specializes in facilitating the license application process. Furthermore, the program guarantees affordability because of a $531 credit-hour cost and a 10% Discount for Military servicemembers (and their spouses). Finally, the program promises prestige because all members of Capella’s counseling faculty hold doctoral degrees from accredited institutions.

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  • Affordability: $531
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: Accelerated Option, Transfer Credits

4. Montana State University

Montana State University (MSU), established in 1927, is a public, co-ed university sitting on an 112-acre campus in urban downtown Billings, MT. As the state’s commercial center for business, industry, media, and healthcare, students receive excellent career networking and internship opportunities during their educational career. Accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities–the regional authority on educational quality and institutional effectiveness–MSU ranks #Tier 2 National Universities and #290 “Best Business Program” by U.S. News & World Report. MSU enrolls approximately 3,972 undergraduate and 200 graduate students, offers a student-faculty ratio of 17:1, and 52.7% of its classes cater to fewer than 20 students.

Montana State University’s Addiction Counseling Certificate is offered 100% online and designed for students with a B.A. or M.A. in Psychology, Counseling, or Sociology who want to become Professional Substance Abuse/Behavioral Disorder Counselors. To successfully complete each 3-credit-hour course, it is recommended to set aside approximately 16 hours per week (both online and offline) for 8 weeks. During the program, students will examine multiple counseling theories and their applications. More specifically, the curriculum includes: Addiction Counseling, Alcohol & Drug Studies, Psychopharmacology & Addictions, Group Counseling,
and Cultural & Ethical Constructs Related to Addictions Counseling. A non-credit class on gambling/gaming disorders is also offered. Students can take 12 credit-hours of specialized Addiction Counseling coursework to receive MSU’s Addiction Counseling Certificate. Additional classes may be necessary to pursue licensure at the state level but are also available through MSU. The program promises affordability due to a $375 credit-hour cost. Finally, the program offers flexibility due to the certification in addiction studies that may be taken with the master’s program.

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  • Affordability: $375
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: Certificate Option,

5. The University of South Dakota

The University of South Dakota (USD), founded in 1862, is South Dakota’s oldest collegiate institute and only public liberal arts university. Although the surrounding region is extremely rural, the city of Vermillion hosts the beautiful campus amongst its historic and modern buildings. This mixture of history and modernity parallels USD’s ability to remain a foundation of the Dakotas’ higher education system while maintaining an edge in technological innovation. With institutional accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, USD ranked 110th best overall in U.S. News National Best College List 2017. Considering it also received the “Best Value” accolade from Forbes magazine in 2013, USD ranks #1 on our list for its combination of academics and affordability. The university enrolls approximately 7,500 undergraduate and 2,500 graduate students.

The University of South Dakota’s Master of Arts in Addiction Studies ensures that students will gain an advanced level of competency and be able to position themselves for the highest occupations available in the field. Notably, the program offers the only USD courses related to substance and addiction issues that have been approved by the South Dakota Board of Addiction and Prevention Professionals. Two tracks are available based on your prior academic background: the Standard Track (45 credit-hours) is for individuals not carrying a Level II or III Chemical Dependency Certification nor any academic credit toward this credential while the Advanced Track (33 credit hours) is for students who hold an addiction studies bachelor’s degree and/or are licensed Addiction Counselors with a Level II or Level III Chemical Dependency Certification. The core curriculum coursework includes: Psychopharmacology of Alcohol & Drugs, Legal/Ethical Issues & the Addiction Profession, Addiction Studies Research, Case Management & Assessment of Co-Occurring Disorders, and an internship. The program provides prestige because of an accreditation through the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC). Finally, the program promises affordability thanks to a$444 credit-hour cost.

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  • Affordability: $444
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: 2 Tracks

6. Indiana Wesleyan University—Marion

Indiana Wesleyan University–Marion (IWU–M), established in 1920, is a private, evangelical Christian institution that blends academics and spiritual life. The establishment occupies an urban, 345-acre campus in Marion, IN–1.5 hours north of Indianapolis. Also accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, IWU–M currently ranks #29 Best Regional University Midwest and ranks#64 “Best Value Schools” by U.S. News & World Report. Indiana Wesleyan University–Marion registers approximately 2,933 undergraduate students, guarantees a student-faculty ratio of 14:1, and 64.8% of classes cater to less than than 20 students.

