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2022 Best Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 6/14/2022
2022 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Substance Abuse Counseling Badge

Substance abuse and addiction counseling programs teach students how to support individuals recovering from chemical dependencies and substance use disorders. For those interested in a counseling career, now is the best time to enter the profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook is 23% for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, which is nearly three times higher than the US average across occupations.

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2022 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Substance Abuse Counseling Badge
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Online Substance Abuse Counseling Bachelor's Degrees You May Be Interested In

2022 Best Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 University of South Dakota 74 74 $34,694
# 2 #2 Ohio Christian University 71 $33,657
# 3 #3 Indiana Wesleyan University Online 67 $32,602
# 4 #4 University of Maine at Augusta 67 $32,560
# 5 #5 Purdue University Global 67 $32,530

2022 Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's Degrees

Ranking Details

#1 University of South Dakota

  • Salary Score: 74
  • Median Starting Salary: $34,694
  • Locations: Vermillion (SD)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of South Dakota (USD) is a medium-sized, public institution offering an online Bachelor of Science in Addiction Counseling and Prevention. The program provides students with the foundational skills to enter careers in addiction and counseling. Totaling 120 credit hours, the program offers students six specializations as part of two main tracks: (1) Treatment and (2) Prevention. Some of the program’s core courses include Fundamental Skills of Individual Counseling for Addiction, Study of Alcohol Use & Addiction, Group Addiction Counseling Practicum, and Addictive Family Systems & Family Counseling.

USD uses Daylight for students to complete their online coursework asynchronously. At USD, students can access resources, such as Coyote One Stop, ITS Service Desk, and academic services. An application, official transcripts, and ACT/SAT scores are required for admission.

#2 Ohio Christian University

  • Salary Score: 71
  • Median Starting Salary: $33,657
  • Locations: Circleville (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

A nontraditional Christian institution, Ohio Christian University (OCU) is a small nonprofit offering an online Bachelor of Arts in Substance Abuse Counseling. With 45 major credit hours, the program introduces students to the addiction recovery field. Some of the courses include Principles of Behavior, Abnormal Psychology, Prevention Strategies, and Trauma & Addiction. After graduation, students can sit for the Certified Chemical Dependency Assistant Status exam after completing 40 hours of chemical dependency training.

At OCU, students can take the flexible 5-week asynchronous program to complete weekly assignments for five consecutive weeks. Student resources include free tutoring and mentoring. Before admission, official transcripts, ACT/SAT/CLT test scores, and commitment to OCU’s lifestyle standards are required.

#3 Indiana Wesleyan University Online

  • Salary Score: 67
  • Median Starting Salary: $32,602
  • Locations: Marion (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

A medium-sized, Christian nonprofit, Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) offers an online Bachelor of Science in Addiction Counseling requiring 48 credit hours to complete. The 22-month program provides students with an overview of what a career in addiction and counseling entails from a Christian perspective. In addition, students are required to complete a 350-hour practicum at an approved addiction facility.

IWU uses Brightspace, a digital learning platform, to deliver its online degree programs in an asynchronous format. In addition, online student support services at IWU are available through and their off-campus library services. Prospective students must submit proof of a diploma or GED, official transcripts, 60 transferable credit hours, and completion of PSY-150 (General Psychology) before admission.

#4 University of Maine at Augusta

  • Salary Score: 67
  • Median Starting Salary: $32,560
  • Locations: Augusta (ME)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

The University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) is a medium-sized, public institution offering an online Bachelor of Science in Mental Health and Human Services, which totals 121 credit hours. Students are required to complete one of the four concentrations for their degree, which includes the Addiction Counseling concentration. Some of the concentration requirements include Relational Systems that Support Substance Use Disorders, Substance Use Disorders and Trauma, and Crisis Intervention.

The program is offered through the online platform, Brightspace. In addition, UMA offers online student support services, such as counseling, tutoring, math labs, and academic coaching through Zoom. Admission requirements include a minimum 2.0 GPA, graduating in the top 75% of their high school class, and official high school or college transcripts or comparable GED or HiSET scores.

#5 Purdue University Global

  • Salary Score: 67
  • Median Starting Salary: $32,530
  • Locations: Indianapolis (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Purdue University Global (Purdue Global) is a large, public institution offering an online Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Addictions. Totaling 180 credit hours, the program delivers the fundamentals of significant components of psychology combined with coursework in addiction and counseling. Some of the courses include Health Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Case Management in Clinical Settings.

