5 Things Every Social Worker Should Know About Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a difficult focus of social work. For those who are in recovery or have a family member who struggled with substance abuse, it may be easier to relate to and understand people with addictions. Social workers must understand a few important concepts about substance abuse before diving into a career.

1. Every Person Is Different

While the behaviors and effects of substance abuse may be the same for most people, their situations, personalities and experiences differ. Every social worker must remember to treat each person individually. Getting to know their situation, their past, the unique struggles they face each day and how they react to different influences is important. To do this, a social worker must be a good listener and be able to empathize with people who are struggling. Overcoming substance abuse is a different experience for every person, and having an empathetic support system is an important component.

2. Treatment Must Be Holistic

Social workers must talk to their patients, help develop treatment plans and conduct follow-ups to make sure the treatment plans are followed. They may have additional duties depending on the job setting. However, recovery requires a holistic treatment approach. Although social workers cannot conduct psychiatric evaluations, provide medical care or provide spiritual care, they should make sure that their patients receive emotional, mental, physical and spiritual support.

3. Never Judge The Person

When people see stories on the news about someone harming another person, it is easy to form a quick judgment about the offending person. People with substance abuse problems and addictions often say and do things that are offensive or hurtful to others. They may hurt children or other adults. A popular response is to think that a person who harms someone else doesn’t deserve help. When an addict’s behaviors harm another person, social workers must remember that the substance and the addiction give an addict little control over his or her actions. Remember to look at negative behaviors as a call for help and not a reason to treat a person differently.

4. Always Look For Potential

Recovery is different for every person. For some, it may be a smoother road than it will be for others. When evaluating and working with substance abusers, it is important to look for their unique areas of potential. Identifying potential helps reveal what motivates a person and also reveals his or her strengths. Focus on strengths while treating weaknesses, and try to develop a treatment plan that utilizes a person’s motivator or passions to help that person reach full potential. Focus on quality improvement rather than making large improvements quickly. Recovery takes time.

5. Be An Advocate

People who have substance abuse problems may not have any true friends or a support system. They often come from broken homes or have complicated relationships with their parents. Their friends may either be drug abusers or people who do not understand their addiction. It is easy for substance abusers to feel alone, helpless and lost. Social workers should learn the dynamics of addiction and how to deal with the struggles of substance abuse. Although it is important to maintain a professional relationship, social workers should strive to become trusted advocates of the people they help.

According to the University of New England, social workers in substance abuse settings have many roles in helping substance abusers and their families with everything from minimizing stress to finding treatment facilities. The first step toward becoming a substance abuse social worker is earning a degree in social work.