Alcohol and illicit drug abuse cost the U.S. healthcare system approximately $25 billion and $11 billion respectively. It’s clear that substance abuse is an important issue.  For people considering social work as a career, there are many roles available within families and communities that are impacted by substance use disorders (SUDs).

How Social Workers Help with Substance Abuse

Social workers can provide critical psychological counseling, advocacy and support throughout treatment and recovery for people living with substance abuse. This is largely due to their multidisciplinary approach to treating individual issues.

Substance abuse often co-occurs with other disorders such as chronic pain and depression, while trauma disordered individuals may turn to alcohol, tobacco and other substances. By understanding the relationships between these problems, social workers can often uncover hidden issues.

This holistic approach to treatment requires social workers to have the knowledge and skills to treat the SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders simultaneously. It is also not uncommon for clients to abuse multiple substances and to exhibit other addictive behaviors, such as gambling and overeating.

Helping Clients Recover from Substance Abuse

man-struggling-with-alcohol-addictionThere are many possible pathways to treatment and recovery from an SUD. One of the guiding principles outlined in the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) standards is to view the client as part of a larger system while providing them with individualized treatment.

Stigmas and misperceptions surrounding diagnosis and treatment can harm a client socially and professionally. Social workers also need to understand how SUDs can disrupt family life and impact child welfare.

The NASW standards advocate a supporting approach that values education, early intervention and prevention.

Preventing Client Relapse

In an age where pharmacological interventions are readily available, it’s not uncommon for people to be stabilized quickly in hospital settings and then discharged – an approach that inevitably results in high rates of relapse.

For this reason, there’s often an overlap between nursing and social work jobs, which sees the social worker function as hospital discharge planner. This entails helping their clients navigate their way through the healthcare system, and making sure they can access the resources and support they need after leaving hospital.

For a social worker to provide clinical services to clients affected by substance abuse, a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) is the recommended qualification, as per NASW guidelines. In addition to being able to draw on many areas of knowledge, social workers must also be able to collect, analyze and disseminate data in a way that guides service delivery, and enables them to improve and expand client services.

Find out how an MSW degree can give you the tools you need to help address social issues at a global level. Global Social Work Issues and the MSW

Providing Education and Leadership

Social workers often come into contact with people who have substance abuse issues, and they can serve as case managers for drug-affected individuals with complex needs.  Social workers can help to bridge treatment gaps and deliver valuable education, advocacy and support where they are needed.

Social workers who deal with substance abuse are also going be called on to provide education and training to families, the community and other professionals on risk factors, prevention and available treatments. They are also expected to provide leadership and collaboration in the development of community-based drug treatment programs.

They must also drive advocacy efforts which help to ensure that all clients and their families, regardless of background, have equal access to SUD services when they need them.

To help people overcome addiction and learn the latest treatment methods, invest in your own education and keep up to date with an advanced degree.