Best Online Bachelors in Substance Abuse Counseling Degrees for 2023

Bachelor's Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling Career Options & Salary

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Overview of a Bachelor’s in Substance Abuse Counseling

A four-year bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling, bachelor's degree in addiction counseling, or a bachelor's in addiction studies is an academic credential that you can use to achieve full state licensure and become a substance abuse counselor, addiction counselor, drug counselor, or drug and alcohol counselor - depending on what addiction counselors are known as in your state. During your four years of study, you will cover a range of topics in psychology, sociology, and social work. You will also learn about the art and craft of counseling itself. Some of the subjects courses might cover after students complete their general education include the following.

  • Drug and Alcohol or Chemical Dependency
  • Alcohol and Drug Addiction and Substance Abuse
  • Substance Use Disorders
  • Mental Health Counseling
  • Group Counseling
  • Case Management
  • Addiction and Substance Use Disorder Treatment
  • Co-occurring Disorders and Their Treatment
  • And More

Bachelor’s degrees come in many different forms. Each substance abuse counseling program will have an individual approach to the subject, so student's education will be colored by the choices they make early on in their addiction studies education. Thus, on top of their personal guidelines for a college experience, students should strive to find addiction counseling degree programs that are fully accredited and acknowledged by their state's licensing agency.

A bachelor's in addiction studies or bachelor's degree in addiction counseling programs represent a four-year process in which you are steeped in a variety of general education and core courses that provide a base of knowledge across multiple disciplines. Because the subject of your degree will be addiction studies, these will focus in on knowledge of alcohol and drug addiction and substance use, behavioral disorder, and mental health.

When you pursue a substance abuse counselor degree, you might do that through a human services program, a social work program, or a psychology degree. Make sure that your department offers the courses you need to satisfy your state regulatory agencies so that you will qualify for a license. In fact, most programs that offer a concentration in substance abuse counseling, addiction counseling, addiction studies, or the like will prepare you for success in the field, starting with licensure. Nevertheless, make sure that your program is acknowledged by your state board and that it has full accreditation.


A bachelor’s degree in substance abuse counseling or an addiction counseling degree has many things to recommend it. First and foremost, many employers view a baccalaureate degree as a fundamental first step towards working in any professional field. Without a four-year degree you might not even be considered for employment, despite any experience or other professional credentials.

You are also sure to find higher pay and faster promotions when you have a bachelor's degree in addiction studies or an abuse counselor degree. Those with two-year degrees often hit a glass ceiling early in their career, but your career can go much farther. You will have much greater potential for growth and development.

This is partially because a bachelor’s degree puts you that much closer to a master’s degree, and professional certificates that will bolster your professional profile. When you work on the degree you may also have time to add a secondary focus in the form of a minor field. For instance, you could minor in public policy or business administration and thus broaden your potential scope of work.


Though a four-year counseling degree programs may have many fantastic attributes, they also have downsides. One key problem is that you might find that your career is somewhat limited compared to your colleagues who have graduate degrees and experience dealing with substance use disorders or co-occurring disorders and mental health crises or case management and treatment. Even with years of experience, employers may still want to see a master's degree before they will consider you for a supervisory role, or other senior positions in a chemical dependency facility.

A bachelor’s degree in addiction studies is also not cheap; no bachelor's degree is. You are almost guaranteed to end up in debt for many years after completing your degree. Though there are federal loan forgiveness programs available, those are under fire and may not be available to you once you graduate. Students might also find that their salary is not quite what they bargained for if they work as substance abuse counselors or addiction counselors in treatment facilities. Mental health counselors may receive better pay but may require a master's to practice.

On top of these issues, a bachelor’s in addiction studies is no guarantee that you will land a job. It’s often presented as an automatic process that graduates will land great jobs, but that is not a given. In fact, you may need to move to a different city or return for more classes before you are able to find your first job.

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What are the Best Online Bachelor's in Addiction Counseling Programs?


