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Top 10 Online Master’s Programs in Addiction/Substance Abuse Counseling

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When addressing the profession of counseling, the premier organization mentioned is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). CACREP accredits master’s and doctoral degree programs in counseling and its specialties that are offered by colleges and universities in the United States and throughout the world. Master’s degree counseling programs accredited by CACREP are: Addiction, Career, Clinical Mental Health, Clinical Rehabilitation, Marriage, Couple & Family, School, and Students Affairs & College. With respect to this article, addiction counseling is mostly a non-accredited specialty. In fact, there are only 7 U.S. universities/colleges with  a CACREP accredited Addiction Counseling program. Only one of these has an online master’s degree in this subject, and that school is rated #1 in the following ranking.

Other factors taken into account in this ranking are the school’s history, counseling program specifics, nationally recognized awards and accolades, as well as a our analysis of each school as a whole. Whenever the words “Top” or “Best” are used, there will always be variances. This is where you, as the career professional or continuing student, can determine which program is best-as it relates to your ambitions.

1. University of the Cumberlands

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For more than 125 years, University of the Cumberlands, located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, has provided promising students of all backgrounds a first-class, liberal arts education within a Christian context. Our dedication to academic excellence shines through in our selection of top-rate faculty and outstanding programs, both on campus and online. Eighty percent of our faculty have earned the highest degree in their field, bringing a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to students. The school offers a trove of online programs at the bachelor’s. masters and doctorate levels. One of which is the Master of Arts in Professional Counseling (MAPC). This is fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) that will lead you to become a licensed professional counselor.

Their Addiction Counseling specialization is a dual licensure track fulfilling the requirements for becoming a licensed professional counselor and licensed/certified addiction counselor. The University’s School of Counseling, offers the only CACREP accredited online Addiction Counseling program in the country. This is a fast-growing field and this program will assist you in developing specialized skills to work with this population. With this specialization, you’ll learn to apply addiction counseling intervention and prevention theories, models and approaches to individuals and groups. You’ll also articulate knowledge, skills and best practices related to addiction counseling, and select appropriate assessments to evaluate, diagnose, and develop a treatment plan for clients.

This 60 credit hours track (addiction) will provide you with the following specialization courses:

  • Psychopharmacology & Addictions
  • Motivation & Change
  • Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment
  • Spirituality & Values in Counseling

Tuition: $400 per credit hour or $24,000  total tuition

2. Indiana Wesleyan

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Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) is an evangelical Christian comprehensive university of The Wesleyan Church. The University was founded in 1920 as Marion College and is committed to liberal arts and professional education. IWU offers more than 80 undergraduate degrees, 38 graduate degrees and 5 doctorate degrees and students represent more than 80 Christian denominations and 10 foreign countries. It is recognized by G. I. Jobs magazine as a “Military Friendly School.” They are also one of America’s most dynamic Christian colleges, offering a rigorous, values-based curriculum to equip you as a critical thinker, effective communicator, and responsible leader for today’s global world.

Indiana Wesleyan University  believes  there is a need to help the addicted in the greater community of America and the world. To assist individuals in breaking these addictions, this school wants to prepare students to work in a variety of mental health settings. With this objective, they offer a Master’s degree in Addiction Counseling that allows participants to gain hands-on experience while being clinically supervised by men and women of diverse cultural backgrounds who hold Ph. D.s in a variety of areas related to counseling.

The 48-credit-hour Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling degree program helps prepare students to meet credential requirements. The program adheres to current evidence-based practice, integrating a Christian worldview with a behavioral and social sciences orientation. Through its undergraduate and graduate Addictions Counseling programs, the institution is an Approved Education Provider of  NAADAC, the National Association for Addiction Professionals. The graduate level Addictions Counseling programs are also accredited through NASAC, the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission.

Tuition: $520 per credit hour

3. University of South Dakota

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When the first Legislature of the Dakota Territory met in 1862, it authorized the establishment of the University at Vermillion, making it the oldest post-secondary institution in the Dakotas. The University of South Dakota‘s (USD) first academic unit, the College of Arts & Sciences, was established in 1883. The School of Law began offering classes in 1901; the School of Medicine in 1907; Continuing Education in 1916; the Graduate School in 1927; and the College of Fine Arts in 1931.

