Tips for adult social workers who care for those struggling with substance issues.

As a social worker, you will come into contact with a plethora of different individuals from different walks of life. Sadly, alcohol and drug abuse is a common issue amongst vulnerable people, such as young offenders, those who have grown up in care or with mental health problems. In this blog, we share tips for adult social workers who care for those who are struggling with substance issues. 


1.Be an active listener 

Active listening goes beyond simply hearing the words; it involves a deeper level of communication and connection. For example, being open-minded, avoiding interruption, providing non-verbal cues and giving the service user your full attention. Listening to the service user’s lived experiences will help strengthen your relationship with them, and better understand their reasons for using substances in excess. 

2.Build trust and rapport

Establish a non-judgmental, empathetic, and trusting relationship with the individual. This is the foundation for all effective social worker-service user relationships and is especially important when supporting them. If there is no trust to begin with then communication will crumble and the best outcomes will not be possible. You can build trust by being open, authentic and non-judgemental – show the individual you respect them and are there to help reach positive outcomes.

3.Don’t judge 

Rather than adding to the stigma and shame that many people struggling with substance issues have to grapple with, try approaching the situation with an open mind and reminding them you are there to provide support – not disapproval. 

4. Support for family and friends 

Engage the individual’s family or support system when appropriate. Offer guidance on how they can support their loved one while also taking care of themselves. Those who are fortunate enough to have a support system in place should ultilise it because talking to others and sharing experiences play a crucial role in recovery. 

5. Take a holistic approach 

When approaching addiction, it is important to remember that no two journeys are the same – nor their reasons behind the substance misuse. As a social worker, you need to consider the situation holistically, taking into consideration the user’s family situation, and economic and social factors, as well as trying to understand their relationship with the substance. By better understanding your client’s story, you will be better equipped to help them navigate their battle with addiction and hopefully, help you identify opportunities for change. 

Remember that addiction is a complex issue, and recovery is often a long and nonlinear process. Your role as a social worker is to provide support, guidance, and resources while respecting the individual’s autonomy and dignity. It’s crucial to approach this work with patience, empathy, and a commitment to helping individuals regain control of their lives.

If you’re interested in working in health and social care, speak to a member of our team today on 0203 8929 340.

carlette Isaac

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