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Online Master’s in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling Programs

Alcoholism, drug addiction, substance abuse, and the behavioral, emotional, and mental health issues associated with these problems are a major area of focus in clinical and mental health counseling. It is a counseling specialization that requires deep knowledge of addiction processes, of the physical and psychological effects of substance abuse, and the treatment protocols used to treat addiction. Master’s in substance abuse counseling programs provide tailored instruction in the assessment tools, psychosocial theories, and psychotherapeutic techniques that are used to treat individuals and families suffering from the effects of addiction. They include some of the same core training in counseling as a general clinical counseling degree, and targeted instruction in the unique challenges, behaviors, and problems associated with addiction, substance abuse, and related disorders.

What is Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling?

Addiction and substance abuse counseling is a clinical counseling specialization that focuses on the emotional, behavioral, mental, and physical problems associated with the use of drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances. It also encompasses the treatment of other addictive behaviors, like gambling, sex, and eating disorders. Addiction and substance abuse counselors use assessment methods to identify addictive behaviors and the psychological problems that accompany substance abuse and dependency. They offer therapy to people suffering from addiction, and help people who are exhibiting addictive behavior develop the coping techniques and personal management strategies to overcome these problems. Because addictive behavior and substance abuse are both symptoms and causes of mental health disorders, counselors who specialize in this area must cultivate a clear understanding of general theories of human behavior and specialized theories that apply to the problems associated with addiction and substance abuse.

Online Master’s Degrees in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling

Online master’s in addiction and substance abuse counseling programs provide skills and training in clinical counseling theories and methodologies, and in the identification and treatment of substance abuse problems. These programs are designed to prepare students for state licensure. While many states offer different levels of certification in substance abuse counseling, all 50 states require professional counselors to be a licensed professional counselor (LPC) or hold an equivalent state-issued license – licensed clinical addictions specialist (LCAS), licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor (LCADC), licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC) – in order to work in many clinical settings. Full licensing requires a master’s degree in substance abuse counseling. Graduates from master’s programs may also seek voluntary national credential as a Master Addiction Counselor (MAC) from the National Association for Addiction Professionals.

In addition to earning a master’s degree in counseling, addiction and substance abuse counselors must complete a requisite number of supervised clinical hours before applying for licensure. A portion of these clinical hours may be completed as part of the practicum and internship components of a master’s program. The coursework in an online master’s in addiction and substance abuse counseling program is offered online, although some programs may require limited campus visits. classifies programs that require more than two campus visits per year as hybrid programs and does not include them on the site at this time. It is, however, important to note that practicums and internships cannot be completed online and do require students to be present at a local clinical counseling or addiction treatment facility approved by the program.

Identifying Master’s in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling Programs

Master’s programs in addiction and substance abuse counseling are a standard fixture in the realm of counseling education. These programs may be voluntarily accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which is the primary organization that sets curricular standards and provides accreditation for all master’s in clinical and mental health counseling programs. In addition, the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC) provides its own standards for addiction and substance abuse counseling programs, and also offers voluntary accreditation. The core curriculum in addiction and substance abuse counseling includes training in the theories, principles, and ethics of counseling, as well as coursework specific to the diagnosis and treatment of substance abuse.

There is no standardized naming convention for master’s programs in addiction and substance abuse counseling programs. Some of typical names for these programs include:

  • Master of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling
  • Master of Arts in Professional Counseling, Addictions Counseling Track
  • Master of Science in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Master of Arts in Addiction Studies

How Categorizes Online Master’s in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling Programs conducts independent research of schools offering online master’s in counseling programs and classifies each program based on its curriculum. Online master’s in addiction and substance abuse counseling programs must meet the standards for a master’s in clinical and mental health counseling and provide specific instruction in addiction and substance abuse. The coursework must be offered online, with no more than two required campus visits per year. Because all clinical counseling programs, including those that specialize in addiction and substance abuse, require internships and practicums, none of these programs can be considered 100% online.

In addition, the online master’s in addiction and substance abuse counseling programs on meet the following curricular criteria:

  • At least four courses that target core counseling proficiencies, including individual counseling, group counseling, counseling ethics, and theories of counseling.
  • At least four courses that are specific to addiction and substance abuse counseling.
  • An internship or practicum that includes at least 700 hours of supervised training in clinical counseling.

