Online Addiction Counseling Degree Programs: What You Need to Know

Addiction affects families around the world, and earning an addiction counseling degree can be a great way to make a difference for people who are struggling. Some people choose to go into the field because of their own experiences. People who have gone through the addiction and recovery process can offer a unique perspective to others who are walking a similar path. Counselors who have watched a family member deal with addiction can also offer insight that others may not understand. 

While many people enter the field of addiction counseling because of their personal experience, it's by no means a requirement to serve as an effective addiction counselor. If you're passionate about helping people begin and stay strong in their recovery, you have a strong sense of empathy, and you're interested in the science of treating addiction as a disease, you can make a difference in the lives of people who are living with substance use disorder.

Here, we'll explore everything you need to know about earning an online addiction counseling degree, from what you need to look for as you search for the right degree program for you to what you can expect as a salary after you graduate.

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Addiction Counseling Degree Program Overview

When you decide to earn an online addiction counseling degree, you'll go through many different courses that help you both understand the science behind addiction and allow you to learn and use best practices in the field to help your clients. You'll learn how addiction affects the brain, and how it's not a simple matter of willpower for someone who is living with substance use disorder to change their lifestyle.

Most addiction counseling degree programs require classroom study only, but you may be interested in learning more about what it will be like to work in the field by completing an internship or practicum course of study. Your online school may allow you to earn course credit for internship or practicum experience.

What to Look for in a Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling Program

When you're looking for an online bachelor's degree in addiction counseling program, it's key to know what you're looking for to find the right program for your needs.

You'll want to consider several factors, including:

  • Faculty experience: It's smart to read up on the credentials of the faculty who will be teaching your program. You may want to look for faculty who have experience in a specific area of your interest, such as working with people who are addicted to alcohol. You may also want to look for faculty who have experience working in the type of facility you're interested in working with post-graduation, such as a single-gender inpatient care facility.
  • Time online requirements: Some online programs offer asynchronous classes, which allow you to listen to lectures and complete your coursework completely on your own time. Other programs offer synchronous classes, which require that you are online at certain times to participate in class discussions. Many programs offer a combination of both types of classes. If you have a work schedule that isn't flexible, it's key to know when you'll need to be online as you work to find the right addiction counseling degree for your needs.
  • Post-graduation career placement: It's a good idea to look for a high rate of post-graduation career placement rates among recent program graduates. This can indicate a high level of rigor in the program, a great career placement team, or solid networking connections within the program.
  • Elective options: Some online bachelor's degree programs have a strict schedule that must be followed for you to earn your degree, while others have more flexibility and allow you to choose electives. If you're interested in somewhat developing your own course of study that allows you to explore your interests, you'll need to look for a program that allows you to choose electives as a part of your coursework.
  • Student support: If you've been out of the classroom for a while, it can take a bit of extra help to get used to online coursework. As you explore the different options for online addiction bachelor's degree programs, be sure to check into what the school offers as far as student support. An online writing center or online tutoring options can go a long way in helping you complete your program.
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    Top 7 Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling Program

    Here, we'll explore seven of the top bachelor's degrees in addiction counseling programs that are offered online.

    University of South Dakota

    The University of South Dakota's addiction counseling and prevention program provides students with the foundations necessary to prepare for a career in helping people who are living with substance use disorder. The program teaches students how to work both with people who have experienced addiction and those who are vulnerable to the disease.

    Indiana Wesleyan University

    Indiana Wesleyan University's undergraduate addiction counseling degree provides students with the ethical and practical knowledge necessary to support people who are working toward recovery. Students have the option to combine their addiction counseling degree with a psychology degree, or to combine their bachelor's degree with a master's degree program--both options can work to save students time and money.

    Ohio Christian University

    Ohio Christian University's undergraduate substance abuse counseling degree works to help students integrate their Christian faith into their addiction counseling practice, and helps students develop the skills they need to work both one-on-one with clients and with their support teams (including families) to help them stay strong in the recovery process. Students can take classes in a 5-week format, allowing them to create a schedule that makes sense for their needs.

    Purdue University Global

    Purdue University Global's Bachelor of Science in psychology in addictions teaches students about the latest research in the science of addiction psychology. Over the course of four years, students learn how to assess and prevent addiction, as well as how to create effective interventions and treatment plans to help people who are living with the disease. Students may have the option of combining their undergraduate degree with a master's program, creating a schedule that saves both time and money.

    University of Holy Cross

    At the University of Holy Cross, students can earn a Bachelor of Science in addiction counseling. The program works to prepare students for entry-level behavioral science positions and provides a well-rounded education that allows students to be prepared for any human services occupation. In this program, students explore the history of addiction science, the ethics surrounding the field, and current best practices that will allow them to best serve their future clients.

    Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University offers a Bachelor of Arts in human services, allowing students to concentrate in substance abuse. This program sets students up for either entry-level addiction counseling or acceptance to a graduate program where they can further their studies. Students in this program explore several different types of addiction, including alcohol and drugs, and how they can support their clients to take the steps necessary to restore their lives.

    University of Maine at Augusta

    At the University of Maine at Augusta, students can earn a Bachelor of Science in mental health and human services with a concentration in addiction counseling. This degree program sets students up to support their clients by providing classes including crisis intervention, criminogenic thinking, substance use disorder counseling within diverse populations, and more. Students also have the opportunity to choose a mental health elective, allowing them to further personalize their degree program.

