How Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) Help Prevent & Treat Substance Abuse

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Since 2010, the number of deaths involving both cocaine and opioids has more than doubled, according to data culled from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). The opioid crisis has attracted the attention of the Trump administration, and on January 10, 2018, the President signed the INTERDICT Act to “enhance efforts to detect and interdict the supply of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl that are being illegally imported.”

Additionally, the Department of Justice has launched a healthcare fraud crackdown that has since charged more than 400 defendants. While government efforts focus on cracking down on the illicit opioids black market, licensed clinical social workers, or LCSWs, are involved in the advocacy and empowerment of individuals suffering from substance abuse. Through a host of therapy methods and community programs, LCSWs strive to prevent and treat substance abuse.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Regis College Online Master of Social Work program.


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Substance Abuse Statistics

According to the NIDA, substance abuse costs the U.S. over $820 billion per year. The biggest component of this cost is tobacco, which costs $300 billion. Alcohol is second on the list at $249 billion, followed by illicit drugs ($193 billion) and prescription opioids ($78.5 billion).

The NIDA reports nearly 1 in 3 marijuana users may have some degree of marijuana use disorder. In 2015, an estimated 4 million Americans met the diagnostic criteria for this disorder.

Marijuana’s potency has also substantially increased. Its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) has jumped from 3.8% in the early 1990s to 12.2 % in 2014. Studies also indicate the average marijuana extract contains over 50% THC.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines AUD as a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. In 2015, AUD affected 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older, and 623,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. Alcohol is also listed as the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, as it takes the lives of 88,000 Americans every year.

Tobacco is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in the country. Cigarette smoking claims the lives of more than 480,000 Americans per year. 41,000 annual deaths are also attributed to exposure to secondhand smoke.

Prescription Opioids
More than 115 people in the U.S. die after overdosing on opioids each day. It’s also estimated that 8 to 12% of patients prescribed opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, morphine, codeine, and fentanyl develop an opioid use disorder. The epidemic has hit hard in the Midwest; opioid overdoses jumped by 70% between July 2016 and September 2017.

Steps to Change & Therapy Techniques

LCSWs use a variety of techniques and therapies to treat – and disrupt – the substance abuse cycle.

Prochaska and DiClemente describe the process of change in their book Changing for Good with a six-stage process: Pre-contemplation; contemplation; preparation; action; maintenance; and relapse. However, LCSWs can deploy numerous strategies and techniques to provide substance abuse disorder treatment. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, motivational enhancement therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, adventure therapy, and equine therapy.

The Role of Licensed Clinical Social Workers in Preventing & Treating Substance Abuse

Because early to late adolescence is regarded as a critical risk period for substance abuse, LCSWs working with children and adolescents have an especially key role in raising awareness of substance abuse and taking action to prevent addiction.

How LCSWs Strive to Help Prevent Substance Abuse Among Adolescents
The first step LCSWs take to halt adolescent substance abuse is to recognize risk factors, such as feelings of depression due to limited access to resources. By engaging in conversation discussing these risk factors, LCSWs can help students develop healthy coping strategies.

LCSWs can also act as a liaison. They are involved in assessing a student’s psychological and medical health, family functioning, learning disabilities, and other factors that influence a student’s safety, and work to improve and establish protective factors.

Finally, LCSWs can get parents involved. Because a prevention plan’s success hinges on the support of a student’s parents and family, LCSWs work to educate and involve the student’s parents in the process.

Career Outlook: Licensed Clinical Social Workers
There are several components to an LCSW’s role. They’re charged with assessing clients’ situations and needs and determine goals. They can also provide psychotherapy services in either a one-on-one or a group session. Additionally, they can refer their clients to community resources, and assist clients to adjusting to changes and challenges in their lives. LCSWs also communicate with other health care and mental health pros to develop treatment plans and coordinate care for clients. Finally, they can develop and implement programs to raise awareness of signs of addition and other destructive behaviors.

These functions demand that LCSWs possess specific qualities, such as compassion, patience, listening skills, and communication skills. A Master of Social Work degree and licensure from a state’s regulatory board are required to pursue an LCSW position, and the estimated job outlook for the LCSW field projects to a 16% growth between 2016 and 2026.

The vicious cycle of substance abuse not only take control of an addict’s life, but also negatively affects the lives of their family and loved ones. LCSWs help their clients pinpoint inner struggles, resolve relationship issues, and develop coping strategies. They also possess qualities and skills crucial to navigating treatment and overcoming setbacks. As such, their efforts impact not only the lives of their clients, but also the lives of their families, loved ones, and communities.