Many positions in this field only require a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree in addiction counseling does yield some benefits, such as better job opportunities and higher earning potential. Because addiction counseling is a growing field, job competition may increase, raising employers' standards for applicants. For this reason, more employers may prefer candidates with master's degrees, giving master's graduates a competitive edge.

What to Expect in an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Program

The components of a master's degree in addiction studies online vary by school. As you research programs, key factors to consider include program length, cost, delivery format, curriculum, and licensure preparation. Comparing these factors helps you choose a program that fits your schedule and budget and prepares you for the career you want.

Sample Courses for an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling

The curriculum for a master's in addiction counseling online varies between programs. Typical courses often cover human development, relapse prevention, ethics and law in counseling, counseling theories, and psychopharmacology. Earning a master's degree affords opportunities to develop advanced skills, such as through internships, practicums, or thesis projects. Internships and research projects allow students to apply course concepts to real-life or simulated scenarios.

Master's degree coursework and internship hours may lead to certification, as well. All states require certification to practice as an addiction counselor.

Counseling Theories

This course provides a comprehensive overview of current counseling theories. Coursework teaches students about the common tools and methodologies used in the field to effectively apply theories to patient situations. The course may also examine potential work environments, including private practices, rehabilitation centers, or educational institutions.

Theories and Treatment of Addiction

The curriculum examines current theories and treatment options for addiction. Coursework emphasizes the evaluation current theories and development of students' own working theories on addiction. Students also learn to create treatment plans for patients. Courses may include a brief overview of other compulsive behavior syndromes.

Ethical Issues in Counseling

This course provides an overview of the code of ethics as it applies to the field of counseling. Coursework examines standards of professional behavior, ethical issues, legal and liability issues, credentialing, and research. Other topics include patient confidentiality, child abuse, elder abuse, and art therapy. Students learn through practical exercises how to navigate and mitigate potential ethical dilemmas.

Group Processes in Counseling

This course examines group dynamics, the stages of group development, group counseling theories, and current methodologies. Coursework trains students to use current techniques and methods to treat mental disorders or addiction in group settings. Some programs incorporate actual group counseling sessions, giving students an opportunity to see course concepts in action.


The curriculum provides a comprehensive overview of the classifications and uses of commonly prescribed medications. Students learn the appropriate uses of medications, along with their effects and possible side effects. Coursework emphasizes how drugs impact the human body and how patient addiction to pharmaceutical drugs impacts addiction treatment plans.

Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Completion Time

The average online addiction counseling master's degree comprises 60 credit hours and takes two years to complete. Several factors may impact the length of an online degree, including credit hours, internship requirements, and whether students enroll full time or part time. Delivery format also affects program length.

Most online programs use either a self-paced or cohort learning format.

Most online programs use either a self-paced or cohort learning format. Students may complete self-paced programs more quickly because they can progress through the curriculum on their own schedules. Cohort learning incorporates online learning but typically requires an element of group participation, whether virtual or in-person. Cohort programs generally adhere to academic term schedules, as well, meaning they take place over a set amount of time and students cannot work through it at a quicker pace.

Program length matters because it may impact your out-of-pocket costs and how quickly you can enter the workforce.

Skills Gained in an Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Program

A master's degree in addiction studies online aims to establish a thorough understanding of the current theories and methodologies used in addiction counseling. Coursework develops the interpersonal, listening, and critical-thinking skills students need to effectively diagnose and treat patients struggling with addiction. Master's programs typically involve internships, as well, allowing students to gain essential clinical skills and hands-on experience.

  • Clinical Skills

    Master's programs use internships to develop practical clinical skills. Internships give students the opportunity to see first-hand how course concepts apply to actual patient scenarios. Working in a clinic also allows students to see what an average day in the field might look like.

  • Develop Treatment Plans

    A core focus of a master's program is developing the ability to apply current theories and techniques to create treatment plans for patients. Program curriculum teaches this skill by giving students scenarios and challenging them to analyze the issue and draft a plan using course concepts.