University of Cincinnati

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $12,598
    • Out-of-State: $27,932
  • Net Price: $20,827
  • Retention Rate: 88%
  • Graduation Rate: 73%
  • Total Enrollment: 40,826
  • Undergrad Students: 29,933
  • Graduate Students: 10,893
  • Diplomas Awarded: 15
  • Grads Salary: $72,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 19:1
  • University of Cincinnati

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $28,960
    • Out-of-State: $28,960
  • Net Price: $21,827
  • Retention Rate: 81%
  • Graduation Rate: 72%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,108
  • Undergrad Students: 2,677
  • Graduate Students: 431
  • Diplomas Awarded: 1
  • Grads Salary: $70,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 13:1
  • Indiana Wesleyan University

Midwestern State University

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $9,796
    • Out-of-State: $11,746
  • Net Price: $10,094
  • Retention Rate: 66%
  • Graduation Rate: 44%
  • Total Enrollment: 5,860
  • Undergrad Students: 5,141
  • Graduate Students: 719
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $73,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 17:1
  • Midwestern State University

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $8,917
    • Out-of-State: $18,733
  • Net Price: $4,419
  • Retention Rate: 81%
  • Graduation Rate: 47%
  • Total Enrollment: 32,441
  • Undergrad Students: 26,762
  • Graduate Students: 5,679
  • Diplomas Awarded: 13
  • Grads Salary: $62,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 21:1
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

University of South Dakota

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $9,432
    • Out-of-State: $12,942
  • Net Price: $18,480
  • Retention Rate: 81%
  • Graduation Rate: 60%
  • Total Enrollment: 9,459
  • Undergrad Students: 7,103
  • Graduate Students: 2,356
  • Diplomas Awarded: 11
  • Grads Salary: $64,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 15:1
  • University of South Dakota

Eastern Washington University

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $7,922
    • Out-of-State: $25,748
  • Net Price: $13,650
  • Retention Rate: 71%
  • Graduation Rate: 50%
  • Total Enrollment: 12,349
  • Undergrad Students: 10,292
  • Graduate Students: 2,057
  • Diplomas Awarded: 19
  • Grads Salary: $65,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 21:1
  • Eastern Washington University

Northwestern State University of Louisiana

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $8,672
    • Out-of-State: $19,460
  • Net Price: $13,500
  • Retention Rate: 76%
  • Graduation Rate: 44%
  • Total Enrollment: 11,447
  • Undergrad Students: 10,321
  • Graduate Students: 1,126
  • Diplomas Awarded: 23
  • Grads Salary: $63,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 19:1
  • Northwestern State University of Louisiana

Alvernia University

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $39,280
    • Out-of-State: $39,280
  • Net Price: $24,917
  • Retention Rate: 71%
  • Graduation Rate: 65%
  • Total Enrollment: 2,560
  • Undergrad Students: 2,045
  • Graduate Students: 515
  • Diplomas Awarded: 31
  • Grads Salary: $65,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 14:1
  • Alvernia University

Beal University

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $21,900
    • Out-of-State: $21,900
  • Net Price: $19,722
  • Retention Rate: 88%
  • Graduation Rate: 63%
  • Total Enrollment: 493
  • Undergrad Students: 493
  • Graduate Students: 0
  • Diplomas Awarded: NA
  • Grads Salary: $58,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 15:1
  • Beal University

Bay Path University

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $35,781
    • Out-of-State: $35,781
  • Net Price: $19,177
  • Retention Rate: 70%
  • Graduation Rate: 60%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,224
  • Undergrad Students: 1,795
  • Graduate Students: 1,429
  • Diplomas Awarded: 2
  • Grads Salary: $61,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 12:1
  • Bay Path University
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Certificate vs. Bachelor's

What Substance Abuse Counseling Bachelor’s Degrees are Available Online?

  • Online Bachelor of Arts in Substance Abuse Counseling:
    A BA in Substance Abuse Counseling is a type of degree that is likely to focus less on hard scientific data and instead focus on theory. However, the degree relies on academic, peer-reviewed subject matter. Your BA will be firm ground for later degrees.
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling:
    Your BS in Substance Abuse Counseling will typically focus more on hard data. That is, you might study the statistics related to addiction and the physiology behind how drugs impact the body. You will still learn the theories that drive psychology and counseling and you will still be a dynamic, effective clinician.
  • Online Bachelor of Applied Arts in Substance Abuse Counseling:
    Applied Arts degrees are a great way to train your studies clearly on your professional life. They are less concerned with academically approved research or peer-reviewed papers. This degree type is fantastic for the working world, but it might not translate very well when you seek a graduate degree.
  • Online Bachelor of Applied Science in Substance Abuse Counseling:
    When you enroll in a BAS degree program online, you should discuss the program’s standing in the academic community. That is, make sure that your credits will transfer to a graduate program. Some BAS programs are partnered with graduate schools, but you’ll need to discuss the issue with your adviser.

