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Are you seeking a meaningful career path centered on making a positive impact in your community? Do you want to help motivate people to change their lives for the better? Let compassion evolve into action by earning your Bachelor's in Human Services with a concentration in Substance Abuse online at SNHU.
If you're passionate about helping those with substance use disorder on the road to recovery, this online substance abuse counseling program serves as an important educational first step toward becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. Throughout the program, you'll receive specialized training and tools you need to support sufferers of alcoholism, drug addiction and other substance use disorders as they endeavor to restore their lives and relationships.
In this program, you'll learn how to:
Note: This program does not directly lead to licensure since the licensure process and educational requirements for drug and alcohol counselors vary by state. To learn more about licensure, see the Career Outlook section on this page.
With addiction taking a toll on individuals, families and communities across the country, substance abuse has become a topic at the forefront of American politics. As the conversation has shifted away from punishment of drug offenses and toward prioritizing effective prevention and intervention methods, the need for highly educated community workers with a background in substance abuse has increased.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that positions for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors are projected to increase 22% from 2018 to 2028 – much faster than the national average for all occupations.2
"Recent increases in federal and state resources designed to combat the opioid epidemic, such as the 2018 SUPPORT Act, will likely increase these opportunities even further," said Seth Matthews, associate dean of social sciences at SNHU.
By earning your online substance abuse counseling degree, you'll put yourself in a great position to provide entry-level services. Working with individuals, groups or families, you might find employment in places like residential addiction treatment facilities, outpatient addiction programs, state drug courts, prisons, mental health centers, community health centers and private practices.
Most jobs in this area are full-time positions, and since your work may be with clients in crisis, some require that you work hours outside of a regular 9-to-5 schedule. Potential job titles include:
If you want to earn your online substance abuse counseling degree to provide direct services that involve screening, assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning and treatment of substance use disorder, you will likely need to seek state licensure.
While coursework in the substance abuse concentration often covers a state's educational requirement for licensure, you'll likely need to complete supervised practical training, too. If you're interested in becoming a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, you should contact your state board or agency for additional information regarding the licensure process and educational requirements.
Be aware that licensure requirements vary state to state. If you move to another state, you'll need to determine the licensure requirements in the state to which you relocate. Southern New Hampshire University does not guarantee that the completion of this program will result in state licensure or certification. To see how our program fits in with your state’s path to licensure, SNHU has provided a downloadable document with links to the individual state licensure boards.
While many students pursuing this degree also choose to seek licensure, it’s important to remember that a license is not required for many roles in human services.
“Substance abuse treatment and supports have become foundational within the human services field,” said Matthews. “Agencies and other employers that may not directly treat substance use value the experience and education of those versed in substance abuse treatment, as many of their clients may be dealing with co-occurring substance abuse disorders.”
Because addiction can affect every part of a person's life, people living with substance use disorder often face additional hardships. These could include legal matters, domestic violence, housing insecurity, employment issues, underlying trauma and co-occurring mental illness.
Since the knowledge you'll learn in this substance abuse counselor degree program is valuable to all kinds of employers, it's easy to see how your career could lead you to employment in an organization that doesn't necessarily focus on substance abuse. You could find work in places like community centers, homeless shelters, family resource centers, juvenile detention centers, prisons, schools and more.
With no set class meeting times, you can learn on your schedule and access online course materials 24/7.
Take advantage of some of the lowest online tuition rates in the nation, plus financial aid for those who qualify. We also make it easy to transfer to SNHU by accepting up to 90 credits from your previous institution.
Founded in 1932, Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit institution with over 100,000 graduates across the country. SNHU is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), which advocates for institutional improvement and public assurance of quality.
Recently, Southern New Hampshire University has been nationally recognized for leading the way toward more innovative, affordable and achievable education:
As a Southern New Hampshire University student, you'll have access to a powerful network of more than 200,000 peers, alumni and staff that can help support you long after graduation. Our instructors offer relevant, real-world expertise to help you understand and navigate your industry. Plus, with our growing, nationwide alumni network, you'll have the potential to tap into a number of internship and career opportunities.
