Substance misuse in the UK continues its ever-increasing rise. The devastation caused to individuals, family members and unrelated victims is a significant social issue that must be addressed.
The pressures, challenges and increased caseload for dedicated, determined professionals working in this area clearly indicates that substance misuse social work demands a special type of person.
Drug and alcohol social worker qualities:
Those choosing this career path are often referred to as substance misuse workers. Before we explain their responsibilities, it must be understood that such a profession is not for the faint hearted.
Some of the generally accepted qualities required to succeed in such a demanding role are:
- Counselling skills: This includes active listening as well as the strong ability to adopt a non-judgemental approach to all individual and specific cases and situations
- Understanding of psychology: This trait will serve well because of the psychological effect substances have on users. While many assume that drug misuse relates only to illicit substances, it should be remembered that the abuse of prescription medication is also a significant factor in many communities
- Sensitivity & Understanding: In all probability you will be dealing with people from all walks of life, different backgrounds and religious beliefs. This means the ability to act with sensitivity and judge every situation with understanding is an important requirement
- Customer service skills: A substance misuse worker needs to be firm but fair. Yes, much of your work will involve those who have substance abuse issues, but you will also need tact and understanding when it comes to dealing with other social work departments, local authorities and law enforcement workers
- Accepting criticism: The prodigious 15th century English poet, John Lydgate, coined the phrase “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. Abraham Lincoln used a version of this quote while president, but the point of this quote for a substance misuse worker is that criticism will be levelled from various sources. This means you need patience, the ability to remain calm no matter how stressful the situation is, and be equipped to work well under pressure
- Collaborative working skills: You must be able to work well with others. Not only your team and related departments, but with other authorities that often become involved with those who are abusing substances
- Reporting skills: The more effective your recording of information and reporting skills are, the more effective your actions. Not only for your clients, but to help other professionals clearly understand individual situations
Day to day requirements:
Those working as drug and alcohol social workers will certainly see a varied work schedule. Your caseload of clients requires individual assessment and these needs must be understood.
This means building trust in order for you to help them most effectively. Health protection must be explained clearly to them and any family members affected.
Support options need to be regularly explained, advice on services such as housing and benefits given and the attendance of appointments with clients to assist in interviews and form completion will be a fairly regular occurrence.
You will also need to cast your support and advice net further afield to include those closest to your client through the offer of advice and support wherever possible.
Dedicated, Determined, Varied:
Those individuals looking for a routine job where each day is standard should look elsewhere for employment opportunities, but those who rise to a challenge, can offer dedication, and are determined to help those individuals suffering from substance misuse will find this role an extremely rewarding one.
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