The Role of Social Workers in Addiction Treatment
The month of March doesn’t just honor women and the contributions they’ve made throughout history, but it also honors the dedication and work of the social worker in the United States. On that note, Happy Social Work Month! In honor of Social Work Month, we’re going to take a look at the roles of social workers in addiction treatment.
A supportive individual to others facing so many challenges, social workers sometimes get missed amid the disorder. Social workers play a vital role in helping those battling substance use disorder (SUD) and those struggling with mental health disorders. Their job involves diagnosing clinical disorders, identifying client purposes, and creating a plan to reach those goals. They also serve as a link between the client and helpful resources. Social workers work with a treatment team, use psychosocial assessments, handle ongoing counseling, and review their clients’ progress.
Social workers traditionally have been the traffic cops of addiction treatment. That is because a large part of their role has been to connect clients with the services needed to regain their health. Today, many social workers also provide mental health services as part of the therapy of addiction disorders.
History of Social Work
As a profession in the United States, social work, in general, began at the end of the 19th century. It was created out of a need to provide vulnerable individuals, including immigrants, access to resources and help them develop the skills to elevate themselves out of social and economic poverty.
The social worker has fought for equal civil rights for all and has contributed to employee rights. Social work was also instrumental in the creation of Medicaid and Medicare. Today, social work is contributing to defeating the stigma associated with substance abuse and mental disorder.
And now, 100+ years after the profession was founded, we have social workers battling with those who struggle with mental health disorders and the disease of addiction. Because they have such a wide range of professional training, social workers can help clients facing multiple hindrances.
The Addiction Social Worker
An addiction social worker concentrates on giving substance users and their families the support needed to overcome addiction. Addiction disorders frequently combine various emotional and physiological issues that social workers must be trained to unravel. Addiction social workers do this by aiding clients and their families in an attempt to remedy addictive behaviors. In addition to referring clients to other social services, these talented professionals offer:
- Evaluation of clients in an inpatient or outpatient setting.
- Development of treatment plans.
- One-on-one or group counseling of clients and their families.
All of these services could be provided in a solo practice or as part of a multidisciplinary team.
Addiction social workers combine an understanding of psychiatry and psychology, physiology, biology, and medical treatments, along with being thoroughly tied into the social service safety net. The addiction social worker links the client, the family, and the social service and clinical safety net.
These highly trained professionals are sympathetic in their persistence; an addiction social worker knows naturally when to push and when to fall back. That is because they understand the disease of addiction and how it affects everything in its path.
An addiction social worker is, above all, a case manager. They are a powerful advocate for clients, ensuring they navigate the social service and healthcare safety net to get the help they demand. In this role, they typically have several responsibilities, including:
- Working with families to deal with the addicted person.
- Providing counseling around the disintegration of a marriage.
- Assisting with housing and homelessness.
- Helping in the areas of job loss and financial difficulty.
- Tracking the clinical treatment of an addicted person, making sure they have the medical help they need to get better.
It is important to note that the term “addiction” can incorporate various disorders related to an inability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Thus, addiction does not just include drugs or alcohol. For example, food addiction can cause obesity and a host of health problems. Likewise, a gambling addiction can quickly bankrupt a person and destroy their lives as surely as an opioid.
A good addiction social worker understands the complex balance between behavior, mental health, and the physical cravings that destroy a person’s life. There is a complex mix of services in an addict’s treatment plan, ranging from the group or individual counseling to medication. The addiction social worker oversees all of these methodologies and attempts to keep clients on the right track toward recovery. They serve a vitally essential role in the social services continuum and help countless patients break free of the sequence of addiction and return to better health.
Specific Settings Where Social Workers Provide Help
There are several areas where you will find a social worker’s contributions to those fighting SUDs and mental illness. The following list includes many, but the profession isn’t necessarily limited to just these roles.
The Role of Social Workers in the Fight Against Drug Abuse
Substance abuse is a growing problem around the world. Unfortunately, substance abuse can be one of the most challenging problems to detect, as clients are often confused or secretive about their drug use. As a social worker, it’s vital to be aware of the potential for substance abuse in any client who seeks help. For example, a client may inquire about support 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 receive proper assistance in whatever way necessary.
Identification and 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 evaluation 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.
Social workers act as substance abuse specialists in various 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, but 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.
Social workers may act as substance abuse educators in various 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. For example, you may help them connect with therapy centers or assist them with obtaining basic needs like food and shelter.
Social workers also often participate in academic research on the university level. So, you may decide to cooperate in substance abuse prevention research, such as helping develop empirically validated intervention and treatment procedures.
- In cases of intervention for a loved one. Social workers are a great resource to pull on to help you navigate through what this process looks like.
- Social workers can also be referred to and serve as a therapist, as therapists are professionally trained in the use of therapy. They can serve as a sounding board, as well as a haven for professional advice and direction.
- Social workers may choose, provide, or push for evidence-based SUD treatment practices as policy makers, care managers, administrators, and service providers working directly with clients with a SUD. This serves to help those in need that may not have a voice.
- Working in detoxification centers.
- Educational settings.
- Forensic settings (courts, prisons, police departments, etc.).
- Working in medical and psychiatric hospitals.
Impact of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
As of 2017, 8.5 million American adults battled both a SUD and a mental health disorder (co-occurring disorders with the two combined). Furthermore, those with mental health disorders and teenagers have the highest risk populations  for drug use and addictions. Finally, only 4 million people received treatment for a substance use disorder out of the 20.7 million people ages 12 and older who needed it in 2017.
What do these facts reveal?
That there is a problem. Substance abuse and mental illness are real public health concerns. People need to be in place to help those struggling to work through these challenges. The services that social workers provide contribute to the continuous solution to this ongoing obstacle. Social workers empower clients with the resources, goals, plans, psychosocial assessments, and counseling. With the help of social workers, clients can begin their journey towards sobriety and stability.
At We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about the role of social workers in the treatment of addictions and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.
Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.
 NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3684208/
 SAMHSA – https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHFFR2017/NSDUHFFR2017.pdf
 NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction
 SAMHSA – https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHFFR2017/NSDUHFFR2017.pdf
MSW Guide – https://www.mswguide.org/careers/mental-health-and-substance-abuse-social-work/
Social Workers Org – https://www.socialworkers.org/News/Facts/Social-Work-History