96.5% of students would recommend SNHU.* Discover why SNHU may be right for you.
Part of SNHU's mission statement is to expand access to quality higher education means removing the barriers that may stand between you and your degree. That’s why you can apply at any time and get an acceptance decision within days of submitting all of your required materials.
Decisions are made on a rolling basis throughout the year for our 6 (8-week) undergraduate terms.
Simply contact an admission counselor, who can help you explore financial options, answer all your questions and walk you through the application process. Start by:
Test scores are not required as part of your application.
Coursework for the substance abuse concentration explores the process of diagnosing, treating and reintroducing an individual recovering from substance use disorder to a healthy, sustainable life. You'll learn about screening techniques, prevention strategies, pharmacological factors and more.
"Our courses are designed to empower our graduates with the tools they need to help those in our communities who are struggling with substance abuse," said Seth Matthews, associate dean of social sciences. "From the early stages of helping someone understand they have a problem, through diagnosis, treatment and recovery supports, substance abuse concentration graduates are equipped and prepared to support life changing transformations in their client’s lives."
Core courses in the human services degree online curriculum highlight the importance of law and ethics, confidentiality and case management. The addition of the substance abuse concentration includes new courses that focus on each step of the prevention, intervention and rehabilitation process.
The substance abuse degree concentration has been designed with the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) in mind to teach you the 12 Core Functions of a drug and alcohol counselor, including:
Courses in the substance abuse concentration are taught by practicing professionals who bring years of experience to their teaching. You’ll develop the research and communication skills needed to identify and assess community resources for your clients, conduct assessments and interview and assist clients who need services.
At the end of the substance abuse counselor degree program, you'll have knowledge and skills that will help position you for success in the field of human services. You'll demonstrate your newly gained skill set in a capstone experience that allows you to apply what you've learned to the real world.
Note: While the Bachelor of Arts in Human Services with a concentration in Substance Abuse offered by Southern New Hampshire University does not directly lead to licensure, it does provide a significant portion of the substance abuse coursework most often required for licensure. Students seeking licensure or certification may be required to complete additional coursework and will be required to complete fieldwork as prescribed by each state. Most states also require a passing score on a licensing exam. If you'd like to learn more about becoming licensed in your state, you can download this document for links to individual state licensure boards.
Curriculum Requirements & Resources
Total Credits: 120
Tuition rates for SNHU's online degree programs are among the lowest in the nation. We offer financial aid packages to those who qualify, plus a 30% tuition discount for U.S. service members, both full and part time, and the spouses of those on active duty.
*Tuition Rates are subject to change and are reviewed annually.
No Application Fee, $150 Graduation Fee, Course Materials ($ varies by course)
Addiction counselors work with clients struggling to overcome substance abuse. Those drawn to this profession are passionate about helping substance abusers recover from their addictions and live better lives.
Your path to becoming a substance abuse counselor can take many directions, but a specialized bachelor’s degree – such as this BA in Human Services with a concentration in Substance Abuse or an online psychology degree with a concentration in addiction – gives you the best chance for career success. It also provides a highly transferable skill set that can vastly improve your ability to help clients.
For instance, our program teaches you how to navigate a complex system of regulations, a skill you’ll draw on repeatedly. You’ll also learn how to use evidence-based practice to evaluate clients. And you’ll be prepared to work in a wide range of settings, including halfway houses, detox centers and prisons, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).2
Our 120-credit program consists of coursework in psychology, sociology, human services and public health. Core courses highlight the importance of law and ethics, confidentiality and case management. You’ll finish up with a capstone that lets you apply what you've learned to the real world. The program can be completed entirely online, typically within 4 years. (Note: This program does not guarantee licensure; requirements vary by state.)