Their Master of Arts in Addiction Studies program offers professionals courses leading to an advanced level of competency. Graduates will be eligible for the highest level of addiction/prevention credentialing in South Dakota. Individuals outside South Dakota should contact their state chemical dependency certification board to ensure courses meet their requirements which may differ by state.

This online Master of Arts in Addiction Studies program can be completed in as little as 33 credit hours (advanced track), or as many as 45 credit hours (standard track), depending on your Certification and academic background. All courses required for state Alcohol/Drug Certification are provided at the University of South Dakota by the Addiction Studies Department and are the only USD courses specific to alcohol/drug studies that have been approved by the South Dakota Board of Addiction and Prevention Professionals. M.A. degree recipients will be on their way to being an expert in addiction counseling and alcohol and drug abuse treatment.

Tuition: $442.05 per credit hour (no additional fees)

4. Governors State University

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Founded in 1969 and located in Illinois, Governors State University (GSU) is a four-year public university that champions openness, innovation and flexibility. Serving more than 5,500 students, GSU offers 64 degree and 24 certificate programs and our students earn the qualifications needed to succeed in business, industry, healthcare, the arts and education.

The school offers a Master of Health Science (MHS) in Addictions Studies degree program prepares leaders in addictions prevention and treatment. The curriculum emphasizes state-of-the-art, evidence-based approaches to addictions — giving students the skills and background they need to meet the changing needs of clients and their communities. The program is offered in 3 formats: on-campus 100%, hybrid-with 50% online, or fully online. Whichever you chose, this comprehensive program includes pharmacology, prevention, counseling, and group techniques. The courses integrate the knowledge into a thorough investigation of treatment programs, from planning to management.

The MHS program is fully accredited by the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association (IAODAPCA) — and graduates meet the education requirements for practice as certified addictions’ counselors. The Master of Health Science in Addictions Studies program is also accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC), which is the only accrediting body that represents addiction-focused educators and practitioners. Qualified students may also take the criminal justice internship option to meet the requirements for the Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professional.

GSU’s online Master of Health Science in Addictions Studies degree program has been recognized by OnlineColleges.net as one of the best in the country. The program was ranked second among the top five programs in the nation.

Tuition: $307 per credit hour     

5. Monmouth University

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Monmouth was founded in 1933 to provide an opportunity for higher education to area high school graduates who, in those Depression-era days, could not afford to go away to college. It was a two-year institution, holding classes only in the evening. Today, Monmouth University offers 32 undergraduate and 24 graduate degree programs and a multitude of certificate programs. This relatively small (6,300 students) institution has accumulated its share of accolades: US News & World Report list of Best Colleges 2016; The Princeton review Best Business Schools 2017; and Money Magazine’s Best Colleges for the money.

Monmouth University offers a Master of Arts in Addiction Studies ― a 33-credit degree designed to prepare you to become a Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Counselor (LCADC). Whether you’re building on your undergraduate degree or changing careers and require the LCADC license, the Master’s in Addiction Studies will give you the skills you need to work in a wide range of treatment programs or start your own practice. The LCADC license also allows you to be a private practitioner and to receive third party payment through a variety of health insurance companies. This program is presented by their School of Humanities and Social Sciences in conjunction with the Department of Professional Counseling.

Monmouth’s comprehensive program fulfills the educational requirements for the LCADC license in New Jersey, enabling you to work in many settings in the substance abuse treatment field. meets the 270 classroom hours of alcohol and drug specific education that is required for the LCADC license. It is important to note that the LCADC license requires completion of 3,000 supervised field hours and passing a written national alcohol/drug counselor exam, however those requirements are generally completed after you receive your master’s degree. Their M.A. in Addiction Studies is accredited by the International Coalition for Addiction Studies Education (INCASE) and the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC).

Tuition: $1,098 per credit

6. Ottawa University

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Founded in 1865, Ottawa University began with the Ottawa Indian tribe. The University’s roots can be found in the work of Baptist missionaries in collaboration with the Tribe then located on the banks of the Marais des Cygnes (“river of swans”) in what would become the town of Ottawa, Kansas, located approximately 40 miles southwest of Kansas City. By the early 1970s, Ottawa University was increasingly recognized as one of the most innovative institutions in higher education.