Admission Requirements

Every school has its own admissions standards for its undergraduates. Further, there are schools that have one set of standards for incoming first-year students and then you must apply to your online degree program separately, after two years of study.

In general, you should strive for the highest GPA you can while in high school, or community college. If possible, complete an internship in a drug rehab facility or some other social services setting. Finally, you’ll need to submit scores from the SAT or ACT. The better you score, the greater your chances are of entering a top college.

How long does it take to earn an Online Substance Abuse Counseling Bachelor's?

Most online bachelor’s degree programs are designed to take four years to complete. However, some colleges have strenuous requirements that might result in an extra term. Then there are some concurrent baccalaureate/graduate programs that take five years, but which result in a graduate degree.

Government research shows that students are typically expected to graduate from a four-year program in around six years. Students all have individual reasons for taking the extra time. However, seek to finish your baccalaureate degree in a timely manner. Before you enroll, have a game plan for staying on track for a four-year finish.

Additional Addiction Counseling Coursework

Potential Careers in Substance Abuse Counseling with an online Bachelor’s

  • Social Worker:
    This professional heading covers a wide range of positions. Social workers work in private practice as psychotherapists, as case managers, or as in-home providers for disabled people.
    The median salary for social workers is: $49,500.
  • Case Manager:
    Professionals in this occupation seek to help a specific population. Your caseload might focus on developmentally disabled people, recovering drug addicts, houseless individuals, or low-income elderly people who suffer dementia. You’ll need to keep track of everyone in your caseload.
    The average salary for this position is: $39,400.
  • Health Educator:
    This is a fantastic way to both serve the public good and work as a teacher. Health educators often specialize on certain topics, such as dental health, sexually transmitted diseases, or drug abuse and addiction.
    Professionals in this occupation earn an average salary of: $46,100.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor:
    Professionals in this field are on the front lines of our growing Opioid Epidemic, but also are seeking to still help alcoholics, methamphetamine addicts, and those over-prescribed with benzodiazepines.
    The national average pay for this position is: $38,800.

Salary by Occupation

Occupations Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Program Manager $44,400 $54,900 $60,200
Rehabilitation Director $79,600 $89,600 $96,600
Certified Addiction Drug and Alcohol Counselor $37,200 $40,700 $42,700
Clinical Psychologist $62,300 $63,800 $76,700
Licensed Clinical Social Worker $48,100 $59,400 $65,000

Options to Advance

Once you become a licensed substance abuse counselor, you will one day wish to advance your career to the next level. Depending on your state, you might be able to operate in private practice and thus become your own boss. You might even start your own private rehabilitation clinic.

However, if you continue working as an employee, you will likely need to augment your credentials with additional study. Employers will respond very positively if you graduate with an online master's degree or if you attain new certifications. You could even complete an online master's certificate in a bid to become a supervisor or otherwise move into Administration.

In general, you will want to work hard, seek the best outcomes for your clients, and be an advocate for them. The field of substance abuse counseling is not one that focuses on individual achievement so much as the outcomes you can facilitate for others. However, if you achieve great results, you are sure to be rewarded.


Frequently Asked Questions

What might be the worst part of being a substance abuse counselor?

One of the hardest things of being a counselor of any kind is when you have particularly troubled patients. In the case of substance abuse, you will certainly, at some point in your career, have patients that relapse or even die from overdoses after you have been working with them. This is something that can be incredibly hard to deal with and you’ll need to be prepared to work through your emotions while still finding time for other patients. This can be the hardest part of this job.

Will I have to go on to earn a master’s degree?

The answer to this question strongly depends on where you plan to work. You might work in a state where you can expect to have to earn a master’s degree to gain full licensure, or you might work in a state where you only need to have an associate degree with the right courses included. No matter where you are, you’re going to need licensure, and that means finding out what the requirements are. You can talk to your school’s counseling department if you’ve already started a program or check online with your state’s licensing department for counselors or specifically for substance abuse counselors. No matter what the requirements are, it’s best to find out as early as possible so that you can make sure you are getting all the education and experience you need.

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