United States Masters in Substance Abuse Counseling

Masters in addiction counseling programs prepare students to work with people struggling with substance abuse or other addictive behaviors, using evidence-based practices and top techniques. Programs may also examine the psychosocial impact of addiction on individuals and families, and how therapy might assist clients in best dealing with those impacts. Counselors work with individuals or groups of substance abusers and sometimes their friends and families. Students may choose to earn their masters degree in addiction counseling online or in campus-based programs.

Masters in Addiction Counseling Curriculum

Masters in substance abuse counseling programs are typically multi-pronged. For example, they may focus on diverse topics like chemical and psychological dependency; potential causes of addiction, its impact on family, research addressing its treatment, and current theories and practices regarding therapy. In addition, students in graduate-level programs might choose to complete a practicum and internship prior to graduation. Most programs also require students to take and pass a comprehensive exam at the end of their programs.

Example Substance Abuse Counseling Masters Program Courses

As mentioned above, students seeking an addiction counseling masters degree typically need to complete both core and electives coursework. Some examples of common course subjects and topics of discussion may include:

  • Introduction to counseling and rehabilitation
  • Ethical and legal aspects of the profession
  • Psychiatric and social rehabilitation
  • Counseling theories and philosophies
  • Family treatment in substance abuse rehabilitation
  • Group counseling
  • Addictive behavior
  • Human growth and development
  • Biological factors of addiction
  • Multicultural counseling in rehabilitation

These and other subjects commonly constitute the core for masters in addiction counseling programs. Beyond the core, many programs allow students to specialize their degrees. This could be accomplished through elective course options or even a formal concentration.

Some examples of common elective subjects may include:

  • Detoxification
  • Inpatient rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and clinics
  • Outpatient counseling and treatment
  • Substance abuse counseling administration, politics, and economics
  • Legal rights and ethics of the profession

These are just some of the many directions students might take to specialize their degrees.

Licensure & Certification Information

Many positions within the field of substance abuse counseling, especially those involving a private practice or the delivery of psychiatric treatment, require professionals to obtain state licensure. In most states, students need to have earned a master’s degree and worked a certain number of supervised hours in the field prior to testing for licensure. Students can visit the National Board for Certified Counselors to determine the licensure requirements in their states.

Addiction Counseling Professional Organizations

There are numerous professional organizations and industry resources throughout the United States and world that rehabilitation counseling professionals and students may join and utilize. Some include:

  • The Association for Addiction Professionals (also known as the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors) (NAADAC)
  • The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • The American Counseling Association (ACA)
  • The American Mental Health Counselors Association (ACC)

Students and professionals may also join state-based professional organizations that focus on the field of substance abuse counseling and psychology.

Areas of Specialization for Substance Abuse Counseling Graduate Students

Some masters in addiction counseling programs may allow students to select a formal concentration to further tailor their studies. This may center on a certain type of patient or type of therapy, or a unique professional role. Substance abuse counselors may specialize in a variety of areas:

  • Individual or group counseling
  • Family counseling
  • Substance abuse of drugs, alcohol, or food
  • Medical or psychosocial diagnoses, analyses, and treatment
  • Substance abuse research
  • Specific populations (teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities, for example)
  • Crises or non-crises intervention

These and many other areas of specialization may be options for students seeking to pursue careers as substance abuse counseling professionals.

Careers in Addiction Counseling

Substance abuse counselors work in an array of capacities and settings. They work as counselors, therapists, educators, program and case administrators or facilitators, or in any number of other roles. They might work in public, private, or non-profit institutions on a local, state, or national scale, and they might work independently or with others as a part of a program, support system, or treatment facility. Substance abuse counselors work wherever there is a need for substance abuse counseling, education, or treatment. To learn more about how to become a substance abuse counselor, contact your selected school or program for details.i

Masters Degree in Addiction Counseling Salary & Outlook

In 2016 the median annual salary for substance abuse counselors was $42,160. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors will increase by 20% between 2016 and 2026. This increase means that about 28,200 new potential career opportunities may become available to individuals holding a master's degree in substance abuse counseling.i

Salary of Substance Abuse Counselor


source: [i] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm