The Horrors of Substance Abuse and Where Social Workers Come In

by Marisa Bordowitz 

  1. Let’s get down to statistics: Around 15 million people abuse alcohol, 4 million abuse drugs, and 3 million people suffer from both alcohol and drug disorder (Dinitto & McNeece, 2008 p. 175). 9 % of the United States population suffers from substance abuse.  In other words, 22.5 million people 12 years or older have a dependence on alcohol or other drugs. It goes without saying that millions of family members are also affected (experiencing something similar to secondary PTSD in a sense) (Straussner, 2012, p. 127). “The whole family becomes addicted to the addict.” Many families also find themselves in denial.  Additionally, in Binghamton, 100 people die every year of heroin overdoses. That number is staggering especially considering Binghamton’s population of around 47,376 persons. (Hartblay, M. CASAC., 2016)  teen-substance-abuse-1.jpg
  2. Social workers have been encountering substance abusers since the occupation’s commencement. They implement the strengths approach to aid their clients, viewing substance abuse as a disease rather than a “poor lifestyle choice”. The profession also acknowledges the many factors at play that impact abusers (Vassello, J.D., 2016)giphy.gif
  3. The major issues surrounding substance abuse are: a) consuming more of the substance for a longer duration than intended, b) the desire to cease use (or at the very least curtail it) but the inability to do so, c) squandering extended periods of time either obtaining, using or recovering from a substance, d) urges to tamper with the substance, e) shortcoming surrounding work, school, and/or home life due to abuse, f) persistence in use despite relationship issues, g) surrendering hobbies/social activities to the drug, h) substance use with disregard for perils i) substance use despite awareness of mental/physical problems aggravated by the substance j) developing a tolerance, k) symptoms of withdrawal ameliorated by using the substance  (Vassello, J.D., 2016)giphy-2.gif
  4. Many times, substance abuse stems from trauma (predominantly childhood trauma). Substance abuse becomes a coping mechanism or a means to deal with trauma they’ve bottled up (or feel they have no means of processing) (Hartblay, M. CASAC., 2016)
  5. Diagnostics pose as an obstacle for social workers because: clients can have more than one diagnosis, denial is HUGE among substance abusers, symptoms from the drug also mirror those of a mental illness, and many abusers have become masters of disguise – hiding their disorder to achieve success.  (Vassello, J.D., 2016)aslide46.gif
  6. Despite the stigma surrounding substance abuse (and its constantly being viewed through a moral lens), it is imperative that social workers look beyond the stigma, acting as an agent of change – diagnosing their clients and working to help them overcome their addiction or illness (because it is in fact, an illness!!!!) (Vassello, J.D., 2016)uslide-2




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

Vassello. J.  J.D (2016). Social Work and Substance Abuse Powerpoint

Hartblay , M. CASAC. March 17, 2016

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

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