The criminal justice system recognizes that addicts are less likely to reoffend with treatment, which some research suggests is more cost-effective than incarceration. There is high turnover among addiction counselors, leading to frequent job openings in the field. In addition to providing drug abuse counseling, those working in the field of addiction psychology advise people suffering from alcoholism, eating disorders, and nicotine addiction. Professionals with doctorates can also pursue careers researching effective treatments and addiction policy, in postsecondary education, and in social work.

Psy.D. vs. Ph.D. in Addiction Psychology: What's the Difference?

An online addiction psychology doctoral program is often part of a doctorate in developmental psychology, behavioral psychology, or counseling with an addictions specialization.

Students can earn a doctor of philosophy in psychology (Ph.D.), or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.). The Ph.D. is more research-oriented, requiring a dissertation and comprehensive exam to graduate. The Psy.D. focuses on clinical practice, and the program typically orients around practical work experience and exams.

As a general rule, those with a Ph.D. stay in academia as researchers and/or professors, while Psy.D. graduates more often work directly with patients in clinical, counseling, school, or health services settings.

What to Expect in an Online Addiction Psychology Doctoral Program

While programs vary, the typical online doctoral experience includes courses taught through livestream and videoconferencing, which students attend on their own schedules. However, the American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation does not accredit entirely online doctorate programs. Students at an accredited school are required to complete hands-on fieldwork, internships, or residencies.

Admission Requirements for an Addiction Psychology Doctoral Program

Applicants to psychology doctorate programs must possess an undergraduate degree, preferably in psychology. Many schools also require a master's degree. Admission to psychology doctoral programs is competitive. Even if psychology degrees are not required, prospective students with undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field enjoy an advantage.

Most programs do not require work experience or portfolios, but many seek applicants with a 3.0 minimum GPA.

Common admission requirements include an online application; transcripts; a resume or CV; a statement of purpose; three letters of recommendation from teachers, professors, or community professionals; and test scores from the GRE, MAT, or a similar exam. Some schools require the GRE subject test in psychology. Most programs do not require work experience or portfolios, but many seek applicants with a 3.0 minimum GPA. International students or those with non-U.S. degrees are required to submit scores from tests that show proficiency in English, such as the TOEFL.

Sample Courses for an Online Doctorate in Addiction Psychology

In addition to greater employment options and higher income potential, a doctorate is advantageous for state licensing. Those who graduate with master's degrees qualify for licensure as clinical counselors but not as psychologists. A doctoral degree provides added certainty to the process of becoming a licensed psychologist.

Doctoral programs provide students with the foundation for scholarship and research in psychology. They also receive training required to work in the field and to publish their research. Students focus on addiction psychology through specialization classes, a sampling of which is listed below.

Addiction Assessment and Treatment Planning

This course provides an overview of the various screening tools used in the process of intake and treatment of addiction and develops skills related to treatment planning for addiction. Students learn to use the results of assessments to determine the best treatment goals and interventions.

Addiction and Related Disorders

This course presents information on addiction, related disorders, and their associated compulsive behaviors. Students learn to identify clinical syndromes associated with substance use disorder, eating disorders, and gambling disorders. In addition, this course explores other compulsive disorders such as sex addiction, workaholism, and compulsive buying.

Clinical Survey of Substance Abuse and Dependence

In this course, students focus on the dynamics of substance abuse and dependence on illegal and prescription drugs, alcohol, and marijuana. Learners gain a basic understanding of the pharmacology and physiological and psychological processes of dependence. Students also explore the interrelatedness of substance abuse with various factors in the individual, family, and society.

Family Systems Approaches to Addiction

This course material focuses on addiction with respect to etiology, intervention, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment from a family systems perspective. Learners also explore how multicultural systemic issues influence families’ approaches to dealing with addictions.

Group Therapy

This course covers group work, including group counseling, group therapy, and other types of change-oriented groups. Students explore the dynamics and processes of group therapy as well as the behaviors and characteristics of group leaders. Videos of group therapy sessions conducted by expert and beginning therapists form a basis for learning.

Online Doctorate in Addiction Psychology Completion Time

Generally, students can complete the required 60-90 credits for an online doctorate in psychology program in 4-7 years. Program length factors include whether a student studies full or part time and whether the program uses individually paced or cohort learning. Most online doctorate programs require in-person fieldwork or internships at a laboratory or hospital, which can add to the length of an online degree. The time needed to research and write a dissertation can also affect time to graduation.

Individually paced online learning allows students to attend lectures and take exams on their own schedule. Cohort learning follows a set class schedule of online lectures and exam times, and students stay with the same group of peers for the duration of their program.

Internship and Research Requirements for an Addiction Psychology Doctoral Degree

Accredited online doctorate programs require fieldwork, along with either clinical hours or an in-person internship. Because hands-on experience is critical for those pursuing advanced degrees in psychology, most programs provide various options for fulfilling this requirement.

These options may include a practicum, a clinical internship providing hands-on training in a work setting, and an academic residency, which consists of face-to-face interaction with professors and classmates with opportunities for feedback, creating a network of colleagues, and practicing skills.

Because hands-on experience is critical for those pursuing advanced degrees in psychology, most programs provide various options for fulfilling this requirement.

Some programs offer virtual residencies through social networking technology and work with students to organize simulated labs or virtual communities to meet clinical hour or internship requirements. Most programs also require a dissertation. Students begin dissertation research by year four or five and start preparing for oral examinations and thesis defense.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Addiction Psychology Graduates

Online addiction psychology graduates benefit from many career options, including working directly with patients as substance abuse counselors or behavioral psychologists and helping advance knowledge of the methodologies used in the field as academic and research psychologists. Those working directly with patients can succeed through cultural competence, empathy, and observation. Those who pursue research and teaching careers are effective scholars and communicators, with excellent reading and writing skills.

Certified Addiction Drug and Alcohol Counselor

These professionals counsel individuals and/or groups, implementing therapeutic treatment plans to resolve drug, alcohol, and gambling addictions at hospitals, clinics, or residential facilities. Counselors also maintain case histories and progress notes based on observations of patients, work with behavioral problems, and provide evaluations, interventions, and updates to family members.

Median Annual Salary: $44,630

Social Work Supervisor

These professionals supervise, support, and evaluate a team of social workers, advise clients on their options and refer them to other agencies, review and improve recommendations and treatment plans, offer guidance and assistance with complex or difficult cases, and ensure compliance with applicable regulations and documentation practices.

Median Annual Salary: $54,494

Behavioral Health Director

Directors lead, plan, implement, and coordinate inpatient and outpatient care at mental health and detox centers, prisons, detention centers, and probation or parole agencies. They hire, manage, and evaluate staff; ensure compliance with policies, guidelines, health and safety procedures, and government regulations; and also attend conferences and workshops to stay up to date on current practices and methodologies.

Median Annual Salary: $83,073

Postsecondary Teacher

These professionals teach addiction or behavioral psychology students at public and private colleges and universities, professional schools, and junior or community colleges; perform administrative duties; advise students and direct dissertations; conduct addiction and treatment plan research; and publish scholarly research papers and books.

Median Annual Salary: $78,470