Online Master's Programs in Addiction Counseling

Pursuing a master's in addiction counseling prepares individuals with bachelor's degrees to pursue jobs with better titles and higher pay. It also grants professionals a stable and growing career path. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that roles for substance abuse counselors will grow by 23% between 2016 and 2026 -- far faster than the national average for all occupations. Keep reading to learn more about common courses, available specializations, how to pick a great program, and which careers may be available upon graduating.

What to Know About Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Coursework

A master's in addiction counseling prepares graduates to offer counseling to individuals facing addictions to alcohol, drugs, food, and other substances. They learn common counseling theories, ways of treating chemical dependency, and professional ethics. Most master's in addiction counseling require 30-45 credits and can take 1-3 years to complete. Because these programs transfer so seamlessly to distance-based learning, online students should expect to see few differences from the programs taken by their campus-based counterparts.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Addiction Counseling Program?

The courses listed in this section provide an idea of the type of materials they may encounter once enrolled. Those looking for a more accurate or comprehensive plan of study should reach out to individual schools to learn about each curriculum and what it entails.

Addictions and Substance Use Disorders
Typically taken in the first semester, this foundational course introduces students to common substance abuse disorders and the effects they have on patients and those around them. The course also looks at social and psychological dynamics, models of treatment, and assessment frameworks.
Addictions Group Counseling
Students in this class learn about some of the prominent group counseling theories in this field, with emphasis on selection criteria, communicating appropriate behaviors and roles to members, developing leadership styles, and understanding group dynamics. Learners get the chance to role play different scenarios.
Psychopharmacology
This course helps students understand the social, psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects when addicts abuse psychoactive drugs, with special focus on giving them the skills needed to identify the symptoms when a client is intoxicated, experiencing withdrawal, or facing toxicity.
Addiction and the Family
This course explores the effects that addiction and substance abuse have on the family dynamic, both in terms of behavioral issues and likelihood of passing addictions on to future generations. Learners also cover approaches to leading family counseling sessions and the roles that family members can play in the recovery process.
Working With Chemically Dependent Adolescents
This specialized course examines how substance abuse and chemical dependence affects children and youth. Degree seekers learn prevention methods and treatment techniques specific to this population, and discover how to identify early symptoms, signs, and patterns of addiction.

What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Addiction Counseling Program?

Many master's in addiction counseling programs offer specializations to help learners concentrate their knowledge in a particular sub-discipline. A few common specializations are highlighted below, but learners should check with individual departments to learn about specific offerings.

  • Substance Abuse Education: This concentration focuses on programming that helps educate children and adults on the dangers of substance abuse and addictive behaviors. Students learn to develop comprehensive and effective education programs that can be used in communities and nonprofit organizations.
  • Juvenile Substance Abuse: This specialization is designed for students interested in working with children and adolescents facing addiction and substance abuse issues -- either themselves or their family. Counselors cover topics related to human growth and development, cognitive and behavioral issues related to the abuse of drugs and alcohol, and special regulations when working with underage patients.
  • Substance Abuse Private Practice: This specialization prepares learners to start their own practice focused on addictions. Degree seekers cover topics related to counseling frameworks and methodologies, addiction across the lifespan, and ethical and legal regulations.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Students enrolled in a master's in addiction counseling online programs must complete a number of projects and assignments in order to graduate. While these requirements vary based on individual programs, the examples in this section demonstrate common mandates.

Students take a number of exams throughout the degree to test their knowledge, and participate in several group projects to help build their skills in working with diverse personalities. Towards the end of the program, degree seekers decide whether to complete a culminating project or research and write a thesis. The former usually appeals to learners who want to work directly with clients, while the thesis can help those who want to work in research or academic positions.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Program?

Before settling on a master's in addiction counseling online program, students should ensure both the institution and the program maintain proper accreditation. Programmatic accrediting agencies in this field include the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs and the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission.

Both of these agencies assess programs, courses of study, faculty, and student outcomes to ensure a department's ability to provide students with the education and support to find employment after graduating. When reviewing potential schools, learners should ensure faculty members possess real-world experience and top educations that lend themselves to being quality teachers. They should also ask about graduation rates and alumni outcomes. Programs without accreditation -- or those with faculty who lack experience -- should be avoided.


Career Opportunities With a Master's in Addiction Counseling Degree

Before enrolling in a master's in addiction counseling online program, most prospective students want to know how this degree aids them in future careers and what types of jobs they qualify for after graduating. The careers highlighted in this section give learners an idea of employment possibilities, but they should remember that a master's in addiction counseling does not guarantee eligibility for these roles. Some may also require additional certification and/or licensure.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Professionals in these roles work with individuals dealing with addictions and substance abuse issues related to alcohol, drugs, food, and more. They work with clients to evaluate and assess addictive behaviors, observe their preparedness for treatment, and design plans to treat these behaviors. They also liaise with family members, employers, and other individuals in their clients' lives as needed.

