Earning an Online Addictions Counseling Bachelors Degree

An online bachelor's in addictions counseling program trains students in common assessment and diagnosis processes used by addictions counselors.

Updated July 10, 2023

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Program, Career & Salary Information

This page offers aspiring addictions counselors an overview of related online bachelor's degree programs. By summarizing the application process, requirements, curricula, and relevant career avenues, this page helps clarify the process of earning an online addictions counseling degree.

The ideal student for this field possesses considerable emotional intelligence, empathy, analytical skills, a good memory, a diligence for recordkeeping, and the ability to listen attentively and support clients. Pursuing this degree online allows students to advance their careers while still meeting other work and/or family obligations. Online programs are similar to on-campus programs in terms of their content and quality, and online students enjoy the same career opportunities and prospects as traditional learners.

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Overview of Addictions Counseling Degrees

Addictions counseling involves providing therapeutic support and resources to clients with substance abuse and behavioral addiction disorders, including drug addiction, alcoholism, food addiction, gambling addiction, and sex addiction. These counselors work with individuals and groups, sometimes through 12-step programs and often in partnership with medical professionals and/or social workers.

Aspiring addictions counselors need at least a bachelor's degree. Though relatively few bachelor's programs are specifically dedicated to addictions counseling, students interested in this field often pursue a bachelor's in psychology with a concentration in substance abuse or addiction.

This degree is suited to compassionate, motivated individuals seeking to begin or advance a career in the addictions field. Those with bachelor's degrees in addictions counseling may qualify for counseling positions in a variety of settings, including governmental or nonprofit organizations, schools, halfway houses and treatment facilities, treatment centers, hospitals, and smaller public health treatment programs or agencies.

Due to the growing prevalence of drug addiction and the increased number of individuals struggling with substance and behavioral addictions, the need for qualified addictions counseling professionals is on the rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselor positions will increase by 23% between 2016 and 2026.

Application Process

Applicants to addictions counseling bachelor's programs generally need to provide official transcripts verifying a minimum 2.0 high school GPA.

Individuals usually complete an online application, which often includes one or more essays and requires payment of an application fee (usually $50-$100). Many schools also require satisfactory SAT/ACT scores, and most also ask prospective students to submit letters of recommendation. Individuals typically request these documents from previous teachers and/or supervisors.

Applicants hoping to receive financial aid should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and fill out any additional application forms required by their prospective schools. To increase their chances of receiving an aid package, applicants should submit the FAFSA by the priority deadline of January 1st (of the year they hope to matriculate).

What Will I Learn?

Online bachelor's in addictions counseling programs usually design their curricula to meet state licensure and certification requirements. Programs include general education requirements in a variety of foundational topics, as well as courses that cover addiction theory, prevention, treatment, and recovery.

Common core courses also discuss abnormal behavior, pharmacology, case management, and individual and group counseling techniques. Students explore major counseling theories, including psychoanalytic theory, cognitive behavioral therapy, person-centered therapy, and family systems therapy. Many programs also require supervised practicums or other field experiences, in which students apply and refine counseling knowledge and skills in practical settings.

Some programs allow students to specialize further by learning about how addiction and recovery function within particular demographics, including veterans, young people, people of color, queer communities, incarcerated people, the elderly, or people with disabilities.

Although accelerated options do exist, most online bachelor's programs in addictions counseling take about four years and require about 120 credits. Students who hold applicable transfer credits from other accredited institutions can cut down on this timeline. Bachelor's programs prepare students to seek professional certification or pursue master's or doctoral degrees. Common courses in addictions counseling bachelor's programs include those mentioned below.

  • Drug and Alcohol Studies

    This course introduces students to the major theories, research, and treatment methods related to alcohol and drug addiction. This foundational knowledge helps counselors understand and support clients battling addiction.

  • Psychopharmacology

    Students in this course study the physiology of drug use and addiction, including the various intended and unintended effects of prescription drugs. This class helps addictions counselors understand the science of addiction and how various psychiatric treatments can help.

  • Counseling Practicum

    During this practicum, which takes place in a practical setting at an approved location, students gain supervised work experience while applying knowledge they acquired through coursework. This experience allows students to hone their counseling skills through practice and receive feedback from supervisors.

  • Individual and Group Counseling

    This course familiarizes students with the various methods and procedures involved in the treatment individuals and groups suffering from addiction. Coursework discusses how addiction harms families and communities and how it damages individual lives. This knowledge helps addictions counselors create multidimensional treatment plans for their clients.

  • Assessment and Diagnosis

    This course familiarizes students with common assessment and diagnosis processes used by addictions counselors. Students explore interviewing techniques, screening tools, assessment methods, and the various obstacles that interfere with accurate assessment of their clients.

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What Can I Do With an Online Bachelor's Degree in Addictions Counseling?

An online bachelor's degree in addictions counseling builds the counseling skills and addictions knowledge necessary for successful counseling careers. Most programs include supervised field work where students apply what they have learned to practical situations. A bachelor's in addictions counseling allows individuals to provide support for those suffering from substance abuse and behavioral disorders.

