The Complexity of Substance Abuse

Like other areas of social work, the history of addiction in social work has changed throughout time to adapt to different situations in society. Addictions affect people from all spectrums of society: rich and poor, black or white, it doesn’t matter.

  • 9-10% of the U.S. population currently meets the criteria for substance abuse or dependence (Dinitto & McNeece, 2008 p. 175).
    • The American Psychiatric Association diagnoses addiction based on how much it impacts an individual’s life, not the type or quantity of drug used.
  • The difference between substance abuse and substance dependence is that substance abuse is looked at more short term and psychologically like a person coming home from work and binge drinking to relieve stress from the week. Substance dependence is more long term, with biological aspects as well— like the same guy coming home except he’s been drinking so long that his body has built a tolerance to the usual 12 pack and now resorts to a fifth of vodka.
  • Social workers in this field may work in a variety of impatient rehabilitation programs ranging from therapeutic communities and half way houses to outpatient treatment/addiction programs in jails and prisons (Dinitto & McNeece, 2008 p. 181).
  • There are many underlying causes that are widely debated:
    • Many people are biologically predisposed to develop an addiction. Depending on their family history, their genes may make them more susceptible to becoming addicted.
    • Learning and personality theories in psychology hint to the notion of drug use as a learned behavior—so while for some of us it may be easy to pass up another drink, it is hard for addicts when they see the usual conditioned stimulus (friends they usually do drugs with, a place where they may usually take the drug at, etc..) and have the drug of choice readily available as a reinforcer.
    • Gender and sexual orientation impact the likelihood of addiction. Women are less likely to engage in risky behavior, whereas men are more likely to engage in risky behavior. Members of the LGBT community also see higher rates of drug use.
    • Last, but not least, various socioeconomic factors come into play.
  • The biopsychosocial perspective used in social work is also critical in understanding addiction, making social workers great candidates to enact brief interventions, help monitor progress, run prevention programs, and advocate for change.

Works Cited

DiNitto, D., & McNeece, C. (2008). Social work: Issues and opportunities in a challenging profession (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.

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