  • Median Salary: $44,630
  • Currently Employed: 260,200
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +23%
Correctional Treatment Specialist

Whether working with individuals still in custody, on probation, or paroled, correctional treatment specialists help clients gain access to rehabilitative services. When doing intake for new clients, they conduct interviews of their clients and families, as well as other colleagues to assess their preparedness for entering a program. They also test individuals to ensure no drugs are in their systems and create plans for substance abuse counseling.

  • Median Salary: $53,020
  • Currently Employed: 91,300
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +6%
School Counselor

School counselors work in public and private schools to provide support and guidance to learners at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. In addition to helping students with academic issues, school counselors frequently provide support to those dealing with personal issues, including substance abuse within themselves, their friends, or their family. They connect these students with resources, help them create plans of action, and keep records.

  • Median Salary: $56,310
  • Currently Employed: 291,700
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +13%
Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists walk alongside couples and families to provide counseling on common personal problems. They offer group therapy to help individuals better express their emotions in front of a third-party professional, assist them in processing their feelings, and help develop strategies for improving behavior. Many of these professionals deal with clients experiencing substance abuse within themselves, their partners, or their children. They refer clients to resources and ensure they find the help needed.

  • Median Salary: $50,090
  • Currently Employed: 41,500
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +23%
Social Worker

Social workers help their clients deal with issues affecting their everyday lives. Those with master's degrees can operate as clinical social workers, meaning they can diagnose and treat issues such as addictions and substance abuse. They assess the needs of their clients, determine the availability of support networks, refer them to community resources, handle crises, and ensure clients receive the help they need.

  • Median Salary: $49,470
  • Currently Employed: 682,100
  • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +16%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

What's the Expected Job Growth for Addiction Counseling Careers?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the field of substance abuse counselors to grow by 23% in the coming years, compared to 7% for all occupations in the country. Reasons for this growth include states looking to provide rehabilitative care for offenders rather recommending jail time. Other areas of the field expecting to see growth include military veterans working to overcome addiction and substance abuse issues brought about by their time of service.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Addiction Counseling

Professional organizations can help current students and recent graduates of master's in addiction counseling programs find their footing in the field and expand their professional network. In exchange for an annual membership fee, individuals take advantage of conferences, continuing education, certifications, and more.

The Association for Addiction Professionals
NAADAC offers members access to minority fellowship programs, face-to-face training, certification programs, continuing education webinars, directories, addiction resources, committees, an annual conference, and advocacy services.


American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
Members of AAAP take advantage of mentorship programs, the American Journal on Addictions, an annual meeting, in-person and online education and training programs, an active jobs board, and resources for patients and families dealing with addiction.


National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers
This pioneering association provides members with access to a member directory, awards, treatment outcomes and surveys, consumer resources, a news center, job postings, the National Addiction Leadership Conference, and legislative advocacy services.


International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors
Individuals working in addictions, forensics, or criminal justice fields often join the IAAOC to take advantage of job postings, access to the Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, webinars, podcasts, an addictions toolbox, and a number of committee opportunities.


American Society of Addiction Medicine
ASAM provides access to Hill Day advocacy meetings, certification programs, review courses, the e-Learning center, educational resources, student services, scholarships and fellowships, publications, and an annual meeting.

How to Pay for a Master's in Addiction Counseling Degree

Students who cannot pay for their degrees out-of-pocket usually subsidize the cost through several different forms of funding. Many rely on scholarships, grants, fellowships, and assistantships to help lessen the cost. If they cannot pay the remainder, they take out a student loan.

Federal Financial Aid
The federal government provides a large number of grants, fellowships, and work-study funds to qualified students. To receive consideration, applicants must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at the start of each year. This also qualifies them to take out federal student loans.
Scholarships from Professional Organizations
Many industry-specific associations offer scholarships, fellowships, awards, and/or apprenticeships to student members who plan on working in the field after graduation. Some of these also provide funding to attend the annual conference and take part in networking opportunities.
Program Scholarships
In addition to general institutional awards provided by colleges and universities, many addiction counseling departments offer awards only available to these learners. Most require students to demonstrate academic excellence and/or financial need. They typically need to maintain a minimum GPA to keep the funding.
Fellowships/Assistantships
Also offered by college departments, these awards usually pay all or most of the cost of tuition and sometimes provide a stipend. In exchange for this funding, selected students must act as a teaching assistant, research assistant, or other type of academic support professional to other learners -- typically those in undergraduate programs.