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Online Substance Abuse Counseling Programs | A Resource Guide


A career in the counseling field is hugely rewarding. As a well-paying and respectable profession, it provides opportunities to help others. Substance abuse counselors assist patients struggling with drug misuse, alcoholism, and gambling. Read on to learn about the top online substance abuse counseling programs and every other piece of information you need to get started.

What is Substance Abuse?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), substance abuse refers mainly to the harmful use of psychoactive substances. Such substances have adverse effects on the person’s physical state and social and emotional state.

Medically, a substance abuse diagnosis applies when:

  • A person uses a particular substance or combination of substances more often than necessary
  • A person uses a substance illegally
  • An individual physically depends on any substance for any reason

Quite often, someone who abuses substances experiences difficulty with general human relations.

Statistically, substance abuse has been a significant cause of accidents and disputes between people. People are becoming more aware of the importance of their mental health and the steps they can take to protect and guide it healthily.

Who is A Substance Abuse Counselor?

A substance abuse counselor is a professional committed to providing professional assistance to people suffering from substance abuse. Their job description also extends to helping people with eating disorders and gambling problems. Substance abuse counselors often counsel clients and their families, as a person’s addiction may negatively affect those around them.

Furthermore, these professionals can give testimony in court where the client may have encountered the law due to their addiction.

Substance abuse counselors receive special training to be patient and discerning enough to help their clients record progress on their goals of becoming addiction-free. These professionals, through their education, know enough to ensure that they use the proper techniques to help patients and clients.

Substance Abuse Counseling Programs

A good substance abuse counseling program integrates activities and lessons that help students understand how the human brain works and how to affect gradual change and abstinence from harmful behaviors. Some of the steps you can learn from a substance abuse counseling program include:

  • How to build therapeutic relationships with clients
  • Pharmacology in terms of substance-use disorders
  • How to assess clients’ needs and progress
  • Diagnostic and clinical processes for substance abuse counseling
  • How to make clients invest in their process
  • Stress Management
  • How to determine the best counseling modality according to the nature, behavior, and cultural background of their clients
  • Service Orientation
  • How to guide clients to achieve abstinence and move on with daily life activities
  • Necessary aspects of psychology, social work, and basic counseling

Where Substance Abuse Counselors Work

The importance of the work of a substance abuse counselor cannot be over-emphasized. Their typical work environments include:

  • Hospitals
  • Independent and government-owned health centers and institutions
  • Non-governmental institutions
  • Military Corps
  • Private practice

In hospitals and healthcare institutions, counselors are usually a part of the staff who focus on cases that require mental aid for sufficient recovery. While other doctors may deal with the health implications of addiction, substance abuse counselors help with the cognitive effects of addictions. They help to ensure that patients receive restorative care. This prevents rebound cases which can worsen with time. Workers in this category have most of their clients at:

  • Correctional institutions
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Health maintenance organizations

Those in private practice and non-governmental institutions encounter more bizarre cases of substance addictions than those working in other locations. Their advantage lies in their ability to experiment with different methods to achieve results.

Job Titles for Substance Abuse Counselors

Job titles for substance abuse counselors vary and mostly indicate the job’s scope. Here are some typical job titles in the profession:

  • Alcohol and Drug Counselor
  • Behavioral Disorder Counselor
  • Assessment Specialist
  • Chemical Dependency Counselor
  • Social Services Coordinator
  • Behavioral Health Specialist
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Behavioral Health Technician
  • Correctional Treatment Specialist
  • Mental Health Nurse
  • Recovery Coach
  • Social Psychologist
  • Substance Use Disorder Counselor

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all states in the US require full licensure to practice as substance abuse specialists. The top programs in substance abuse counseling prepare students for a career in the field. The BLS projects that the profession will grow by 23% between 2020 and 2030, making it an attractive field to pursue.

