Social Work and the Forgotten Field of Substance Use and Abuse

Approximately 9% of the US population meets the DSM-IV criteria for alcohol and substance abuse –> This statistic shows that it is rare to come across a social worker who has never experienced a case dealing with substance abuse. (Straussner, 2012, pg. 127)

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Ironically, in turns out that even though social workers have been working with substance abuse populations since the start of the profession, social workers tend to receive the least amount of training in the field of substance use and abuse. (SW250, Class PowerPoint, 3/15/16)

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A big reason for the lack of training seems to be related to the stigmatism that is attached to both abusers and the field itself. In fact, many social work students are afraid to enter into this field as a result. However, there was and still are social workers that are going against the social gradient, and are working to minimize this stigma that is placed on addicts, their families, and the field of substance use and abuse. (Straussner, 2012, pg. 128)

As early as 1917 one woman, Mary Richmond, who is known as the one of the “mothers of social work” did fight the stigma! (Straussner, 2012, pg. 128)

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Despite the stigmatism, many social workers spend their careers working to make a difference for their clients in the field of substance use and abuse. One environment social workers working with substance abuse can be found is in hospitals. (SW250, Class PowerPoint, 3/15/16)

Social workers in the field of substance use and abuse are faced with the responsibility of diagnosing clients/patients, and then working with them to get help with overcoming their addiction. (SW250, Class PowerPoint, 3/15/16)

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Making a diagnosis can be hard for social workers because usually there are other complicating factors that are involved. Many times it is hard to tell the difference between substance abuse symptoms and mental illness symptoms. Also, many abusers are either in denial about their addiction, or they have become very good at hiding their struggles with addiction. (SW250, Class PowerPoint, 3/15/16)

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In order to make these difficult diagnoses, a social worker will use a CIWA Scale and CAGE 4 Questions as blueprints for diagnosing clients/patients that seem to present with symptoms related to substance abuse. (SW250, Class PowerPoint, 3/15/16).

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Straussner, S. (2012). Clinical Treatment of Substance Abusers: Past, Present and Future. Clinical Social Work Journal Clin Soc Work J, 40, 127-133.

SW250 Lecture, PowerPoint, 3/15/16


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