The Master of Arts in Counseling – Addictions Counseling degree program prepares learners to pursue careers as addiction counseling professionals, treating individuals with substance abuse/dependency disorders. The curriculum integrates theory, research, and practice. Graduates may work in a variety of settings including private practice, substance abuse clinics, group practices, and hospital settings. A master’s degree is a required by most states for individuals seeking the highest level of licensing and/or certification. This degree program meets the educational requirements for licensure in Arizona for the Licensed Associate Substance Abuse Counselor (LASAC). The Addictions Counseling program meets the educational requirements, in most states, for licensure or certification.

Additionally, Ottawa University offers graduate students the opportunity to gain deeper knowledge in a specialty area by completing one of six concentrations: Addictions Counseling, Christian Counseling; Expressive Arts Therapy; Gerocounseling; Marriage and Family Therapy; or Treatment of Trauma, Abuse and Deprivation. The Addictions Counseling specialty is also accredited by the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC).

Tuition: $385 per hour; $11,670 2014-15 academic year

7. Post University

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Since Post’s founding in 1890 as a business school to support the training and educational needs of the blossoming industries of central Connecticut, it has been an excellent choice for career-minded individuals. Their devotion to online learning has earned stellar results. According to the 2015 Noel-Levitz Priorities Survey for Online Learners (PSOL), Post University students are more satisfied on nearly every one of the standard survey items compared to the national averages for online learners attending other institutions. This PSOL result was achieved 4 years in a row.

The school offers a Master of Science in Human Services (MSHSV) with an Alcohol & Drug Counseling Concentration for those who prefer to study in an accelerated degree program while you stay in your current career. When you earn your degree, you’ll be prepared to engage in the important work of Alcohol and Drug Counseling while you advance your professional development. You may also be able to apply credits toward earning your professional counseling licensure. Students taking the MSHSV in Alcohol and Drug Counseling program will:

  • Understand the complex issues regarding alcohol and drug addiction within American society, including multicultural issues and ethical considerations.
  • Expand your background of the biological, psychological, and sociological effects of short and/or long-term use of substances has on the individual, family, community, or society.
  • Learn the most current assessment, diagnosis, and treatment in the field of addictions including individual, group, self-help, and psychopharmacology methods.

You will benefit from regular contact with and feedback from professors, as well as the opportunity to learn from and interact with other working professionals. Their highly interactive online classes are offered in eight-week modules, six times a year, making it possible for you to complete your degree in Alcohol and Drug Counseling in less time without sacrificing quality.

The M.S. in Human Services program is a total of 37 credits; the concentrations portion of the degree is a total of 12 credits. This is not a licensure program. If you’re interested in becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor, you will need to consult your state of residence, as licensure qualifications vary in each state.

Tuition: $570 per credit hour

8. Aspen University

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Aspen University is a United States-based private, for-profit higher education institution. It is a nationally-accredited, distance learning university that was established in 1987. Aspen University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing, education, computer science, technology, information systems, business, project management, counseling, and criminal justice. Their Bachelor’s & Master’s degrees in Psychology of Addiction and Counseling are approved by the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors.

The Master of Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling is offered by the School of Professional Studies. This program is structured around courses that address fundamental theories of individual and family counseling as well as addiction-specific topics related to the treatment and prevention of substance abuse. Students pursuing this degree must complete prerequisite courses in Research in Counseling, Addiction Counseling Theory and Practice, and Psychology of Addiction. Also, the coursework is designed to be completed within 3 years.

Students who complete the 48 credit hours program will graduate with a solid understanding of addiction, including its psychological and neurological aspects and appropriate treatments, as well as theories of substance abuse prevention and approaches to counseling both individuals and families. Prior to graduation, students seeking licensure will complete a counseling practicum; students who are already licensed, or who are not interested in seeking licensure, will complete a research based project.

Note that Aspen is a Nationally Accredited (NA) school but it is not Regionally Accredited (RA). Nowadays most employers are not concerned with the lack of RA, according to a statement made by this institution.

Tuition: $325 per credit hour; or $325 per month

9. University of the Rockies

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The precursor to University of the Rockies, the Colorado School of Professional Psychology (COSPP), was founded on June 18, 1998, in Colorado Springs. It was established to provide a professional graduate education in psychology to individuals seeking licensure as psychologists or as practitioners in other arenas of the profession. Bridgepoint Education, Inc. acquired the institution in 2007 and renamed it University of the Rockies. The following year, the University sought permission to offer online courses and began the online delivery of two degrees: the Master of Arts in Psychology and the Doctor of Psychology.

