A substance abuse social worker evaluates and treats people who have substance abuse problems. The substances could be tobacco, alcohol, or recreational drugs. As well as being a social worker, the job includes being a probation agent, counselor, community support worker, mental health therapist, psychotherapist, clinician, clinical/social worker, and case manager.
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A substance abuse social worker could manage education, client advocacy, cases, crisis intervention, and group therapy. Clients would be counseled to deal with substance abuse, which can involve physical abuse, unemployment, poverty, and mental or physical illness. Clients would be interviewed, progress monitored, records reviewed, assessments conducted, and other professionals consulted. This kind of worker would have to identify when something is amiss or likely to become so, which involves recognizing a problem rather than actually resolving it. Logic and reasoning would be employed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different solutions. The quality of objects, services, or people would have to be judged. Work would have to be prioritized.
Clients would be assisted in their adherence to treatment plans, which would involve providing support, setting up and arranging for transportation to appointments, and assisting in the completion of forms by the client. The social worker would regularly see the client, either at their place of work or the client's home. Treatment plans must be modified to reflect changes in the status of clients. Career counseling would have to be given. The social worker may have to refer the client to other specialists. Family members would have to be assisted so that they can understand and deal with the client. It will be necessary to liaise with counselors, nurses, and physicians, and relationships must be workable. A substance abuse social worker must give complete attention to other people, understand their input, ask questions when necessary, and not interrupt at inappropriate times. They must convey information effectively, and understand written English.
It may be necessary to design curricula, then deliver training and monitor its effects.
At least a bachelor's degree is required. This should be in social work, but it may be possible to obtain an entry level job with a degree in sociology or psychology. Many positions require an advanced degree such as a Master's degree in Social Work. A doctorate in social work would be necessary to teach at a university or conduct research. Hundreds of bachelor's and master's degree programs are recognized by the Council on Social Work Education. Several dozen doctoral programs are recognized by the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work. In the United States, every state requires social workers to be certified in some way. Most states require two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. An increasing number of states are putting emphasis on cultural sensitivity, ethics, and communication skills.
A substance abuse social worker must understand the principles and methods of diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. They must understand human behavior, personality, interests, research methods, individual differences in ability, and learning and motivation. Other relevant factors are group dynamics, societal influences and trends, philosophical systems, religions, and ethnicity. It is necessary to know the relevant laws and court procedures. A good knowledge of English is necessary. A substance abuse social worker must be emotionally mature, objective, sensitive to other people, responsible, and independent.
Substance abuse social workers would have to increase their knowledge by reading literature, undertaking research, and attending seminars, workshops, or classes. It is possible that drug testing will be required.
There were around 642,000 social workers in the United States in 2008, and around half were employed in healthcare and social assistance and 30 percent by government agencies. The most common employers are family service agencies, substance abuse treatment centers, local governments, and hospitals. Such jobs are more common in cities. Any social worker can expect to spend most of their time in an office or residential facility, but a significant amount of travel is not uncommon. The working week is generally 40 hours long, however work may be necessary in the evening or on weekends in case of emergencies. Some substance abuse social workers work part-time. Work can be very satisfying, as people are being helped to overcome adversity. Treatment programs can be an alternative to jail. People facing time in jail or who are on probation are often required to have substance abuse treatment, and this trend is growing. The involvement of a substance abuse social worker would be required in such an instance. The work can, however, be emotionally draining. Large caseloads and understaffing can cause increased pressure.
It is possible to advance to more senior positions, from supervisor to executive director. Employment is expected to increase faster than most other occupations. One reason for this is the growing popularity of employee assistance programs. This phenomenon is more closely associated within the business circles, and is more likely to decrease in times of economic adversity. The average salary is $38,200.