Online Schools to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Keep reading for more information on what education is needed to become a substance abuse counselor. Find out the kinds of topics that are covered in a certificate or degree program in substance abuse counseling. Learn about the availability of online programs. Schools offering Addiction Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

In order to become a substance abuse counselor, most students earn a master's degree that combines experiential and academic learning, but in some states it is possible to fulfill licensure requirements with lesser qualifications. Read on to learn more about online certificates, bachelor's degrees and master's degrees in substance abuse and addiction counseling and find out which schools offer the most appropriate study program for you.

Do I Need an Advanced Degree to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that you'll generally have to hold a master's degree to become licensed as a counselor ( However, the BLS notes that licensure requirements vary from state to state. For example, in some states, substance abuse counselors may only need a high school diploma and certification. On the other hand, The Princeton Review states that you must have at least a bachelor's degree and two years of counseling experience in a related field in order to become a substance abuse counselor (

The Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network offers an online directory of certification boards in each state. If you contact your state's board, you'll be able to find out which education requirements must be met to practice as a substance abuse counselor.

Which Certificate Programs Are Offered Online?

Many online undergraduate certificate programs in substance abuse counseling are available. These programs usually contain a practicum requirement which can only be fulfilled in-person. You might cover topics like:

  • Addiction treatment models
  • Mental health disorders
  • The detoxification process
  • Ethics for substance abuse counselors

Graduate certificate programs in addiction or substance abuse counseling are sometimes available online as well. You may qualify for enrollment in a graduate certificate program if you hold an undergraduate or graduate degree, or if you're a licensed professional, such as a physician, nurse, psychotherapist or counselor in a related field. Similar to undergraduate certificate programs, you'll need to complete an in-person practicum in order to earn your certificate.

Some schools offer stand-alone courses online, such as drug dependency, health psychology, AIDS and substance abuse, alcoholic counseling and psychopharmacology of addiction. In many cases, you don't have to be enrolled in a program to participate in these courses; in fact, you may be able to transfer credit from these courses into a certificate or degree program. Stand-alone courses are sometimes used to fulfill continuing education requirements for counselor license renewal.

Schools Offering Online Certificate Programs

Here is a brief selection of the online certification programs available to undergraduates and graduates wishing to pursue a career in substance abuse counseling:

  • Misericordia University offers a Addictions Counseling Certificate Program online for graduates
  • University of the Pacific offers a Substance Abuse Counselor Certificate Program which can be used to supplement an undergraduate degree
  • Mercer University offers a Substance Abuse Counselor Certification Program for graduates

Are Online Bachelor's Degree Programs Available?

There are numerous schools nationwide that offer online bachelor degree programs to help you prepare for a career in substance abuse counseling. However, the content of bachelor degree modules and coursework differs between institutions, so it is important to make sure the degree aligns with your desired career path before completing enrollment.

Schools Offering Online Bachelor's Degree Programs

Listed below are a few examples of the school and bachelor's degree options available nationwide:

  • University of Cincinnati offers a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Southern New Hampshire University offers a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) Degree in Human Services with a concentration on Substance Abuse
  • Kaplan University offers a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Degree in Psychology in Addictions

Are Online Master's Degree Programs Available?

Due to in-person experiential learning requirements, most master's programs in addiction or substance abuse counseling are campus-based. However, there are some schools and for-profit institutions that offer online distance-learning options; however, participation in in-person practicum and/or internship is a mandatory part of these programs.

Typical courses in a master's program can include general diagnosis and treatment of substance abuse, research methodology, theories of psychotherapy, mental health counseling, theories of personality and intervention. You'll usually need to complete a 600-hour internship in a school-approved addiction counseling facility as well as a clinical practicum. You may be expected to write a thesis paper or complete a final project in order to graduate.

Schools Offering Online Master's Degree Programs

Listed below are a few of the online learning choices available to graduate students wishing to advance to master's level:

  • Walden University offers a Master of Science (M.S.) Degree in Addiction Counseling
  • Nova Southeastern University offers a Master of Science (M.S.) Degree in Counseling with specialization in Substance Abuse Counseling and Education
  • University of Southern Maine offers a Master of Science (M.S.) Degree in Counseling

Do I Need to Be Licensed?

In general, certificate and master's programs fulfill at least part of a state's educational requirements for licensure. However, completion of a formal education program may be only a portion of any state's licensure requirements for substance abuse counselors; most states have work experience requirements as well. For example, Virginia law requires graduates of a substance abuse program to accumulate 6,000 hours of alcohol and drug abuse counseling experience before obtaining licensure. Check with your state's regulatory board for further details.

In summary, although licensure requirements vary from state to state, you will need to obtain certification and/or a degree and gain work experience before you can become a licensed substance abuse counselor. Many schools offer online learning for professional certification, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees, but these usually include mandatory periods of in-person participation in addition to academic study.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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