Substance Abuse




Oneof the public health issues confronting governments, especially theUS, today is substance abuse. According to Ruiz, Strain and Lowinson(2011), substance abuse is very common in the US, with statisticsindicating that 21 out of every 100 adults fulfill the standards forsubstance dependence. For this reason, social workers have played acentral role in providing treatment to persons suffering fromsubstance addiction. In fact, substance abuse takes a significantposition in the professional lives of social workers 21% of allpersons practicing in social work are employed in facilities thatdeal with individuals grappling with substance abuse (Ruiz et al.,2011). Based on these statistics, it would be correct to say thatsocial work is a very important profession today, partly because itoffers specialty service and assistance to victims of substanceaddiction (Wells et al., 2013). In most cases, victims of substanceaddiction normally present serious psychological problems, which makethe social work practice quite challenging. Accordingly, this reportuses an interview methodology to identify and discuss the challengesencountered by social workers when dealing with victims of substanceabuse. In so doing, the report highlights the key responsibilities ofsocial workers practicing in this field, as well as the currentissues that affect the practice.


Priorto delving into the focus of the task, it is important to provide abrief history of the development of social workers` interest in thefield of substance addiction. According to DiNitto and McNeece(2007), social workers have demonstrated the interest in assistingindividuals struggling with addiction since the 1800s, when thesettlement house movement was established. During that time, thegeneral perception was that it was sinful for one to be addicted toalcohol. Similarly, alcoholism was viewed as a moral problem. Thisperception was first challenged by Mary Richmond, an enlightened ladywho believed that alcoholism was a disease that required properdiagnosis and treatment. Subsequently, Richmond developed aninstrument for assessing alcoholism, and this is the instrument thatis used by social workers even today.

Itis also important noting that during that time, social workersaddressed alcoholism through platforms such as child welfare, butvery few alcoholics obtained direct help. On the contrary, manyvictims of alcoholism either died prematurely or were locked up inprisons or mental institutions, the reason being the lack of interestand knowledge in handling such people.

Relevantknowledge and skills

Asdisclosed in the interview, dealing with individuals suffering fromsubstance addiction problems is not an easy task. To begin with, itis the duty of the social worker to identify any situational risksthat the client faces, as well as resources and other forms ofsupport that may help the individual to reduce his/her dependence onsubstances (Heller &amp Gitterman, 2010). The implication of this isthat social workers practicing in the field of drug addiction areexpected to possess exceptional analytical skills. Apart from this,there are minimum educational qualifications that individuals musthave in order to function effectively in this capacity. For instance,it is mandatory for one to have completed undergraduate education inSocial Work or its equivalent. Nevertheless, individuals who excel indelivery quality service and guidance to victims of substance abusemake efforts to advance their education, obtaining a master’sdegree in the area of clinical social work (Stanfield, Cross &ampHui, 2012).

Otherthan theoretical knowledge, social workers dealing with victims ofsubstance addition also need to possess a number of skills andcompetencies. Besides analytical skills, good communication skillsare crucial to excel in social work. It is worth noting that as usedin the context of substance abuse, communication refers to theability to listen empathetically and to detect and interpret anynon-verbal messages being communicated by the client. Similarly, itis very helpful for social workers to be capable of establishing andmaintaining rapport with their clients, as this will encourage theclients to open up and share some delicate concerns.

Theoriesgoverning social work in substance abuse

Severaltheories have been put forth to explain the phenomenon of substanceaddiction. One such theory, which is relevant to social work, is thesocial learning theory, which postulates that individuals becomeaddicted to drugs as a result of peer pressure. Subsequently, sociallearning theory posits that social workers have a crucial role toplay in reducing the prevalence of substance abuse, by impartingadaptive skills amongst affected persons (Vaughn &amp Perron, 2013).

Thesocial learning model is still very much applicable today, eventhough it ignores the fact that culture has an impact on theemergence of substance addiction. In other words, the social learningtheory is less sensitive to cultural impacts than other theories,notably the family systems theory and the sociocultural model (Vaughn&amp Perron, 2013). Both theories argue that a person’sinclination towards substance abuse is determined by a range offactors that are embedded within a bigger complex of influences. Forinstance, family members may encourage or suppress substancedependence among one of them.

Commonchallenges encountered in practice

Itwould be pretentious to overlook the challenges that social workersencounter when dealing with victims of substance addiction. In asmuch as social workers are occupying a leading role in fighting tominimize the menace of substance misuse, the complexities involved inthis practice make such professionals appear reluctant to executetheir work at times. Ruiz et al. (2011) note that social workershave, historically, been perceived as being adamant to render serviceto victims of substance abuse. The authors attribute this to theunwillingness among social workers to discard the notion thatsubstance addicts are moral failures. The magnitude of truth in thisclaim remains a topic of debate, but the fact is that social workersare, conventionally, inadequately trained to confront the problem ofsubstance abuse (Wells et al., 2013). In fact, this is a very seriouschallenge considering that it was detected as early as 1986.