Indiana Wesleyan’s Master of Arts with a Major in Clinical Addictions Counseling is entirely online, and this cutting edge program equips counselors to work with a range of chemical addictions and process addictions such as eating, sexual, and gambling disorders. This program promotes leadership and builds character, all upon a strong Christian foundation, and prepares students to work in a variety of mental health settings and with diverse cultural backgrounds. Rooted in behavioral and social sciences,Wesleyan’s 48-credit-hour Master’s degree blends clinical and hands-on experience, so participants will be practice-ready and fully prepared to seek accreditation. The program promises prestige due to an accreditation through NASAC, the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission, and because the program is an Approved Education Provider of NAADAC–the National Association for Addiction Professionals. Furthermore, all faculty members hold PhDs and are experts in the field. Additionally, the program promises affordability with a $533 credit-hour cost. Finally, the program offers flexibility due to a number of specializations available.

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  • Affordability: $533
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: Several Specializations

7. Walden University

Walden University (WU), established in 1970, is a proprietary, coed, public benefit corporation.Walden offers 140 degree programs with more than 300 specializations and concentrations, and cutting-edge technology is used to promote the support that students need to succeed. Student services include a fully-digital library, a career center with practical online tools, and student support available 24 hours/day. The school headquarters are in Minneapolis, MN but Walden has access to a global network of over 100 universities distributed around the world. Also accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, Walden ranked #19 Best Colleges for Adult Learners by Washington Monthly in 2016. Walden University matriculates about 50,000 undergraduate students.

Walden University’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Degree with a Specialization in Addiction Counseling is an online MS that will prepare graduates for a variety of career options as well as qualify them to sit for licensing exams. Through the degree’s specialization in addiction counseling, students will explore the different healing modalities such as current treatments and diverse intervention options. Participants will gain insights to address the emotional challenges associated with addictive behaviors and will be able to apply their skills in various settings such as schools, businesses, and community agencies. The 90 to 96 quarter-credit-hour program requires roughly 80 hours of core courses to fulfill the Clinical Mental Health Counseling curriculum requirements. Additionally, students must complete 9 to 15 hours of field experience, 100 hours of a practicum, and 600 hours of an internship. To fulfill the specialization coursework in addiction counseling, 2 more courses are needed on Theories, Treatment, & Case Management of Addiction, and Assessment in Counseling & Addiction. In the addiction counseling specialization, you will look at treatment intervention and case management strategies used in the recovery process. Moreover, you will explore the different types of diagnostic and assessment tools used in addictions counseling as well as ethical, legal, and sociocultural issues. The program guarantees prestige due to a CACREP accreditation and a faculty with considerable clinical practice experience and experience in the field. Furthermore, the program guarantees affordability thanks to a $525 credit-hour cost. Finally, the program guarantees flexibility because of an up to 45-quarter-credit-hour transfer policy (½ of the program’s credit requirements).

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  • Affordability: $525
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: Transfer Credits

8. West Virginia University

West Virginia University (WVU), established in 1867, is a public, land-grant, space-grant, research-intensive institution with a dedicated faculty that can boast numerous awards and achievements. Foundational values of the school are seen in their innovative, caring approach and strong ethical values in academics, athletics, and community service. The school is located in Morgantown, WV—-ranked the #1 Small City in America by Bizjournals.com and among the top 10 Best College Town in the country by Business Insider–on a 1,892-acre campus that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for of its beautiful and historic arboretum. WVU also maintains another renowned clinical campus for the university’s medical and dental schools at Charleston Area Medical Center in Charleston, WV–located near the Pennsylvania border, students can easily take road trips to the cities of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, or Washington D.C. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, WVU currently ranks #187 National Universities and #99 Top Public Schools by U.S. News & World Report. West Virginia University enrolls approximately 22,498 undergraduate students, offers a student-faculty ratio of 19:1, and 38.1% of classes cater to fewer than 20 students.