Core Skills

Online addictions counseling degree coursework teaches students the causes, patterns, behaviors, and physiology of addiction. It also explores the various therapeutic theories, methods, practices, and skills relevant to treating addiction. This knowledge proves useful to future therapists and those interested in community health programs, health education, and addiction prevention.

General psychology and counseling courses familiarize students with mental health, pathology, and key therapeutic processes. Case management courses teach students skills and tools for understanding client needs, creating treatment plans, and connecting clients with necessary social services.

Individual and group counseling coursework introduces the therapeutic dynamics, methodologies, strategies, techniques, ethics, and systems involved in counseling both groups and individuals. Students learn essential therapeutic communication skills, including various types of listening, question asking, and reflection. Students also learn how to cultivate empathy, genuineness, and positive respect in their relations with clients. These skills enable addictions counselors and mental health clinicians to build trust, willingness, and hope in their clients.

Many elements of an addictions counseling degree program contribute to a students' ability to successfully evaluate, analyze, and treat addicted clients' problems. Many online bachelor's degrees in addictions counseling design curricula to prepare students for licensure or certification in the state where they plan to practice. As part of this preparation, students complete supervised practicums that allow them to practice what they have learned and receive feedback from experts in the field.

Potential Careers and Salaries

Graduates of online bachelor's in addictions counseling programs often work in medical facilities, treatment centers, or for a variety of public health/community agencies. Many addictions counselors work in nursing, residential, or outpatient care facilities.

Online addictions counseling degree graduates often specialize in a particular area (e.g., crisis intervention and counseling) or on a specialized population (e.g., people with disabilities, adolescents, low-income people, or those in the criminal justice system). Some addictions counselors become parole or probation officers who help offenders rehabilitate and reenter society, while others enter the fields of addiction prevention or community health.

Career Profiles

Substance Abuse Counselors

Annual Median Salary: $44,630

These counselors assess clients' addictions and help to create treatment plans. While analyzing and addressing obstacles to treatment, substance abuse counselors often collaborate with social services, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, medical professionals, and clients' families and employers.

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Annual Median Salary: $46,080

Health educators work to spread knowledge about healthy habits, behaviors, and coping mechanisms. These workers often create and administer programs that cultivate individual and community health. Community health workers often focus more on data collection and analysis of health factors and obstacles faced by a particular group. They may work in private businesses, schools, nonprofits, governments, or medical facilities.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Annual Median Salary: $35,630

Rehabilitation counselors listen to, support, and implement treatment programs for addicted individuals or groups. They evaluate and analyze client problems, generate goals and plans for treatment, and teach new coping mechanisms. Rehabilitation counselors may also provide reports to the court system, assist their clients in finding employment and other resources, and provide guidance to the families of clients. Usually, they work in treatment facilities and other mental health settings. These workers often have a master's degree.

Mental Health Clinicians

Annual Median Salary: $46,000

Mental health clinicians work in various health facilities to counsel and prevent addiction in groups and individuals. They may help with other issues as well, including stress management, low self-esteem, and family difficulties. These professionals hold at least a bachelor's degree, and those working in private practice usually also hold a graduate degree.

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Addictions Counseling?

An online bachelor's in addictions counseling qualifies individuals for entry-level positions in many addiction treatment institutions and settings. Those interested in leadership positions, higher-paying counseling jobs, or more specialized counseling roles must usually pursue a graduate degree. For example, individuals wishing to work as mental health clinicians in private practice usually need a master's or a doctorate.

However, competent addictions counselors with bachelor's degrees can advance to higher positions as they garner experience and become knowledgeable, skillful addictions professionals.

Accreditation for Addictions Counseling Bachelor's Programs

Some of the best online bachelor's programs for addictions counseling earn accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programsthe National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), or the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission. Programs with these accreditations meet certain academic standards and prepare graduates for jobs in the field.

Even if your program does not hold specialized accreditation, employers will likely recognize an online bachelor's in addiction studies as long as it was awarded by a regionally accredited institution. Before enrolling, check the accreditation status of prospective schools to ensure that you will receive a quality education.

Addictions Counseling Professional Organizations

Addictions counselors can stay informed about developments in the field by joining professional organizations and associations. These entities create networks that help addictions professionals communicate with one another; find employment; and receive continuing education related to current mental health and addiction trends, research, policies, and practices. These helpful professional organizations include the three described below.

Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network
Through trainings and other events, ATTC strives to keep addictions counselors, treatment facilities, and other organizations up to date on addiction research and other developments.

NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals
This large association certifies addictions counseling programs and influences national public policies related to addiction, representing addiction professionals' interests at a national level. It also offers professional development and continuing education to over 100,000 addiction professionals.

American Counseling Association
ACA serves addiction professionals by maintaining a digital job board, offering opportunities for continuing education, and publishing two journals: Counseling Today and the Journal of Counseling and Development.

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