What Students in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling Programs Learn

The addiction and substance abuse counseling curriculum has two main areas of training and instruction. The first covers core knowledge and proficiencies in general clinical and mental health counseling. This includes learning theories and applications of accepted theories of behavioral psychology as they relate to counseling, learning the techniques of psychotherapy and its applications in individual and group counseling, and learning the professional ethics associated with clinical counseling. Most programs also include at least one course in the social and cultural diversity issues that impact counseling in the real world.

The second area of focus consists of coursework and supervised practicums/internships that relate directly to addiction and substance abuse. This often includes coursework in psychopharmacology and the mental and physical effects of alcohol, drugs, and other psychoactive substances. Other typical topics include: family dynamics in addiction; the psychology of motivational change; the diagnosis and treatment of psychopathologies; and addiction treatment, recovery, and relapse prevention. The supervised clinical hours completed during these programs are also typically tailored to give students experience working in settings where addiction treatment is provided.

Common Courses in Online Master’s in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling Programs

The following list includes example courses from actual online master’s degree programs in addiction and substance abuse counseling:

Course TitleCourse Description
Ethical & Legal Issues in Clinical CounselingAn examination of the laws governing counseling services and the ethics that apply broadly across the counseling profession.
Theories of CounselingA survey of the major counseling theories, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and person-centered therapy.
Group Counseling Theory and PracticeAn exploration of how group dynamics, social status, and other aspects of group behavior apply in the practice of counseling.
Addiction and Substance Use DisordersAn introduction to the stages, processes, and effects of addictive behavior and substance use disorders.
Family Issues in AddictionAn exploration of co-dependency within the family system and how addictive behavior is effected by and affects family dynamics.
Counseling Chemical Dependent AdolescentsAn in-depth look at the symptoms, patterns, and effects of substance use and addiction among teens and adolescents.
Co-occurring DisordersAn introduction the complexities of co-occurring disorders in the context of addiction and substance abuse, including how substance abuse can be a symptom of self-medicating.

Admissions Requirements for Online Master’s in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling Programs

Admissions requirements for online master’s programs in addiction and substance abuse counseling vary by school. Prospective students should visit school websites for specific program information. Most master’s in counseling programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Programs may then weigh additional factors, including an applicant’s GPA. Some programs require the submission of standardized test scores (usually the GRE).

Online Master’s in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling Program Formats

There are several important factors regarding the structure of online counseling programs that vary by program. Prospective students should be aware of these structural differences. While online programs are generally more flexible than traditional campus-based programs, some offer more flexibility than others. The three main areas of differentiation are: synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction; part-time vs. full-time enrollment; and the number of required campus visits.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: These terms refer to how course content is delivered to students. Each has its advantages and its disadvantages. All online programs have an asynchronous component, but not all utilize synchronous instruction. Depending on each student’s needs, this can be an important consideration.

  • Synchronous Instruction: With synchronous instruction, lectures and discussions are held at scheduled times, and students must be present online to participate. While this may offer less flexibility compared to programs that only use asynchronous instruction, it may be advantageous for students who prefer a more traditional live classroom experience. It may also be helpful to students who want a more structured learning environment.
  • Asynchronous Instruction: Asynchronous instruction does not include a real-time component. Instead, course lectures are provided to students on demand, 24-7, as are other course materials. Students in programs that use asynchronous instruction must meet deadlines, turn in assignments, and keep up with lectures, but they are not required to be online at specific times.

Part-time vs. Full-time Enrollment: Some online master’s in counseling programs require full-time enrollment; others are designed for part-time enrollment. There are also programs that give students the option of full-time or part-time enrollment. This aspect of a program’s structure impacts the number of courses students must take each term, as well as the time to completion for the program. A student enrolled full-time in an online counseling program can graduate in 18-24 months. With part-time enrollment, the same program may take three or more years. Full-time programs may have a sequential plan of study that students must adhere to within certain bounds. Part-time programs may or may not have a set sequence of courses.

Practicums, Internships, and Campus Visits: A practicum and an internship are integral parts of online master’s in counseling programs. However, some programs may require students to attend on-campus immersion sessions. It is important to distinguish between these features of an online counseling program. Supervised clinical hours are a necessary part of all programs. Online students typically complete these on site at an approved clinical counseling facility in their home community. In some cases, if a local placement cannot be found, students may need to travel to complete their hours.

Immersion sessions involve traveling to the school or another set location. They are instructional tools, which can be as short as 2-3 days, or as long as a week. In addition to instruction, they may include demonstrations and networking events. However, travel expenses for on-campus visits may not be included in tuition costs and fees, and can add to the overall program cost. Also, for students who cannot travel for personal or professional reasons, programs that require campus visits may not be suitable. only lists programs that require two or fewer visits to campus per year.