Benefits of an Addiction Counseling Bachelor’s Degree

When you earn an addiction counseling degree, you’ll gain insight into how addiction actually works, and you’ll likely develop a new sense of empathy for people who are living with substance use disorder. When you understand exactly how addiction affects the brain, you’re better able to understand how to help your clients.

In addition to providing you with an excellent framework for professional practice, earning your addiction counseling bachelor’s degree also helps you learn more about how the brain works in all people, allowing you to be a more empathetic and understanding person. Whether you choose to work in the field, go on to graduate study, or take another path, the soft skills that you develop as you earn your addiction counseling degree will serve you well in any career.

Learn more about more specific addiction counseling degrees and licensures:

What Can You Do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Addiction Counseling?

When you earn your bachelor’s degree in addiction counseling, you’ll have the opportunity to work in a variety of career settings, or to go on to higher education (or both).

After you earn your bachelor’s degree, you may choose to move forward with earning your master’s degree. This can provide you with the education and training that you need to work as a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in your state. You may also choose to go on to complete your doctorate degree, which can qualify you to work as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. With a master’s or bachelor’s degree, you may also find that you have opportunities to teach addiction science at the collegiate level.

If you choose to immediately work in the field following the completion of your degree, you’ll have several options. Some people who have an addiction counseling degree work in hospitals, helping people who are in a crisis go through the detox process before moving on to a short- or long-term rehab facility. This is a difficult but important role, as making it through the detox process is the first step in beginning a life of sobriety. Other addiction counselors may choose to work in an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility. In an inpatient facility, clients live on-site, allowing you to provide them with around-the-clock care. Outpatient facilities have varying schedules. Some programs are known as intensive outpatient programs, and require clients to spend much of their day on-site, while others only require that clients attend a few counseling sessions per week.

If you’re not sure what’s the right career path for you following the completion of your degree, it’s a good idea to network with others in the field and ask if you’d be able to job shadow (as far as confidentiality requirements permit), allowing you to get a better idea of what it’s like to work in different addiction recovery settings.

Bachelor’s Degree in Addiction Counseling Salary and Job Outlook

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, career openings for substance abuse counselors are expected to grow at a much faster rate (22% between 2021 and 2031) than other professions in the U.S. The median pay for addiction counselors in 2021 was $48,520.

How Much Does an Online Addiction Counseling Bachelor’s Degree Cost?

The cost of bachelor’s degree programs varies from school to school and may change from year to year. You can expect to pay anything from $9,000 per year to $35,000 per year for your degree, depending on the program that you choose. Typically, online programs are less expensive than traditional programs. It’s a smart idea to explore financial aid, scholarship, and grant options with your school each year.

Scholarships for Addiction Counseling Students

Not sure how you’ll pay for your addiction counseling degree? You’re not alone, and thankfully, there are plenty of scholarships available to students who are interested in studying the science of addiction.

Scholarships for students who want to study addiction psychology include:

Admissions Requirements

Admission requirements will vary greatly from school to school, and often change from year to year depending on the previous year’s applicant pool.

Common admission requirements for addiction psychology programs include:

  • Successful completion of a high school diploma or GED certificate
  • GPA of 2.0 or higher
  • Submission of high school transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation from teachers or employers
  • Submission of SAT or ACT test scores
  • A writing sample or statement of purpose

It’s important to remember that when schools list their admission requirements, they’re describing their ideal candidate. It doesn’t hurt to apply to a school even if you don’t check every box (especially if there isn’t an application fee to apply to the program).

Common Courses in a Bachelor’s Degree in Addiction Counseling Program

While programs vary, you can expect to find many of the same core concepts across addiction counseling programs. Courses you’re likely to have in your online bachelor’s degree in addiction counseling program include:

  • Introduction to psychology: In your intro psych courses, you’ll get to know the basics of psychological theory and the history of psychological science. Your intro to psych courses can help you develop the approach you’d like to take as a therapist, and can help you begin to develop the skills necessary to help people who are living with addiction.
  • Understanding chemical dependency: In these courses, you’ll learn how addiction affects the brain, and you’ll develop a full understanding of why it’s not an easy task for someone who is living with addiction to simply stop using. You’ll also understand how addiction affects the brain after a person stops using, and develop the skills necessary to help people create effective long-term recovery plans.
  • Ethnic and diversity studies: Many addictions counselors work with people from a variety of backgrounds, and it’s important to understand the cultural factors that can affect a person’s life with substance use disorder.
  • Crisis intervention: As an addiction counselor, you’ll often work with people who feel that they are at the lowest point in their lives. It’s important that you have the skills necessary to help them through a crisis when they feel that things are hopeless. Your crisis intervention classes will teach you how to effectively talk to someone who feels like giving up.

Discover more about addiction with our latest infographic: History of Substance Abuse

How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Addiction Counseling?

Typically, it takes about four years for students to complete their online bachelor’s degree in addiction counseling. If you’ve completed prior college coursework or have completed high school classes that count for college credit, you may be able to complete your degree in less than four years. If you decide to go to school part-time to accommodate other responsibilities, or you decide that you’d like to participate in an internship or practicum experience that does not count for course credit, it may take you longer than four years to complete your degree. Be sure to check on the amount of time you have to complete your degree before you sign up for a program, as many schools require that at least half of your credits are earned in the previous five years in order for you to be eligible to graduate.

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