Admission Requirements for Online Substance Abuse Counseling Programs

The requirements for admission into most online substance abuse counseling programs are mostly the same as those in physical locations. Irrespective of the area of substance abuse counseling you wish to major in, the general requirements are:

  • Submission of personal information and previous working experience.
  • Submission of standardized test scores to evaluate analytical, mathematical, verbal, and writing skills.
  • Not more than three letters of recommendation
  • Essays (optional)
  • Transcripts from past educational institutions attended (high school upwards)

Students wishing to start a career in substance abuse counseling have to present an excellent overall high school grade for admission into a program.

Some certifications demand a certain number of years of working experience too. It would be best to consider all these factors when building a career as a substance abuse counselor.

Top Online Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees

Grand Canyon University — Bachelor of Science in Counseling / Addiction, Chemical Dependency & Substance Abuse

Grand Canyon University offers a degree that explores chemical dependency and substance abuse. Since the university is a Christian college, students learn how to apply the Christian worldview and concepts of spirituality when treating addiction.

The main courses include Foundations of Addiction and Substance Use, Substance Use Disorder, Multicultural Counseling in a Diverse Society, Psychopharmacology in Addiction Treatment, and Relapse Prevention.

The program consists of 120 credits. Up to 90 credits can be transferred.

View More about the BS in Counseling from Grand Canyon University

Rivier University — Bachelor of Arts in Psychology / Addiction Studies

At Rivier University, the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology / Addiction Studies offers education for aspiring counseling professionals. The coursework meets the educational requirements of the Licensed Alcohol & Drug Counselor (LADC).

Once enrolled, students study the science of human behavior to understand better how the human mind works. The coursework integrates with psychological research studies to provide students with more than theoretical knowledge. Students in this program design experiments in the school’s Behavioral Science Lab. The lab uses cutting-edge Empirisoft MediaLab and DirectRT software packages.

After completing this program, graduates can choose to pursue careers as child care professionals, social service case managers, probation and parole officers, and career counselors.

View More about the BA in Psychology from Rivier University

Alvernia University — Bachelor of Arts in Addictions & Mental Health Treatment

While preparing students for professional careers in case management, counseling, administration, and other substance abuse positions, this program also teaches real-world experiences. About 400 hours are dedicated to field practice in approved agencies to help the students gain experience while studying.

The entire program is available online and on-campus on the Reading, Pottsville, or Philadelphia campuses. Every student in the program must complete a minimum of 123 credits and attain a ‘C’ grade or higher in Addictions & Mental Health (AMH) courses.

Some of the core courses include Crisis Intervention, Group Counseling, Assessment and Evaluation, Counseling Theories, and The Origins of Mental Illnesses.

View More about the BA in Addictions from Alvernia University

Liberty University — Bachelor of Science in Psychology / Addiction & Recovery

Within an average of 3.5 years, you could complete this online program at Liberty University. Designed to prepare students for counseling and addiction treatment and recovery roles, this program teaches diagnosis, assessment, and development of treatment plans for people suffering from addiction.

The program is ideal for professionals already working in substance abuse and treatment and those seeking to start careers in substance abuse counseling. If you need a graduate degree that can lead to a counseling license, check out this program as your first step. Students who complete the PSYC 450- Children in Healthcare elective course are eligible to pursue the Child Life Specialist certification.

View More about the BS in Psychology from Liberty University

Southern New Hampshire University — Bachelor of Arts in Human Services / Substance Abuse

At Southern New Hampshire University, the Bachelor of Arts in Human Services / Substance Abuse program is quite flexible. The program requires a minimum of 120 credits, of which 90 can be transferred. Students are not required to submit ACT or SAT examination scores. Even better, there’s no application fee.

There are three tracks in this program, so the students can choose to specialize in either Child and Family Services, Gerontology, or Substance Abuse.

View More about the BA in Human Services from Southern New Hampshire University

Purdue University Global — Bachelor of Science in Psychology / Addictions

Accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC), the BS Psychology / Addictions program from Purdue University Global prepares students to work in counseling. The entire coursework fulfills the requirements to sit for the NCAC level I and level II certification examinations.

