Do I Need a Social Worker?

A social worker can be a mental health professional with a wide-ranging set of skills and abilities, helping people from all walks of life in difficult situations.

These professionals will often work with people in rehab or recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. They can play an essential role in helping connect you to community resources as you work to navigate a new life in recovery.

What is a Social Worker?

Social workers can help individuals, families, and even entire communities. Some of their general duties include counseling, advocacy, and reporting. 

  • These professionals might provide direct counseling to individuals and families. 
  • They can also serve as an advocate on your behalf to community organizations or health professionals.
  • Social work can involve helping clients navigate the legal system, and the most significant goal they have is to help people change their lives in positive ways.
  • Generally, social work programs focus on public health, family services, providing mental health services, working with victims of child abuse, and connecting people with government agencies and social services.
  • These professionals might work in various settings, including health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, school districts, or private practice. 

There are a lot of specialized roles within this field of work. For example, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker can diagnose and treat mental and behavioral health conditions and emotional issues. 

Addiction is itself a specialty within the social work profession. 

  • Broadly, a social worker helps you improve your life as you manage stress and navigate different situations that may be going on at any given time. 
  • They can meet with you, listen to your concerns, and then develop a specific plan to manage problems.
  • Active listening is a big part of what people in social work do, as is observation.

Benefits of a Social Worker in Substance Abuse Treatment

When someone has addictive disorders, whether to drugs or alcohol, and decides to receive treatment, they will often work with a wide range of care providers, including a substance abuse social worker. 

Addiction itself is very complex. With a substance use disorder diagnosis, many factors are part of the addiction. For example, it’s common to have co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. These conditions need to be well-managed for the treatment program to be effective.

  • There may be issues at home that contributed to addiction or occurred because of it. For example, people dealing with substance abuse issues may have broken relationships with their spouse or partner, as well as their children.
  • Someone with an ongoing addiction may be dealing with career problems due to substance use.
  • Legal problems can occur as well.
  • In many cases, physical health conditions also have to be treated as part of a rehab program, from dealing with withdrawal symptoms to getting chronic conditions under control.

A social worker can be part of a larger, multi-disciplinary treatment team.

  • They often work with people in rehab or who have completed a treatment program as they begin to re-enter society and experience their everyday lives without drugs or alcohol. 
  • These professionals have connections to the community that can be invaluable as someone rebuilds their life.
  • For example, if you were to complete a stay in an inpatient rehab program, you might return to your life to find that it’s challenging to manage. You might have lost your job or be dealing with criminal charges. A social worker is someone who can help you in a wide variety of areas in your everyday life. 

When you have someone on your side who serves as your advocate, it can help you stay on track in your recovery.

Many people might not have a home to return to after treatment, and this is another place where a professional can help you. You might only have a home that involves domestic violence, so a social worker could help you find a safe place to live and other assistance programs. 

They can tap into their vast network and make sure that your transition from treatment to real life is as easy for you as possible. Of course, they can’t alleviate all challenges, but they can connect you with the things you need most during a difficult time.

Depending on how you receive treatment, someone in social work may be there from the beginning and be part of the creation of your treatment plan.

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To get into the social work field, there are different degree programs. The path someone follows into social work practice can depend on their goals and what they want to specialize in. 

At a minimum, most professionals have a bachelor’s-level social work degree. 

When someone has a master’s, they can perform clinical assessments of behavioral disorders and provide counseling in different settings, including mental health clinics. To follow the clinician career path, a person also has to have a certain number of supervised hours in a clinical setting along with advanced education. 

Substance Abuse and Trauma

Based on decades of research, we know that trauma and substance abuse are closely related to one another.

  • Around 70% of adults in the United States have gone through a traumatic experience at least once in their lifetime. 
  • Trauma is a risk factor for all substance use disorders. 
  • Additionally, people with substance use disorders are more likely to experience traumatic events. This puts people in a cycle of trauma and potential substance abuse that’s difficult to break out of without professional help.
  • Around 5% of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) meet the substance use disorder diagnosis criteria. 
  • Additionally, up to ¾ of people who survive abuse or traumatic violence report problematic alcohol use. 
  • Women with traumatic exposures are at especially high risk for alcohol use disorder.

There are different reasons for these connections. One theory is that people with trauma may try to self-medicate to cope or deal with their symptoms. That self-medication can spiral into an addiction.

There’s another theory that people who abuse substances may have a higher trauma rate due to their use. For example, lifestyle choices may increase the risk of trauma exposure stemming from drug or alcohol use.

It’s also possible that people who use substances are more susceptible to developing PTSD after trauma exposure than people who don’t use drugs or alcohol. The same may be true with other mental disorders and emotional disorders. 

In the past, people with a co-occurring addiction or substance use disorder and a trauma disorder had worse outcomes. Often, the treatment approach would separate the addiction from the trauma and treat them individually. 

  • Now, there’s an increasing emphasis on dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders.
  • Treatment tends to be most effective when both issues are addressed and treated simultaneously because they relate to one another.
  • Trauma-informed substance use treatment tends to have good outcomes for many people. There is a recovery mindset in this approach, emphasizing building resiliency.

The Benefits of Having a Social Worker

Social workers can bring a unique perspective to trauma-informed care. They’re highly trained in dealing with trauma, both acutely and in chronic conditions like PTSD. That’s one reason the input from social workers can be so critical to an addiction treatment plan.

Trauma-informed social work means a professional recognizes the signs of trauma and the impact. They can then identify various paths to address the effects and help prevent people from further experiencing traumatic situations. The goal of a social worker in a trauma-informed setting is to stop focusing only on problematic behaviors, like substance use.

Instead, a trauma-informed social worker will understand what happened to someone to cause the behaviors in the first place, such as exposure to a crisis situation. 

If you’d like to learn more about trauma-informed substance abuse treatment, please reach out to us at Silicon Valley Recovery today by calling 408-547-4089.

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