What is an Addiction Social Worker?
Substance abuse is a major health issue in the United States. As a social worker who specializes in addiction services you will be at the forefront of the epidemic. Helping those that have been inflicted with a substance abuse disorder will challenge your every skill. Many times those that suffer from an issue with addiction exhibit signs of mental illness. These individuals are considered to have a dual diagnosis and will need specialized treatment to ensure they are able to obtain and maintain a higher quality of life.
As an addiction social worker you will be a member of a multi-disciplinarian team of doctors, nurses, and social service workers. Your clinical ability and understanding of the disease as a social issue will allow you to provide appropriate direction to the team. As a social worker you will ensure that your client is able to overcome the disorder and change their life forever.
What Does an Addiction Social Worker Do?
At the Bachelor level addiction social workers will find themselves completing case management activities such as; coordinating services, providing referrals, discussing strategies, and educating clientele. At the Master level it is more likely that you will be involved in providing both individual and group therapy sessions. MSW’s diagnose, create and maintain treatment plans, ensure that the client is receiving appropriate services, and follow up with the client on a regular basis to ensure compliance with the treatment plan. At times criminal justice agencies may be involved due to criminal activity by the client. This will require you to provide documentation of program compliance; generally in situations such as this an MSW will be the point of contact.
Where Does an Addiction Social Worker Work?
Addiction social workers can be found in community clinics providing case management and referrals to appropriate social services, methadone programs where social workers provide therapy to those who have become dependent on opiates, in hospitals where addiction social workers help clients through detox, caring for those suffering from delusions and tremors. Public schools provide an opportunity to educate younger kids about the dangers of addiction.
Social Workers are also found in local, state, and federal agencies ensuring that proper regulations and policies are in place to help those in need.
What are the Requirements to Become an Addiction Social Worker?
Many entry-level positions require a High School diploma. These positions are limited to basic tasks such as watching the clients, helping them with basic needs and ensuring the safety of clientele. For positions that hold a greater degree of responsibility a bachelor’s degree is required. For many organizations a Bachelor degree in programs such as psychology, sociology, or political science are acceptable. Positions that require a bachelor of social work degree would be prepared for positions in case management and assisting with mental health services.
A bachelor of social work (BSW) program will provide an understanding of diverse populations, theories concerning human behavior, advocacy of and for social welfare policy. BSW programs will require that students complete a supervised internship or practicum prior to graduation.
To practice addiction social work in its full capacity a master’s degree is highly recommended. To enter a master of social work program (MSW) there might be an application process that will include several steps. Schools generally will look for applicants that have had some personal experience that has given them a drive to help others. During the application process students have the opportunity to write a personal essay. Students express their abilities and desires to the academic team that will make the determination of who will be chosen for participation in the Master program.
Master of Social Work students spend on average 2 years in study. There are programs at several colleges and universities that offer part time attendance; part time programs require that course work be completed within 3 years. An MSW will prepare the student for work in addiction services by developing their clinical assessment skills, and preparing the student to supervise others in their chosen career.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) sets the educational standard for social work degrees in the United States. The oversight provided by the Council on Social Work Education ensures that all social workers adhere to the same set of standards and ethics.
All social work students are required to complete a supervised internship. It is during this time that the student focuses on a specialty. Students will work in field positions shadowing an expert and completing tasks as prescribed by their formal education goals. All areas of study (Human Behavior, Policy, Practice, and Research) will be tested during the internship.
After you have graduated from a CSWE approved program you will be eligible to become licensed as a Social Worker. Each state will have the criteria for licensure at the bachelor and master level listed on the states board of professional licensure website. This information can also be obtained by going to the Association of Social Work Boards website.
Prior to testing for licensure you must complete your academic program and a predetermined number of hours operating in the chosen field. The time working in the field must be supervised and documented by a person holding a social work license. After completing the pre-requisites for testing you will schedule your exam date and time. Once completed, you will receive immediate feedback on the test. If you have obtained a passing score on the exam you will be licensed to practice social work in your state.
What Do You Learn in an Addiction Social Work Program?
While completing a master’s level degree in social work, students will often be allowed to pursue collaborative programs. One such program is addiction studies. In addition to taking their regular course load of social work and related classes, students in this program will have to complete a number of addition-related classes. Notable examples include social work intervention in substance abuse, drug prevention, alcohol, drugs, and health policy, dual disorders, and psychology of drug use and effects. This collection of courses is intended to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of drugs, their effects, the psychology of using these substances, and how to interact with suspected and known users of these substances.
What Skills and Qualities are Needed for an Addiction Social Worker?
- Patience – An addiction social worker can work with some extremely challenging clients, they must be able to remain patient with them all. The relationship they have with clients is typically long-term and the issues of an addicted person are often cyclical, the addiction social worker must be able to maintain patience as they revisit issues several times.
- Persistence – Similarly, they have to be able to see every day with a client as a fresh chance to make a difference and remain committed to trying every possible technique to help, no matter how long they have been working together. This persistence, over a long time, is a vital skill.
- Strong ethics – <any addictions result in unethical behavior, the addiction social worker must be ethically and morally robust, and must remain so. They have to be able to demonstrate why unethical behavior is wrong and be unfaltering from that viewpoint.
- Flexibility – Addiction social workers can work with clients with a range of addictions, they must have the flexibility to move between clients, changing focus and strategy successfully to provide the best service to each of their clients.
- Empathy – It can be difficult for an addiction social worker to fully appreciate the challenges of an addicted person or understand some of the decisions they make, especially if they have never suffered from addiction themselves. But a successful addiction social worker has to be able to put themselves in the position of their client and truly understand the difficulties they face if they are to help each client overcome them.
What are the Disadvantages of Being an Addiction Social Worker?
- Challenging clients – Clients with addiction can be extremely challenging, it may be a long time before they are entirely honest with their addiction social worker and they always feel the need to conceal or be dishonest about aspects of their condition. This can make the job of the addiction social worker very difficult as their assessments and treatment plans can only be based upon the knowledge they are given.
- Administration – Working with clients who suffer from addictions means that addiction social workers have a lot of paperwork to do. They must devise treatment plans for each patient, track progress and record it as well as writing reports for different agencies.
- Repetition – Addicts may suffer relapses during their treatment. This can be a difficult thing for an addiction social worker to deal with, they have to be able to start fresh and believe that this next time really could be the time their client makes a change.
- No ‘cure’ – The problems of addiction are something clients will battle with for the rest of their lives, there is no defining moment of success in treatment. An addiction social worker never has a moment of having ‘cured’ someone of an addiction, when clients move on, they can never be sure that the plans put in place will keep that client addiction free forever.
What is the Salary and Job Outlook for Addiction Social Workers?
According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the median income for a substance abuse social worker is $44,420. The prediction for job growth for Social Workers between 2012 and 2022 is 19%, this is higher than average for this period.
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