Earning a Master's in Addiction Counseling Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue a Master's in Addiction Counseling Online?

Ideal for students with a passion for helping people overcome addiction, earning a master's in addiction counseling online can open the door to a demanding yet rewarding career as an addiction counselor or other substance abuse professional.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 15 million adults struggle with alcohol use disorder (2015), more than 10% of those age 12 and above use illicit drugs each month (2016), and opioid misuse and addiction have doubled (2016). Addiction accounts for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year and results in millions spent on healthcare. These facts underscore the growing need for addiction counselors. Substance abuse professionals work for treatment and rehabilitation centers, healthcare providers, nonprofits and community agencies, and government programs.

Pursuing your degree online offers the flexibility to take classes on your schedule and balance school with other responsibilities such as work and family.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Addiction Counseling Graduates

Master's in Addiction Counseling Salary

As seen in the tables below, salaries for substance abuse counselors vary by industry and experience level. Professionals working in the public sector earn the highest salaries. Wages may also vary by location and remain highest for those with graduate degrees and professional licensure or individuals in leadership positions. The demand for trained counselors remains exceptionally high, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting job growth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors to increase by 23% from 2016 to 2026.

Salaries for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors by Industry

Industry Annual Mean Wage
Government $50,600
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private $47,000
Individual and Family Services $42,190
Outpatient Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers $42,140
Residential Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facilities $37,210

Master's in Addiction Counseling Careers

Most addiction counselors directly support people with substance use disorders or run educational, prevention, or treatment programs. They work in a variety of settings, including treatment facilities, prisons, schools, and community centers. Providing clinical care typically requires a master's degree and state licensure. See below for some of the positions you may qualify for by earning a master's in addiction counseling online. These positions require not only expertise in addiction but also strong interpersonal skills, patience, and dedication.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor

Annual Median Salary: $43,300

These counselors engage in clinical practice, treating people challenged with substance use and/or mental health disorders. They work for addiction treatment programs, healthcare providers, community centers, government agencies, and private practices. States typically require a master's degree and supervised work experience for licensure.

Health Educator and Community Health Worker

Annual Median Salary: $45,360

Expertise in addiction treatment can qualify you to teach classes as a health educator or run community education programs on substance abuse. Communities facing growing numbers of citizens struggling with the impact of addiction may employ health educators to help inform the public about the risks, impact, and treatment of chemical dependency.

Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist

Annual Median Salary: $51,410

Prisons, courts, and correctional systems may employ addiction counselors and others with expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of addiction to work on substance abuse cases. Prisoners and former inmates with histories of addiction may remain more likely to stay in recovery and avoid reoffending with the support of a specially trained counselor or probation officer.

Social and Community Service Manager

Annual Median Salary: $64,100

These managers run community service programs, including substance abuse educational, support, and treatment programs. They work for nonprofit organizations, social service agencies, and government agencies. Some employers prefer service managers to hold a master's degree.

Social Worker

Annual Median Salary: $47,980

Social workers help people with the challenges they face, including mental health and substance use disorders. Professionals engaged in clinical practice must possess a master's degree. A master's in addiction counseling could provide valuable training and expertise to a social worker specializing in addiction treatment.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Program?

The goal of any addiction counseling program is preparation of counselors to support and treat patients suffering from addiction or chemical dependency effectively and ethically. Required courses focus on the diagnosis and treatment of substance use disorders and draw from the medicine and psychology fields. Courses may vary by school and program. See below for sample courses.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling

Introduction to Addiction and Substance Abuse

This course provides an overview of the causes, stages, impact, and treatment of addiction. It explores the psychological, physiological, and social factors that impact substance abuse and chemical dependency. Participants gain familiarity with the latest treatment and recovery support models, assessment techniques, and research findings.


This course explores the effects of psychoactive substances like medications and illegal drugs on the mind and behavior. Participants explore the impact of psychoactive substance use and abuse, the symptoms of intoxication, toxicity, and withdrawal, and screening techniques and limitations. Topics include the use of medications in addiction treatment.

Diagnosis and Treatment

This course introduces the use of diagnostic tools and the development of treatment options for substance use and behavioral health disorders. Participants explore treatment models and outcomes, preparing them to develop appropriate treatment plans for their clients.

Professional Counseling Theory and Practice

This course introduces future counselors to the professional standards in the field, including ethical guidelines, legal standards, billing and record-keeping practices, and professional responsibilities. Students explore current trends in the field and develop an ethical code to guide them in their counseling practice.

Addiction Counseling and Families

This course explores the central role families play in effective addiction treatment. Participants learn about family dynamics that typically prevail when addiction is present and explore family treatment theories and models.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Addiction Counseling Prepares For

  • Licensed Addiction Counselor: Requirements for certification as an addiction counselor, addiction therapist, or substance abuse counselor vary by state. States typically require counselors who engage in clinical practice to obtain a master's degree, clinical experience, and state licensure.
  • National Certified Addiction Counselor: The National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP) offers six professional certifications for addiction counselors and one clinical endorsement. Candidates should already hold state-level certification. Since many states use NCC AP exams as their qualifying exam to become a certified addiction counselor, candidates in some states may qualify at both the state and national levels.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Addiction treatment professionals can benefit from the many professional organizations and resources available in their field. Organizations such as those listed below provide training opportunities, professional certifications, standards and best practices, research updates, and policy briefs. They advocate for the best interests of both treatment providers and those suffering from addiction. They also offer networking and career advancement opportunities through job boards, local events, and annual conferences.

  • National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors: This association serves addiction professionals through webinars, addiction resources, professional certification, advocacy efforts, and conferences. NAADAC promotes best practices for addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery support.

  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers: This association promotes the interests of treatment providers by delivering ethical standards, consumer and provider resources, an online job center, training, and advocacy. The association also fosters leadership in the field through its national leadership conference and awards.

  • American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence: This organization works with state, federal, and international partners to create effective policies and programs that address opioid addiction and treatment. AATOD provides resources and educational opportunities to treatment providers and issues policy statements and fact sheets.

  • American Psychological Association: This professional association for psychologists provides resources and information on addiction. These resources include publications, research briefs, and news articles. The organization's Division 50: the Society of Addiction Psychology promotes research and training and publishes a peer-reviewed journal.

  • American Society of Addiction Medicine: This professional association's advocacy resources include toolkits, legislative tracking, and policy briefs. ASAM offers a variety of educational opportunities and resources related to addiction treatment for medical professionals and board certification for physicians.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous: As a mutual aid association open to all, AA plays a long-standing leadership role in addiction recovery. AA cooperates with and provides resources to addiction counselors and other treatment professionals and providers helping alcoholics recover from addiction.

  • American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry: This association serves psychiatrists and other health professionals specializing in addiction treatment. AAAP publishes advocacy, policy statements, and other resources and hosts an annual meeting. Resources for clinicians include a job board and training opportunities.

  • Substance Abuse Policy Research Program: This program funded policy research through 2009. SAPRP offers online access to research updates, policy briefs, and press releases useful for policymakers, the media, and addiction specialists.

  • Center on Addiction: This nonprofit center conducts research on effective treatment strategies. The center also offers information on addiction prevention and treatment to the media, policymakers, addiction professionals, and the public.

  • Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network: This network of regional, national, and international centers provides resources and information to addiction treatment professionals. The center publicizes training opportunities and offers training slideshows that professionals can download.

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