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Social Workers and their Role in Addiction Treatment

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March 13, 2020

The month of March doesn’t just honor women and the contributions that 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!

A supportive individual to others facing so many challenges, social workers sometimes get overlooked in the midst of the chaos. Social workers play a vital role in helping those battling substance use disorder (SUD), as well as those struggling with mental health disorders. Their job consists of diagnosing clinical disorders, identifying client goals, 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.woman with badge is social workers and their role in addiction treatment

In honor of Social Work Month, we’re going to take a look at social workers and their role in addiction treatment.

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 to help them develop the skills to elevate themselves out of social and economic poverty.

The social worker has fought for civil rights equalities for all, and have made great contributions towards employee rights. Social work was also instrumental in the creation of Medicaid and Medicare. Today, social work is contributing to reducing the stigma associated with substance abuse and mental illness.

And now, 100+ years after the profession was established, we have social workers engaging 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 obstacles.

Specific Settings Where Social Workers Provide Help 

There are several arenas where you will clearly find a social worker’s contributions to those struggling with SUDs and mental illness. The following list includes many, but the profession isn’t necessarily limited to just these roles.

Social Workers and their Role in Addiction Treatment:

  • 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.
  • As policy makers, care managers, administrators, and service providers working directly with clients with a SUD, social workers may choose, provide, or push for evidence-based SUD treatment practices. 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 (also known as co-occurring disorders with the two combined). Furthermore, those with mental health disorders and teenagers are in 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?woman interviewing to man as part of social workers and their role in addiction treatment

That there is a problem. Substance abuse and mental illness are a real public health concern. 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.

Final Thoughts

If you’re struggling with a SUD, a mental health disorder, or both, you can reach out for help. You’re never alone. With support, you’ll have a team of people to champion you on your road to recovery and beyond. And in honor of social workers everywhere, we celebrate and appreciate you!

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