With 15-18 hours per week designated for the program, students must complete 120 credits to graduate. A credit hour costs $371, and the university offers multiple start dates depending on when you enroll.

View More about the BS in Psychology from Purdue University Global

Rivier University — Bachelor in Human Services / Addiction Studies

At Rivier University, you can get an education that prepares you for a career as a human services professional. Students study human services, psychology, sociology, and social work. The professors handling this program also teach practical problem-solving, analytical, and critical thinking skills, all essential for human services professionals.

You may choose to specialize in an optional addiction track. This track focuses on counseling and recovery services. Students also have opportunities to study abroad and gain experience. Rivier University has faculty-led field trips that equip students with insight and practical knowledge.

View More about the BS in Human Services from Rivier University

Southern New Hampshire University — Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice / Substance Abuse

The Southern New Hampshire University offers a criminal justice/substance abuse degree with multiple concentration options. Individuals who have previously undergone basic police, corrections, or probation and parole training can gain up to 12 credits. Students learn concepts such as current criminology theories, effective communication strategies, discretion in decision-making, and global trends in the program. Students can specialize in Criminology and Crime Analysis, Cybercrime, The Correctional System, Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Human Services and Advocacy, Security Management, Substance Abuse, and more.

View More about the BS in Criminal Justice from Southern New Hampshire University

Indiana Wesleyan University — Bachelor of Science in Addictions Counseling

In this Indiana Wesleyan University program, faculty teach with practical methods. Apart from the time spent doing the theoretical aspect of this addictions counseling program, students have to complete specific practicals to graduate. Students learn by doing role play.

They also have to spend 50 hours in the school’s counseling laboratory. In addition, enrolled students have to complete 350 hours of field placement in approved addiction treatment facilities. There are opportunities for students who wish to join professors on research projects as research assistants. With this opportunity, students can also present at conferences.

View More about the BS in Addictions Counseling from Indiana Wesleyan University

New England College — Bachelor of Arts in Psychology / Addiction and Substance Abuse

Students learn the biological, physiological, and social causes of substance abuse and addiction during this program. They also work with the professors to identify historical and cultural trends that could impact modern societies and lead to substance abuse and addiction. The program comprises core courses, general knowledge courses, and workshops to build students’ knowledge.

New England College has different categories of courses for this program, and students have to select from each category to form their personalized curriculum. Some of these courses include Writing in the Liberal Arts, History of Political Thought, Fundamentals of Counseling and Therapy, Understanding Trauma and Addiction, Substance Abuse, and Advanced Topics in Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

View More about the BA in Psychology from New England College

University of Cincinnati — Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling

The University of Cincinnati has flexible programs, and this BS in substance abuse counseling is one of them. With about 60-120 credits needed to complete this program, students can finish in 2-4 years.

According to the university, there’s financial aid for those who qualify.

Another great thing about this program is the spring, summer, and fall start dates. Students enrolled in this program study clinical assessment and diagnostic processes in substance abuse counseling. Students explore pharmacology via the lens of substance abuse and addiction. Most importantly, students learn skills to help individuals suffering from substance abuse. After completing this program, graduates are eligible for licensure in most states.

View More about the BS in Substance Abuse Counseling from University of Cincinnati

Walden University — Bachelor of Science in Human Services / Addictions

Walden University offers excellent program coursework with a generous credit transfer system. At Walden University, students have to complete 181 credits and can transfer up to 135 credits. The general courses for this program take 46 credits, core courses have 45 credits, and concentration courses take up 35 credits.

Some of the courses offered in this program are Understanding Urban Culture and Community Assessment, Crisis and Positive Intervention, Mental Health Crisis Response, Advocacy in the Global Community, and Case Management and Addiction.

View More about the BS in Human Services from Walden University

University of South Dakota — Bachelor of Science in Addiction Counseling and Prevention

This loaded program from the University of South Dakota offers an education that prepares you to deal with the most complex needs of individuals suffering from addiction. The National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC) accredits the program, and the South Dakota Board further approves the courses of Addiction & Prevention Professionals. Here, you will gain science-based education on addiction.

