Few people associate social work with helping those with addiction issues. In fact, most people associate that role with a psychiatric nurse or a general doctor.
In recent years, however, social work has evolved, with many social workers taking on additional roles and responsibilities, which can, and often does, involve handling cases of substance abuse.
It should come as no surprise that mental health issues and substance abuse are heavily related. In response to this, there is an entire area of social work that caters to helping those who have mental health issues alongside substance abuse issues, and these professionals can have a major impact on someone’s recovery.
How you may ask? Read on to find out.
What is Substance Abuse?
Before that area is explored, it is crucial for the sake of clarity to understand what is meant by substance abuse in the US.
The US government defines it in a roundabout way. Substance abuse is the misuse of drugs, like alcohol or prescription medications, as well as over-the-counter medications. It can also be the misuse of illegal drugs.
It’s not very helpful, really. In short, substance abuse is when a person becomes physically and psychologically dependent on something, like alcohol or heroin, such that when they cease to use the substance, they develop withdrawal symptoms. It also involves a gradual tolerance being built: the more the person takes the drug, the more of it they will need to feel the same response.
For example, someone who is misusing drugs may be addicted to pain killers that they got from their doctor. They may have been taking them to relieve pain, but now they need to take them multiple times a day to feel relaxed. When they run out, they experience chills, hot flushes, and body pain. This is an example of substance abuse, as it can have an extremely detrimental impact on that person’s health.
Coming off drugs is rarely straightforward, especially if someone is physically addicted. So, they will need support and medical help to achieve this goal safely.
What Is A Substance Abuse Social Worker?
It is important to understand what it is that a substance abuse social worker actually does.
In most cases, they work in psychiatric inpatient settings with the aim of helping the patient leave and settle in the community. In other cases, they can work in association with courts or family services.
As their name suggests, they specialize in helping those who have substance abuse issues, which is a very challenging role that deserves respect. If you are interested in training in this area, it is worth considering the challenges that you may face. You should learn more about the potential issues you may face as a working social worker, and how to take care of yourself.
The role will involve devising care plans for those who have abuse issues. It will also involve referring service users to specialist support groups as and when needed. Substance abuse social workers are also required to have more clinical knowledge of this area, such as information about which medications may be used to help someone wean off of drugs, or which programs in the local area may offer support and access to those medications.
It is an unfortunate reality that many social workers in this area are also trained to work with children and teenagers who may be experiencing drug abuse problems. This may require them to work with the child’s school and parents to help to assess the underlying cause of the problem, while also helping the child to access help to quit the habit.
With this general job role in mind, it may seem a bit clearer as to how these individuals can help people to overcome drug addiction. However, this is only a broad overview of the job role, and how substance abuse social workers can really help their patients to recover is detailed in more depth below.
First and foremost, any kind of social worker is going to try and offer as much support to their clients as they can. This may be in the form of meeting with them and simply listening to them, or, as mentioned before, referring them to those who can offer talk therapy. It is worth noting that for most drug addictions to become resolvable, underlying issues have to be understood and worked through, which a substance abuse social worker may not be able to do on their own. Hence, the referrals that they may offer.
Support goes far beyond just listening to their clients. It can also involve helping to track their progress in relation to the drug withdrawal process and helping patients to manage the symptoms of this rather uncomfortable experience. This information may be shared with doctors or nurses who will also be working to ensure that the client recovers safely from the addiction.
It is not just the person who has the addiction that may need help. In most cases, someone who has a substance abuse issue may also have a family, such as a partner and children.
It can be very jarring to see someone go through drug addiction and the recovery process, as this can make the person irritable and angry, which can make talking to them rationally very tough. It can be more complicated if the people in the addicted person’s life have been enabling them, as they may find themselves being pressured into providing the substance.
To help someone recover, the family may need help to do so effectively. This can take the form of regular therapy with the substance abuse social worker, or it may involve a referral – but when everyone is on the same page, the recovery from substance abuse is more likely to be successful.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, drug addiction and substance abuse rarely occur in a vacuum. Family members may become affected by the person’s addiction and behaviors. It should also be noted that addicts may be at a higher risk of divorce or losing access to their children, which can then lead to feelings of guilt and which can worsen the addiction itself.
As a substance abuser, the social worker’s aim is to help the person recover, and they may be able to provide counseling, which will be more important if the person with the issues has a partner who may need some reassurance and help with trusting their partner again. Remember, trust is a key part of a successful relationship. In order for someone with substance abuse issues to recover, their family needs to learn to trust them. By providing counseling, you will allow both people in the relationship to explore their feelings and then work to resolve any underlying issues.
It is worth noting that this skill set is not standard for a substance abuse social worker. Therefore, the partners or families of those with substance abuse issues may need to be referred to a relationship therapist who specializes in helping couples who are recovering from substance abuse.
It can be the case that a marriage or family unit breaks down entirely in the wake of substance abuse. This means that a substance abuse social worker will also need to help with the housing needs of those who have lost their home.
This can also be the outcome if someone with a substance abuse issue is evicted due to rent arrears. As everyone needs a place to live, a substance abuse social worker can help to keep those who are vulnerable off of the streets where they may engage in illegal activity to provide themselves with money. So, this kind of social worker will always aim to keep a roof over their clients’ heads and prevent them from engaging in potentially dangerous and criminal activity to fund their substance abuse issue, thus once again, increasing their chances of recovery.
Job Loss And Financial Issues
Most illegal (and legal) drugs are not cheap and as a result, many addicts may struggle to fund their addiction. This is not to say that a substance abuse social worker will merely give someone the money to buy their substances – rather, they will ensure that they have access to money, usually via the benefits system. They can then advise the individual on how best to spend this money and may even be able to set up accounts from which this person’s bills and rent are paid without the person having access to the money.
They can also help to ensure that if the person loses their job, they have access to money, which will reduce stress, hopefully, help them to refrain from illegal activity, and will keep them on the path to recovery.
A substance abuse social worker is one of the tougher areas of social work, but it is a role that can help society’s most vulnerable people to regain control of their lives while also helping them to feel better about themselves without the need for substances or medications – which, if you love working with people, is one of the best outcomes imaginable.