How Social Workers Help Families of Addicts

August 2, 2005 at 10:53 am  •  Posted in Addictions by  •  0 Comments

By Claire Caines, MSW, LCSW, CADC

Coping With Addiction Begins With Awareness
Who Are Drug Users?
How Social Workers Help

Coping With Addiction Begins With Awareness

Americans consume 60 percent of the world’s production of illegal drugs. There are drug users and abusers in every state of the nation and every socio-economic group. Households with incomes of $100,000 a year or more have a higher rate of substance abuse than any other income group.

Although most of us would probably not consider alcoholic beverages “drugs,” alcohol is a drug, and we all know that drinking is commonplace in our society.

Who Are Drug Abusers?

Alcoholics and drug abusers are people we know: family members, friends, or co-workers. By recognizing symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse, experts say you can take the first step to stop the cycle of abuse and addiction.

In their desire to be loving, supporting, or helpful, family members and friends often unwittingly contribute to an addict’s drug use. This is called “enabling,” and may take the form of denial, taking over responsibilities for the addict, and rescuing the addict when he or she gets into trouble.

Family members may deny the existence or seriousness of the problem. No one wants to believe that drug abuse exists in their home, so they may explain away the drug use or minimize the severity. They may also deny the existence of problems caused by drug abuse, such as financial difficulties.

Sometimes family members take over responsibilities to cover for the addict during a bad time, but it is often the only way to ensure that important things like paying bills or picking children up from school get accomplished.

When addicts can’t make it to work or are having financial problems, a family member or friend will often come to the rescue by making excuses for them or lending money. These “rescue missions” only shield the addict from having to face the problems caused by drug abuse, making it that much easier to stay addicted.


Co-dependents are people whose lives have become unmanageable as a result of living in a committed relationship with a substance abuser. Co-dependents become so absorbed in the addict’s problems that they forget how to care for themselves.

What should you do if you suspect that your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol? Experts offer the following suggestions,

  • Don’t panic, but do acknowledge the problem.
  • Discuss your suspicions with your loved one calmly and objectively.
  • Never confront someone when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Express your concerns and offer resources for professional help.
How Social Workers Help

Social workers can help counsel addicts. When an active addict seeks help, they are taking a very positive step in their recovery. By asking key questions, the social worker assesses the exact nature and extent of the problem. He or she then facilitates referrals to either an appropriate 12-Step program like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous), or to an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program where the client receives individual and group counseling. The social worker provides education about the disease of addiction and the effects of continued drug use on the addict’s medical, work, family, social and financial life. Often, the social worker will provide aftercare once the client completes an inpatient or outpatient recovery program.

Remember, family counseling is an important part of any substance abuse treatment program. It provides education and support to help family members understand the cycle of addiction and avoid participating in it. Social workers recommend that loved ones detach emotionally because the addict needs to own the problem and take responsibility for their recovery. Al-Anon, the 12-Step program for families, provides help for anyone who loves or lives with an addict or alcoholic.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Association of Social Workers or its members.

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