Breaking into the field of substance abuse counseling takes less time than mental health counseling, which generally requires a master's degree. However, most employers look for relevant work experience or a higher level of education than high school, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).2
“You could get a certification without a degree, and you could start a career that way,” said Seth Matthews, associate dean of human services at Southern New Hampshire University. “But without that academic foundation of the bachelor’s degree, you’re going to hit a wall.”
Substance abuse counselor degree programs train students to observe and interview patients, carry out treatment plans, and handle crisis situations. Many programs include opportunities to participate in fieldwork to provide hands-on experiences. Such practical experience can go a long way toward fulfilling your career aspirations to become an addiction counselor.
While many substance abuse counseling positions call for at least a bachelor’s degree, requirements vary by state. Some jobs require a master’s degree while others look for only a combination of a high school diploma and certification, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).2
However, your level of education can often limit the responsibilities you are given. The BLS notes that human service assistants with high school diplomas, for instance, tend to do more menial work, like helping clients complete paperwork.
Generally speaking, you need at least a bachelor’s in human services, counseling, rehabilitation, social work or a related field to advance to case management work.
If you want to screen, assess, diagnose and treat people living with substance use disorder, you'll need to seek licensure. Licensing processes vary by state, but most include educational requirements and supervised clinical experience. Additionally, you'll likely need to pass a state-issued exam and pursue continuing education each year.
Those interested in progressing into a program that leads to licensure should explore SNHU’s online master's in clinical mental health counseling – a valuable next step once you’ve earned your undergraduate-level substance abuse counselor degree.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates 25% of American adults struggle with substance use disorders.3 That trend is driving an increased demand for substance abuse counselors. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 22% growth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselor occupations through 2028 – much faster than the average for all occupations.2
There’s another major factor contributing to the demand – drug offenders. The BLS notes that in recent years, the criminal justice system has recognized that offenders with substance use disorder are less likely to offend again if they get treatment. As a result, many states have begun to mandate treatment and counseling services for drug offenders in lieu of jail time.
Military veterans make up another significant portion of a substance abuse counselor’s caseload. More than 10% of veterans have a substance use disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.4
Societal trends combined with the growing need for substance abuse counselors make this an ideal time to pursue a substance abuse degree.
If you’re eager to get into the field, you don’t have to wait until you complete your substance abuse counselor degree. Many substance abuse clinics have positions that offer students the chance to gain practical experience while working toward a degree and/or license.
“There’s a desperate need for peer support, parenting support, mentorships,” said Seth Matthews, associate dean of human services at Southern New Hampshire University. “There are all these jobs out there related to substance abuse treatment that don’t require the need for a certification to get your foot in the door.”
It’s also worth noting that graduates of SNHU's substance abuse degree concentration are prepared to provide entry-level, non-licensure services. That can open you up to immediate opportunities in residential addiction treatment facilities, outpatient addiction programs and more.
The field of human services has expanded as awareness of issues like substance abuse and addiction has grown. Greater patient advocacy has also removed much of the stigma around these conditions. As a result, there are more types of counselors and greater numbers of them.
Today, there are counselors working with people who struggle with mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence and health conditions. There are also counselors specifically trained to help people handle grief or manage stress. They work in the private and nonprofit sectors, as well as in government.
Counseling services can be provided by professionals with a wide range of educational backgrounds and licenses, including clinical psychologists, clinical mental health counselors, clinical social workers, and licensed drug and alcohol counselors.
SNHU's bachelor’s in human services offers a choice of 3 concentrations – child and family services, gerontology and substance abuse – that can help you get started in a rewarding profession helping others.
Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit institution accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) as well as several other accrediting bodies.
*According to more than 9,200 SNHU online students in survey responses from the fall of 2019.
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, on the internet, at:
Cited projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth.
3National Alliance on Mental Illness, at https://nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2018/Overcoming-Barriers-to-Recovery (viewed April 30, 2020)
4National Institute on Drug Abuse, at https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/ substance-use-military-life (viewed April 30, 2020)