The Role of Social Workers in the Fight Against Drug Abuse
Substance abuse is a growing problem around the world. SAMSHA%20in%20the%20past%20month.) reports that as of 2019, an estimated 165.5 million people reported using a substance in the last month. Substance abuse can be one of the most difficult problems to detect, as clients are often ashamed or secretive about their drug use. As a social worker, it's important to be aware of the potential for substance abuse in any client who seeks help. For example, a client may seek help for depression but conceal an underlying alcohol or substance abuse addiction. Your role is to tease out these possible underlying issues and help the client obtain proper assistance in whatever way necessary.
Social Workers and Addiction Assessment
Social workers are trained to identify and assess the needs of their clients beyond the scope of their initial presenting problem. One of the initial tasks of a social worker in a school, hospital, mental health clinic or private practice is to perform a comprehensive assessment on a client, taking into account potential substance and alcohol abuse issues, even if the client does not self-report the problem. As a social worker, you assess substance abuse problems in both voluntary -- or self-referred -- and involuntary -- or mandated -- clients. According to the National Association of Social Workers, you will work with your clients to gain a clear understanding of how their patterns match up with DSM diagnostic criteria. You may not be required to provide direct care, but you are required to recognize the warning signs and suggest a course of treatment to your client during or directly after your assessment.
Substance Abuse Counseling
Social work intervention for drug abuse sometimes involves working as substance abuse counselors in a variety of settings, including hospitals, drug treatment facilities and mental health clinics. Although all graduate social work programs include substance abuse education, many social workers decide to continue their studies to obtain a certification in alcohol and substance abuse counseling, especially if they wish to work specifically in this field. You will then not only provide identification and assessment services, you will also work directly with clients suffering from substance abuse disorders, such as providing individual and group counseling, collecting urine samples if you work in a substance abuse facility or linking your client with other services, such as food and housing.
Education and Outreach
Social workers may act as substance abuse educators in a variety of settings, such as schools, community outreach centers and shelters. For example, you may be expected to give presentations on substance abuse prevention at a school if you work in a community organization that provides this service. Or, you may have a job where you have to reach out to at-risk individuals on the street, in community organizations or at recreation centers. You may help them connect with treatment centers or assist them with obtaining basic needs like food and shelter.
Academic Research Roles
Social workers also often participate in academic research on the university level. So, you may decide to participate in substance abuse prevention research, such as helping with the development of empirically-validated intervention and treatment strategies. Social work researchers have conducted substance abuse research in recent years with support from a variety of governmental agencies, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Mental Health.
According to the University of Southern California, some social workers are also instrumental in partnering with medical schools to conduct research on addiction. Their research helps in further understanding addiction, as well as what interventions or resources might be most helpful to those seeking recovery.
- National Association of Social Workers: NASW Standards for Social Work Practice With Clients With Substance Use Disorders
- University of Southern California: Social Work is Advancing Addiction Science Research
- SAMHSA: Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.