Why Earn an MS in Addiction Counseling?

Addiction counselor leading group therapy session

Becoming an addiction counselor is a great career option if you want to instill positive change in your community. For those who want to pursue a rewarding career in addiction counseling, earning a Master of Science in Addiction Counseling is often the next step after earning a bachelor’s degree. Keep reading to discover how you can learn to treat addictions and become an addiction counselor after earning this degree.

What Is an Addiction Counselor?

An addiction counselor is a mental health professional who helps patients overcome drug and alcohol addictions. A good addiction counselor is able to collaborate with their patients to help them formulate goals and plans for recovery.

Other aspects of a career in addiction counseling include the following:1

  • Developing a specialized treatment plan based on a patient’s individual needs
  • Providing emotional support for those in treatment
  • Conducting therapy sessions, including one-on-one, couple and family sessions
  • Administering substance abuse evaluations
  • Helping to create post-treatment plans using available resources

Addiction counselors are there to listen to their patients and help guide them through the treatment process toward sobriety. They must be committed to their work and their patients and create a positive environment to help their patients achieve their goals.

Addiction counselors work in a variety of settings, including mental healthcare facilities, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and even in private practice. Notably, these different settings have varying requirements and job descriptions. While some employers say only require a bachelor’s degree, many require licensure. Earning an MS in Addiction Counseling is beneficial when looking for work in this field.

Characteristics of a Good Addiction Counselor

To be an effective addiction counselor, aspiring professionals must desire to help others who struggle with addiction and aim to do good within their communities. Patients of an addiction counselor usually begin their path to recovery at a critical stage, and addiction counselors must help them overcome their addictions. There are many skills and characteristics that are beneficial for an aspiring addiction counselor to develop, including the following:1

  • Empathy: Addiction counselors must empathize with their patients and understand where they are coming from. Empathy helps to create a safe environment that encourages patients to openly communicate about both their struggles and their successes.
  • Knowledge: Completing all schooling and licensure is essential for an aspiring addiction counselor, as these professionals must be able to correctly diagnose and treat their patients.
  • Compassion: An addiction counselor must always show compassion for their patients, establishing trust and open communication with them. Imposing judgment on patients can create a closed environment and makes it difficult to conduct effective therapy or treatment.
  • Effective Listening: In addition to having open communication, a good addiction counselor must be able to really listen to what their patients say. Doing so helps to unearth underlying issues that may be at the root of the addiction, laying a foundation for treatment and achieving sobriety.
  • Commitment: These professionals must be fully committed to their line work to ultimately be effective. Their patients count on them to help them achieve sobriety, and if an addiction counselor isn’t fully committed to this goal, this will be apparent to patients.

Earning an Undergraduate Degree

Because addiction counselors play such a vital role in the lives of their patients, those who aspire to work in the profession must first, at minimum, earn an undergraduate degree.2 To get a head start in learning about the topics related to addiction counseling, consider pursing an undergraduate psychology degree or taking an online counseling degree.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in a field related to addiction counseling will help you begin to acquire the skills necessary for work in the field and can help you decide whether you’re really committed to pursuing a position in this field. You will learn about the foundations of addiction and substance abuse, including those relevant to children and adolescents; how to involve family in the recovery and treatment process; and other related topics.

This will help to lay the foundation for you, as an aspiring addiction counselor, and it will guide you toward the next step in your career path.

The MS in Addiction Counseling

After earning an undergrad psychology degree or online counseling degree, a logical next step to becoming an addiction counselor is to purse an MS in Addiction Counseling. In fact, earning this degree can greatly benefit you in your future addiction counseling career.

Professionals who hold a master’s degree can provide more services, including private counseling sessions, to patients than those without higher education. Additionally, those without a master’s degree require more supervision in their day-to-day work and cannot become licensed; they are therefore unable to work in private practice.2

Studying Addiction-Related Topics

While earning the MS in Addiction Counseling, you will study many addiction-related topics that will prepare you to enter the addiction counseling field as an effective professional. Some such topics include the following:

  • Professional counseling orientation and ethics
  • Psychopharmacology and addictions
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Family issues and addictive disorders
  • Counseling adolescents with chemical dependencies

You will also learn major counseling theories and principles in a blend of classroom instruction and supervised real-world counseling experience. Studying addiction topics in depth while earning this degree will help you feel confident, both as you enter the workforce and when you complete a pre-practicum and a practicum or internship experience.

Completing a Counseling Pre-Practicum

The MS in Addiction Counseling concludes with supervised fieldwork experience. At Grand Canyon University, students complete the pre-practicum part of the program under the supervision of a faculty member and an approved onsite clinical supervisor. During this experience, students must complete a minimum of 100 hours of counseling-related activities, 40 which must involve direct contact with patients.

Completing a Counseling Practicum or Internship

After completing the counseling pre-practicum, you will move on to a supervised practicum or internship experience. Through GCU, students further develop counseling skills in a practicum or internship and perform the duties of a professional counselor under the supervision of a faculty member and an approved onsite clinical supervisor. The practicum or internship experience requires 150 documented hours of counseling-related activities, 50 of which must involve direct contact with patients.

Pursing Licensure and Certifications

Once you complete your undergraduate degree, master’s degree and a practicum or internship experience, it would be very beneficial for the next step in your professional career to purse licensure as an addiction counselor. This is especially true if you aim to work in private practice or work at an organization that requires certain credentials.

It is important to determine whether the organizations you’re interested in working for require certain licensures or certifications. This way, you can ensure that you’re qualified for positions while enhancing your resume. Also make sure to check the licensure and certification requirements of the state where you plan to work.

There are multiple national-level licenses and certifications that aspiring or current addiction counselors can pursue, including the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and different levels of certification offered by the Association for Addiction Professionals. It’s also possible to pursue certification for specializations such as those in adolescent addiction counseling and peer recovery support.3

Addiction Counselor Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates that job opportunities for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors will increase more quickly than average, by about 25% from 2019 to 2029, accounting for an estimated increase of 79,000 jobs in the field.4

This number reflects an increasing need for counseling professionals qualified to help those struggling with addiction. If you’re an aspiring addiction counselor, you’ll likely be able to find a job among the variety of positions offered by this career. Earning your MS in Addiction Counseling will help you to join the field as a qualified professional.

Grand Canyon University aims to provide an exceptional academic experience for every student. If you would like more information on GCU’s online counseling degrees, including the MS in Addiction Counseling, visit GCU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences or click the Request More Information button at the top of this page.


Retrieved from:

1Addiction Center, Getting Therapy For Addiction in September 2021

2U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, How to Become a Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor in September 2021

3The Association for Addiction Professionals, Certification in September 2021

4COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors retrieved on 06/09/2021.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.