Threedecades later, social workers are still limited in their capacity todeal with the issue, simply because of lack of preparedness andrelevant training. Elaborating on this statement, Wells et al. (2013)disclose that the content of education and training programs offeredto social workers is not sufficient to equip them with the knowledgeand skills to deal with substance abuse. Additionally, even thoughsocial workers undertake field placements to acquire practicalexperience, it is sad learning that the kind of tasks thatindividuals do while on placement have little if any relevance to thedemands that such individuals will encounter once they beginpracticing.

Socialworkers often find themselves confronted with additional tasks,besides helping their clients to recover from addiction tosubstances. Bowers (2016) reports that one of the consequences ofdrug addiction increased domestic violence and child abuse. Theauthor attributes this to unpredictability, fear and chaos, which arecommon characteristics of substance addicts’ lifestyles. Because ofsuch features, parents who have become addicted to drugs have ahigher likelihood of subjecting their children to abuse, and thisproduces a variety of adverse outcomes on the children.

Mainresponsibilities of social workers in the field of substance abuse

Acritical deduction made from the interview is that social workerswork in collaboration with other professionals to help addictsrecover. However, there are specific responsibilities assigned tosocial workers, and one of them is that it is the social worker`sresponsibility to identify any factors that may cause the patient toresume use of substances after treatment. Additionally, the socialworker is responsible for providing the client with all necessarysupport in order to reduce the possibility of the client engaging inharmful behaviors. Equally important is the realization that thesocial worker has a responsibility of creating a therapeutic alliancebetween the client and clinicians (Roberts &amp Watkins, 2009). Incertain cases, social workers also liaise with clients’ familiesand other support networks, the motive being to make sure that theclients obtain all the help that they need in order to recover fully.

Currentissues affecting practice

Apartfrom the challenges outlined earlier, social workers dealing withvictims of substance abuse admit that ethical standards that aremeant to guide practice pose substantial challenges to their job. Tobegin with, it is an arduous task dealing with the condition that isviewed to be a sign of moral decay. Secondly, social workers oftenfind it challenging to uphold professional standards of practicewhilst at the same time respecting the rights of their clients. Thisis particularly an issue where matters of autonomy are concerned. Asis well-known, persons who have become addicted to substance use are,in most cases, unable to make sound decisions and judgments. For thisreason, social workers may find themselves in a dilemma as to whetheror not they should allow the client’s decisions to prevail, eventhough their judgment could be impaired.

Otherthan the ethical requirements for practice, social workers who areinvolved in the provision of assistance to persons grappling withsubstance addiction are also subjected to frequent changes in policy.According to Wells et al. (2013), much emphasis is currently beingplaced on evidence-based treatment. Although this is necessary andbeneficial in ensuring that patients obtain the highest quality ofcare possible, its implications for social workers is unknown, moreso in the long-term. The author quotes the Affordable Care Act thatwas enacted in 2012, making substance abuse prevention and treatmenta mandatory responsibility of social workers. Wells et al. (2013)project that such a ruling could impose new knowledge and skillrequirements for social workers, thereby necessitating significantspending on further education.

and reflection

Substanceabuse is a major issue of concern in the US, and this has attractedthe interest and involvement of different professionals, includingsocial workers. According to the nature of this profession, socialworkers play an invaluable role in helping persons addicted to drugsand other substances to recover. An interesting lesson obtained fromthe literature consulted in this assignment is that the ratio ofsocial workers in the US is almost equal to that of personsstruggling with substance abuse. This is to say that for every personaddicted to drugs, there is a social worker available to help. Thatnotwithstanding, it is unfortunate that social workers areill-equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed toexecute their work effectively. To be precise, it has been learnedthat the content of social work courses is insufficiently designed toreflect the demands of a practical context. At the same time, in asmuch as students are placed in internships and attachments to gainpractical experience, these sessions do not capture the realities ofthe practice. These challenges are worsened by the ethical standardsthat govern practice. Nevertheless, it has been learned that socialwork is very crucial to efforts to find a lasting solution to theproblem of substance addiction.


Socialworkers play a very important role of providing support to people whoare incapable of meeting their needs, including taking part inconstructive social life. In other words, social workers help tomaintain order within a social setting, besides working hard toensure that individuals enjoy the highest quality of life possible.Sadly, social workers, especially those dealing with victims ofsubstance dependence, do not receive the kind of support that theydeserve. For instance, by failing to ensure that students pursuingcourses in social work provide relevant, top-quality education, theUS government might be taken as sending the message that social workpractice in substance abuse is not something to be proud of, and thisis very disheartening. In view of this, it is strongly recommendedthat governments should urgently look into the concerns voiced bysocial workers practicing in the area of substance abuse. Perhapsthis is one of the issues that are hindering the identification of afeasible solution to the substance addiction menace.


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