At Purdue Global, students use the online platform, Blackboard Learn, to complete coursework delivered in an asynchronous format. In addition, Purdue Global offers online student resources, such as the Purdue Global Library, Career Service Specialists, and their Academic Success Center. General admission requirements include an enrollment agreement, GED or high school diploma, and official transcripts.

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Overview of Online Substance Abuse Counseling Bachelor's Degrees

Students pursuing an online addiction and substance abuse counseling degree take classes to develop the knowledge and competencies necessary to treat individuals in need, including those with co-occurring disorders. Specifically, they learn about the symptoms and causes of chemical dependency and drug abuse by taking courses in psychology, counseling theory, professional ethics, and pharmacology. The curriculum also includes a practicum element in which students provide counseling services under supervision in a mental health facility, hospital, or rehabilitation clinic.

Students pursuing an online addiction and substance abuse counseling degree take classes to develop the knowledge and competencies necessary to treat individuals in need, including those with co-occurring disorders.

A few programs give students the option of choosing between a treatment specialization and a prevention specialization. While treatment specialists assist individuals dealing with substance misuse issues, prevention specialists typically work in schools with children who may be at risk of misusing illegal substances.

Admission requirements vary by school, but applicants typically need a high school diploma with at least a 2.5 GPA or a GED to apply. Most programs also require applicants to complete a background check. An online substance abuse bachelor's degree requires 120-124 credit hours, including a minimum of 32 credit hours in the major, and students can enroll either full- or part-time. The programs generally take four years of full-time study to finish. By contrast, part-time learners may take up to six years to achieve their degree.

While many distance learning programs deliver online courses asynchronously , some include prescheduled, synchronous sessions for group exercises and other activities. In general, online students have 24/7 access to learning materials, including pre-recorded lectures, discussion boards, and assignments.

Interested in learning about similar degrees? Learn more about online bachelor's degrees in counseling, psychology, and sociology.


Meet Our Experts

To better inform prospective students about majoring in substance use counseling and what it's like to be a professional, we've added insights from two substance use counseling experts throughout this page.

Dr. Wendy St. Pierre Dr. Wendy St. Pierre

Dr. Wendy St. Pierre is an assistant professor of Mental Health and Human Services at the University of Maine at Augusta and a licensed clinical social worker.

Jay Shifman Jay Shifman

Jay Shifman is a mental health and addiction advocate and coach in Philadelphia who speaks on these topics across the country.

Terminology Within This Field

The language and terms used within the addiction treatment community is evolving. For example, some schools continue to use traditional terminology by offering degrees in "substance abuse counseling," while others have renamed their programs as "substance use counseling." We use a combination of familiar and newer terms to bridge the gap between past and present.

Addiction professionals are advocating for changes in terminology that help to remove the stigma around substance use and misuse.

What Qualities Do You Need to Be a Substance Abuse Treatment Counselor?

Through their work, both St. Pierre and Shifman have had the opportunity to talk to many practitioners in the substance use and misuse counseling field. Both have observed that people who succeed as counselors share several key characteristics.


Our experts say that people are often drawn to careers in this field because of their own or a loved one's experiences with addiction. Shifman is one of those people and he sees it as a distinct benefit that gives him the strength to persevere and the ability to authentically connect with others. St. Pierre agrees but adds a note of caution for those just starting their educational journey. "You have to make sure that you are emotionally ready, and that you can set aside your history and prior experiences and be open to learning about doing the work for other people."

Service orientation

The desire to serve others is another important quality, but this also requires some introspection. "If you're wanting to come into a field to help somebody who is struggling, you want to see them improve their situation [and] change their lives, then the field of substance use treatment and counseling can really provide that for you," says St. Pierre. At the same time, Shifman cautions: "You have to check your ego at the door by asking: Am I doing this for the right reasons? If the answer is no, maybe this isn't the right thing for you."


St. Pierre likes to remind future counselors that their clients will experience setbacks and relapses, which can be discouraging. "The pathway to recovery is not a straight line, and that can be heartbreaking for the individuals who enter this field," she notes. "You have to accept that you did what you could and be available to them when they're ready to come back."


