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Substance Abuse Social Work

Explore the field of substance abuse social work

substance abuse social work

People with substance addictions are of two conflicting mindsets. Their intellects know they should correct their destructive behaviors, but the addicted part of their minds wants them to continue self-medicating. In truth, the thought of giving up their addictions brings a profound sense of loss and despair – a feeling that life without the comfort of their addiction will be empty.

More than half of all addicts use substances to counteract life traumas. Their addictions bring them some level of relief from intense emotional, mental, or physical pain. Because addiction is almost always intertwined with traumatic life experiences, frequently resulting in mental illness or violent, and dysfunctional lifestyles, helping addicts is often difficult. Substance abuse social workers (Substance Abuse Social Worker Career) are occasionally challenged to maintain contact with clients, providing them with the ongoing help they're going to need to defeat their addictions. (Process of Addiction Recovery).

Defining substance abuse

Substance abuse, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is defined as “a state of periodic or chronic intoxication produced by the repeated consumption of a drug.” The characteristics of substance abuse include an overpowering desire or compulsion to repeatedly use an addictive substance and to obtain it by any means. Over the course of prolonged usage, dosages tend to increase, and addicts develop psychological and physical dependencies on the drug - disregarding the negative effects on their lives.

The importance of group therapy in recovery

group therapy for addiction

Isolation is a common result of the trauma that often underlies addiction. Because of this disconnect from other people, clients with substance dependencies have a difficult time relating to and recognizing the commonalities they have with others. The therapeutic value of consistent interaction with a group of people significantly affects the way clients think about themselves and their problems.

Read more about group therapy for substance abuse recovery...

From a psychological point of view, the abused substance provides a sanctuary for addicts and a way to soothe their traumas. The solace the substance brings not only prolongs their addiction, but also makes it impossible for them to imagine life without it.

The induced comfort slowly displaces the clients' judgments about their lives by replacing their pain with artificial pleasure. At some point, they're no longer capable of making realistic assessments about their own environments and health. It is understandably difficult for addicts to abandon the comfort of their addictions - as destructive as they might be - to launch into the pain of withdrawal, and the insecurity and trauma of their former lives.


Knowledge. Substance abuse social workers must have in-depth training in the many facets of addiction. They must understand the psychological issues of individual clients, the sociological circumstances that underlie their substance abuse, the reasons for their resistance, as well as the very real threats to their clients' lives.

Facilitation and case management. Because of their unique relationships with clients, substance abuse social workers are influential in their collaboration with interdisciplinary team members – doctors, nurses, and psychologists. In the initial assessment of clients, social workers focus on goal-setting, care planning, and evaluation.

Substance abuse social workers document the details of clients' treatments and are responsible for advising the therapeutic team about significant changes that might need the team’s attention. They are also responsible for maintaining full documentation of the treatments as well as ensuring the completion and filing of many forms. Additionally, social workers must be knowledgeable about federal, state, and local regulations.

Clients rely on substance abuse social workers’ abilities to help them navigate the social systems and agencies that are impacting their lives. These systems include: health care, mental health, insurance, criminal justice, child welfare and human services, unemployment, and other employee assistance services.

Many clients are too overwhelmed with the simple act of getting through the day to cope with the details of these systems. Social workers who know these systems guide clients through the processes. They interview clients in order to understand their clients' needs, and determine which agencies will help on the path toward recovery. This starts with a client assessment.

Assessment. With the goal of establishing a treatment plan, substance abuse social workers are intimately involved with assessing the level and the nature of clients' substance use. The assessment is a therapeutic profile of clients' addictions, and the framework for the journey back to mental health and sobriety.

The assessment process also uncovers other important issues, such as a history of mental illness, physical health problems, and criminal involvement. Additionally, it will uncover social instability, such as employment problems, homelessness, and family issues. Everything that is gathered helps the substance abuse social worker understand clients' psychological states, financial capabilities, and the likelihood they will be compliant with therapeutic interventions.

Goal-setting. Based on the information gathered, the substance abuse social worker, in coordination with the interdisciplinary team, establishes goals or milestones that gauge the progress of clients. These goals are typically tied to aspects of the treatment plan, such as a goal to get a client placed in a particular kind of treatment center or group home. Periodic evaluations track progress, and determine any possible goal adjustments.

Care planning. The initial client assessment determines the social workers' decisions concerning the most effective therapeutic approaches that will help their clients reach their goals. They are best suited to understand the timing and sequence of certain therapies for the benefit of the client. This step requires that substance abuse social workers are thoroughly familiar with the many different possible appropriate interventions such as medications, counseling, legal services, and inpatient treatment centers.

Social workers are clients' advocates in arranging appropriate treatment resources. They support an open, collaborative approach among the different health care providers to ensure that clients get the treatments they need. With an eye toward social justice, they represent their clients in gaining access to programs that are important to their recovery.

Monitoring and evaluation. It is necessary that the substance abuse social worker conduct periodic evaluations of clients' progress relative to the goals in their treatment plans. Ongoing monitoring is crucial to insure that clients are progressing, to anticipate crises, and arrange for emergency interventions. This process includes determining if service providers are supplying appropriate treatments.

Communication. Substance abuse social workers are focused on establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships with clients who have substance abuse issues. With specialized training in interpersonal relationships, substance abuse social workers are active, perceptive listeners. Their conversations with clients help them stay current with clients' changing needs and conditions. It's up to the substance abuse social worker to read the different warning signs, notifying other treatment team members when intervention is required.

As the critical interface between clients and the interdisciplinary team, social workers must be able to communicate critical client issues with respect to the goals of the treatment plan. This enables the team to be proactive in providing appropriate therapeutic responses, such as programs that more closely monitor client activities or medications that relieve symptoms of depression.

Identifying the barriers to recovery

Substance abuse social workers knowledge of their clients' lifestyles helps them provide better guidance. Addiction is typically embedded in the lifestyle and interpersonal activities of addicted clients. Providing direction in changing old lifestyle habits, such as reducing time spent with other people who have drug dependencies, is important in helping clients break their destructive social connections.

Addiction Recovery

Addiction is a lifestyle. Addicts' lives are spent in bars or getting high with friends. The idea of giving up drugs and alcohol seems insane because they make life more pleasurable. Eventually, most addicts find themselves in a downward spiral as the demands of the addiction result in their arrest, or causes mental or physical health problems. When continued addiction takes on darker prospects, treatment becomes a better option.

Read more about Addiction Recovery...

Other barriers are more difficult to diagnose and resolve. Ongoing mental illness impedes clients' abilities to think about the resolution to their abuse. Problems with family members create emotional instability, and financial destitution destroys a client’s ability to envision a better way of life. These and other illnesses and attitudes must be addressed gradually as clients begin to improve.

Forming new lifestyle habits requires time, patience, and determination on the part of the client. Clients who develop new relationships and activities, and who work with their substance abuse social workers in developing new coping strategies, start to see new possibilities. They also develop new identities that don't include substance abuse.

But the responsibilities of substance abuse social workers don't stop there. They also provide counseling and practical advice for the families of clients. Each client situation is different, requiring flexibility and critical thinking as social workers try to help clients and their families resolve their issues. In the final analysis, substance abuse social workers are ethically bound to provide information, counseling, and compassion to clients as they guide them through the pitfalls, successes, and setbacks they will inevitably encounter.

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