  • Interpersonal Skills

    Addiction counselors work with patients from all backgrounds, facing a variety of situations. The curriculum provides an overview of various cultural, social, family, or personal value factors which shape an individual and may impact their behavior. Students develop listening and communication skills so they practice with compassion, sensitivity, and respect.

Online vs. On-Campus Programs: What's the Difference?

Each master's in addiction counseling online program typically uses the same professors and follows the same curriculum as its on-campus counterpart. Students earn the same quality degree as their on-campus peers, but without the hassle of commuting to school. Online programs cater to busy professionals wanting to advance their careers.

Online students can complete most of their degree requirements remotely, but they must still complete an internship. Distance learners typically select an internship at a location near them, working with program advisors to verify all requirements and obtain approval before starting their internship. Some schools offer internship resources or may place students in internships, but learners should expect to do most of the research on their own.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Master's in Addiction Counseling Graduates

Graduates with a master's in addiction counseling may choose from a variety of promising and lucrative career paths. A few common jobs in this field include substance abuse counselor, clinical social worker, rehabilitation counselor, medical and health services administrator, or licensed addiction counselor.

Successful professionals in this field practice patience and compassion as they help patients through difficult situations. They also possess strong interpersonal, listening, critical-thinking, and communication skills. Learn Psychology provides more details on careers in this field and additional counseling career resources.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Professionals in this field evaluate a patient's behavior, addiction, and readiness for treatment. Primary tasks include making diagnoses and creating treatment plans to help correct negative behaviors. This position requires at least a bachelor's, but a master's may lead to career advancement opportunities and higher earning potential.

Median Annual Salary: $44,630

Clinical Social Worker

These social workers hold licensure to diagnose and treat mental and behavioral issues. Other duties include providing group or individual therapy and helping patients develop strategies to cope with difficult situations. Working in this field requires a master's degree and two years of post-master's work experience.

Median Annual Salary: $49,470

Rehabilitation Counselor

Professionals in this field help patients with mental, physical, emotional, and developmental disabilities. Primary tasks include evaluating patients' symptoms and creating therapy plans accordingly. Counselors may arrange workplace accommodations and help clients access other medical services. This position typically requires a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $35,630

Medical and Health Services Administrator

Professionals in this field manage and direct medical facilities or departments within a practice. Primary tasks include recruiting, training, creating work schedules, and organizing facility records. Medical and health services administrator positions typically require at least a bachelor's degree. However, some employers may prefer candidates with a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $99,730

Licensed Addiction Counselor

Licensed addiction counselors work with patients struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol. Primary tasks include assessing patients' histories and developing treatment plans. These professionals work primarily in hospitals, medical centers, and rehabilitation facilities. This position usually requires a bachelor's degree, but some employers prefer candidates with a master's. A master's degree may increase earning potential, as well.

Median Annual Salary: $43,121

Education and Training Beyond a Master's in Addiction Counseling

All states require certification to practice, and most online addiction counseling master's degree programs lead to certification. Specific state licensure mandates may vary, but most require certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Professionals must renew this certification every five years. Students should visit NBCC's website for detailed information on each state's requirements. Learners may specialize their education by obtaining additional certification in specific areas of counseling or psychology.

Depending on your career goals, you may also consider earning a doctorate. A doctorate in counseling builds advanced skills in counseling techniques, and it focuses on research. The degree leads to advanced career opportunities as researchers, educators, and practitioners, and qualifies degree holders to open their own private practice. It may also increase earning potential. Learn Psychology offers more details on earning a doctorate in addiction counseling, and how it may benefit your career.

Theories and methods in psychology constantly evolve. Professionals should stay on top of the industry's latest trends to provide the best care possible for their patients. Recertifying or pursuing an advanced degree allows you to learn current information. Moreover, a variety of industry publications and online resources help professionals stay current on advancements in the field of addiction counseling.