The school offers a Master of Arts in Counseling that is designed for students to discover the world of human thought process, emotion, and motivation. You will discover how to implement the insights of counseling in the real-world domains through 3 specializations:

  • Addiction Counseling
  • Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  • Marriage, Couples, and Family Counseling

Those selecting Addiction Counseling will explore theoretical and applied psychology and counseling to understand human development, child and adult psychopathology and treatment, professional ethics, assessment and statistics, and counseling techniques. You will also complete practicum and internship experiences that will allow you to apply your skills and knowledge. Students must also complete 5 hours of personal psychotherapy and maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. The courses are offered in an accelerated nine-week format and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The program consists of a total of 61 credits.

Tuition: $857 per credit

10. Capella University

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For over 20 years, Capella University has educated working adults through online classrooms and continual support. And for the past 10 years, the school has wholly-integrated and continually invested in a competency-based learning approach throughout the university. As a result, they’ve been able to map academic and professional standards to all of their degree programs. As a consequence, more than 500 organizations have chose Capella as an education partner for their employees.

Students can earn a master’s degree in Addiction Studies in as little as two years with a curriculum that covers theoretical and practical skills necessary to offer treatment for addictive behavior. This program includes a course in supervision and program management along with 300 hours of internship to complement your academic coursework. This aligns with the common International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium requirements that states have set for credentialing examinations.

Graduates of the online Addiction Studies degree can prepare you for positions in treatment and prevention programs, as well as general clinical settings where addiction professionals serve as members of a treatment team. Common jobs include addictions counselor, case manager, chemical dependency counselor, chemical dependency professional, clinical counselor, and correctional substance abuse counselor. The 48 credit hour program is designed to provide graduate-level counseling competencies necessary to help these individuals. The program incorporates online coursework and a residency embedded in a 6-week course, which lets you learn and practice basic skills in your specialization.

Tuition: $518 per credit hour

10. Liberty University (tie)

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In 1971, Pastor Jerry Falwell Sr. challenged his congregation at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. to establish a Christian college whose students would “go out in all walks of life to impact this world for God.” It has grown from a small college of 154 students into the nation’s fifth largest university and the largest Christian university in the world. Plus, Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate, bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, and doctoral degrees.

Their online Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling program provides you with the education and training required for certification and/or licensure as a substance abuse or addiction counselor. This program is designed to meet or exceed many national and state board requirements. Courses provide you with a strong understanding of biblical counseling principles and strategies in order to best care for others. The program consists of a total of 45 hours of Core Courses and 3 hours of Electives. A sampling of the Core Courses are:

  • Ethical & Legal Issues in Counseling
  • Theories of Counseling
  • Research & Program Evaluation
  • Assessment Techniques in Counseling
  • Psychopathology & Counseling
  • Counseling Internship
  • Addiction & the Recovery Process
  • Biological Aspects of Addiction & Recovery
  • Treatment & the Recovery Process

Students must successfully complete six hours of undergraduate coursework in counseling, psychology or related study and three hours in statistics. For those who did not complete these course in their undergraduate programs, they may fulfill these prerequisite requirements during the first semesters of the program.

The online school runs unilaterally with the semester program offered at Liberty University’s campus. One difference with LU Online is that students take 16-week (full semester) classes for a few of their cataloged courses while the remainder are taken in 8-week subterms.

Tuition: $565 per credit hour; Military: $275

Final notes: National certification vs state license/licensure:

National counselor certification from the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) demonstrates to the public and employers that the counselor has met the national standards set by the counseling profession. It is not a license to practice. In some states, holding a national certification can assist the counselor in obtaining a state license. In some states, holding a national certification can assist the counselor in obtaining a state license. National certification travels with the counselor no matter the state or country of residence.

A state license in counseling is literally permission from a particular state to practice counseling or to call oneself a licensed counselor. Some states have a single license and some have a two-tiered system. As stated in the body of this article, the requirements vary state to state, but all require at least a Master’s degree and/or counseling experience, and/or passing score on the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and/or National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Again, consult your state of residency or state of planned practice for details.

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