West Virginia University’s online Master of Science in Clinical Rehabilitation & Mental Health Counseling graduates are eligible to sit for certification as Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC). Although offered entirely online, two residencies in Morgantown are also required for degree completion. The Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling M.S. degree prepares graduates for entry level positions such as Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker, Rehabilitation Counselor, Medical & Health Services Manager, to name a few, and has an estimated completion time of 2 to 3 years. The 60-credit-hour program requires coursework in Rehabilitation; Medical Aspects of Rehabilitation; Addictions Counseling; Cultural & Ethical Issues in Counseling; Counseling Theories & Techniques; Grief, Trauma & Crisis; Diagnosis & Treatment Planning in Mental Health, a Research Seminar in Rehabilitation, and more. The program guarantees prestige due to being accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education since 1974. Finally, the program offers affordability because of a $561 credit-hour

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  • Affordability: $561
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: N/A

9. Union College

Union College, started in 1879, is a private, United Methodist Church-affiliated institution that boasts being the second-largest employer in Knox county and the first college established in the Kentucky mountains. The school occupies a 100-acre campus with a small-town feel in Barbourville, Kentucky–in the Appalachian region. Accredited by the Southern Association Of Colleges And Schools Commission On Colleges, Union ranked #Tier 2 Regional Universities South by U.S. News & World Report. Union College enrolls approximately 912 undergraduate and 227 graduate students, promises a student-faculty ratio of 15:1, and 67.5% of classes cater to less than than 20 students.

Union College’s Master of Science in Substance Abuse (MSSA) is a regionally-accredited and100% online program designed to fulfill the requirements for licensure as a substance abuse counselor in the state of Kentucky. The program examines the physiological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral dimensions of the addictive process with an emphasis on interventions and treatment strategies. The 60-credit-hour curriculum requires 8 core and 3 elective courses where core coursework focuses on Chemical dependency treatment, the Psychology of Addiction, Recovery and Relapse, Biological Systems of Chemical Dependency, Multicultural Issues, a Practicum in Counseling and Psychotherapy (students must complete 100 hours of counseling-related services), followed by a Practicum Internship as a way to give participants a comprehensive view of the work experience as a professional counselor. In addition to core courses, 25 credit-hours of foundational coursework and 9 credit-hours of elective courses in psychology are required. The program guarantees affordability because of a $400 credit-hour cost and 100% of Union students receive some form of financial aid. Finally, the program provides flexibility because of a certificate option in Chemical Abuse.

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  • Affordability: $400
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: Certificate Option

10. Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), founded in 1838, is a premier public research university that facilitated $271 million worth of sponsored research in 2016 and is nationally recognized for exceptional community engagement. The establishment can be found on a lively, urban 158-acre campus with on-campus dining facilities in downtown Richmond, VA. Accredited by the Southern Association Of Colleges And Schools Commission On Colleges, VCU ranks #171 National Universities and #90 Top Public Schools by U.S. News & World Report. Virginia Commonwealth University matriculates roughly 24,212 undergraduate and 5,259 graduate students, and it offers a student-faculty ratio of 18:1.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Science (M.S.) in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, is an online@VCU Master’s degree with a focus is on the clinical training, competencies, and skills necessary to practice as a licensed professional counselor and certified rehabilitation counselor in a wide range of settings and with diverse populations. The 60-credit-hour program requires 48 credit-hours of core coursework, 3 credit-hours of electives, and an internship worth 9 credit-hours where 700 hours divided among an internship and supervised fieldwork is expected. Core focus is on training via internships, supervised rehabilitation, and mental health counseling fieldwork. Curriculum coursework includes: Career Development Theory & Tools; Ethical Guidelines & Cultural Diversity; Psychosocial & Medical Aspects Of Disability; Human Development; Principles Of Psychiatric Rehabilitation; Case Management; and Rehabilitation Planning. Students will understand a variety of counseling
theories and competencies and demonstrate the ability to apply knowledge to individuals, groups, and families. The program guarantees prestige because of a Council on Rehabilitation Education accreditation. Furthermore, the program provides affordability due to a $632 credit-hour cost. Finally, the program provides flexibility due to an up to 12-credit-hour transfer policy, an asynchronous course offering, and a Chemical Dependency Counselor certificate

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  • Affordability: $632
  • Flexibility Enhancing Components: Transfer Credits, Certificate Option