For a successful application, candidates must submit a statement of purpose and a criminal background check reviewed and approved by the Health Sciences background check committee. The approved courses for this program include Alcohol Use and Addiction, Ethical and Legal Issues in the Addiction Profession, and Substance Use in Diverse Populations.

View More about the BS in Addiction Counseling & Prevention from University of South Dakota

City Vision University — Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies

A BS in Addiction Studies from City Vision University prepares professionals to work in organizations or serve in ministries. In four years of study, students complete 120 credits. However, the university has a 75% transferable credits policy.

Students select seven core courses and three major elective courses to form their personalized curriculum. The core courses include Case Management, Counseling Foundations, Introduction to Christian Addiction Counseling, Spirituality and Addiction, and Professional Counseling Practices.

View More about the BS in Addiction Studies from City Vision University

Ottawa University — Bachelor of Science in Addictions Counseling

Students explore addiction, alcoholism, chemical dependency, substance use disorders, co-occurring disorders, harm reduction, and dual diagnosis in this program. Industry-leading professionals teach the program. The curriculum focuses on the theories of addiction and counseling theories.

In this accelerated program, students learn to cater to diverse communities and how to assist patients through long-term recovery. The program explores and explains cultural competence, treatment planning, case management, crisis intervention, client education, and group counseling in addiction.

View More about the BS in Addictions Studies from Ottawa University

Aspen University — Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling

At Aspen University, this Bachelor of Arts program is 100% online with interesting incentives. The program centers on healthcare ethics and topics specific to addiction. These addiction-specific topics include treatment and prevention of substance abuse.

The program is flexible and ideal for people seeking a career in addiction counseling. Aspen University has 40 courses in this program, with start dates every two weeks. Students can even opt to pay $250 per month for their tuition.

Despite all the incentives this program offers, it doesn’t prepare students to become licensed counselors as it doesn’t fulfill the state licensure requirements.

View More about the BA in Psychology from Aspen University

Western New Mexico University — Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Science in Chemical Dependency Counseling

Western New Mexico University has designed and developed this course as a response to the increasing social awareness that the abuse of mood-changing chemicals is a huge societal issue. This program, both on-campus and online, prepares students for research, prevention, and substance use counseling roles. At the end of the program, graduates will be able to analyze, interpret, and evaluate theories of addiction independently.

Students of this program must complete 43 credits in chemical dependency counseling, 16 credits in psychology, 12 credits in sociology, and three credits in statistics. By completing this program, students are eligible for certification examinations as the program fulfills the academic requirements of NAADAC.

View More about the BA/BS in Chemical Dependency Counseling from Western New Mexico University

Florida National University — Bachelor of Science in Psychology / Addiction Studies

Ideally, this program is for people who want a career in psychology. The program is also for professionals already working in the addiction field. The general education courses for this program require 43 credits, electives have 33 credits, and concentration courses also have 33 credits. Some of the courses for this program include Relapse Prevention, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Interview and Documentation.

View More about the BS in Psychology from Florida National University

SUNY Empire State College — Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies

To complete the BS in addiction studies from SUNY Empire State College, students have to complete 124 credits. The program covers a range of addiction-specific courses.

SUNY Empire State College provides various styles of flexible study for its students. Depending on their needs and situation, students can attend classes online or face-to-face. Apart from these common forms of flexible learning, the college also has independent and blended study options.

Upon completing the program, graduates are eligible for the Credentialed Alcoholism Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC).

View More about the BS in Addiction Studies from SUNY Empire State College

How To Choose The Best Substance Counseling Program

Depending on your motive for pursuing your degree, here are four important factors to consider when choosing a substance counseling program:

  • Annual tuition rate
  • Impact on professional certification
  • Mid-career earning potential
  • Starting salary

Generally, the best program is one that suits your career goals and affords you a certain level of flexibility. You can check out our education resource page to get important information about substance abuse counseling programs and related career paths.

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