If you're not sure whether a career in substance use counseling is the right path for you, St. Pierre recommends calling the college you're considering attending and talking to one of the faculty members who works in the program.

How to Choose an Online Bachelor's in Substance Abuse Counseling Program

Students should enroll in a program that suits their overall personal and professional goals. In addition to evaluating the cost of the degree, they should evaluate whether a specific program helps meet future career objectives or provides enough support to distance learners. Below is a list of factors to consider when choosing an online bachelor's in substance abuse counseling.

Cost of the degree

It's important to choose a degree that is affordable. The substance abuse and addiction counseling programs on our list range from $8,550-$12,480 in annual tuition, which is close to the national in-state average of $9,580. Distance learning programs are generally cheaper overall than in-person ones as online students usually don't need to pay relocation, transport, and housing costs associated with on-campus learning. They can also apply for federal, state, and private sources of financial aid to further decrease their costs.


Accreditation is a process in which a third party assesses a school's curriculum, faculty, programs, and student resources. An accredited school meets nationwide standards of educational excellence and this stamp of approval is also required for students to apply for federal and state financial aid. Accreditation can apply to the institution as a whole or to individual degree programs. In the latter case, an appropriate professional organization evaluates whether a specific program meets academic standards for the field of study. The National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission is the primary organization that assesses higher education addiction programs.


All states require counselors in private practice to have a master's degree and a certain amount of clinical experience to be licensed. Requirements for those who work outside of private practice can vary considerably by state in terms of education and prior experience requirements. Given this variation, it's important to evaluate whether a specific program is geared toward licensure. Most online bachelor's degrees in substance abuse counseling help students prepare for licensure exams through coursework and hands-on experience gained from a practicum or internship.

Online learning

Students should consider whether their prospective school offers enough support for distance learners. This includes determining whether a school offers regular access to learning materials such as lectures, recordings, or textbooks. Students should also explore whether their prospective program offers the chance to gain practical experience at a hospital or mental health clinic — essential for aspiring professionals in this field. Our student reviews can further help learners understand what to consider when enrolling in a distance education program.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling?

An online bachelor's in substance abuse counseling is the first step to becoming a licensed drug misuse and abuse counselor. These individuals earn a median annual salary of $47,660, working in settings such as outpatient centers, addiction clinics, and schools. As professional caregivers, substance abuse counselors must be certified in their state of practice.

As professional caregivers, substance abuse counselors must be certified in their state of practice.

However, bachelor's degree holders may also be prepared for entry-level positions in the human services sectors, where they can pursue careers as social and community and service managers. These positions typically don't require state licensure or certification.

Is a Career As a Substance Abuse Counselor Right for Me?

It's only natural to wonder if a certain career path will be a good fit for you, so it's important to compare your preferences and abilities with those related to the role. Substance abuse counselors need to be comfortable working in close proximity to other people. Counselors typically see quite a few clients each day, so you must have the ability to stick to a schedule and adjust your focus to each new client as they join you for appointments. In terms of other skills, the U.S Department of Labor notes that counselors need to be good listeners, clear speakers, and have the capacity for deductive reasoning (the ability to apply general rules to specific problems) and inductive reasoning (the ability to combine pieces of information into conclusions). Finally, there are some technical skills involved, such as the use of basic office and specialized medical software.

Frequently Asked Questions About Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling Degrees

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Education requirements to become a substance abuse counselor vary by state and employer, but a bachelor's degree in the field is generally required for entry-level positions. A degree that provides training in counseling services may also meet the requirements.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Substance Abuse Counselor?

It can take four or more years to become a substance abuse counselor. After receiving a bachelor's degree, you will need to accumulate at least 2,000 hours of supervised work experience, which may take a year or more to accumulate.

Are Addiction Counselors in Demand?

Yes, substance abuse counselor roles are expected to increase by 23% — much faster than average — through 2030. This demand reflects an increase in cases of chemical dependency nationwide, as well as courts encouraging individuals to seek treatment in line with changes in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Which State Pays the Most for Substance Abuse Counselors?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Utah pays substance abuse counselors the most. Professionals in the Beehive State make a median annual salary of $66,190. Alaska, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and New Jersey are also high paying states for substance abuse counselors.

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