Social workers regularly encounter individuals, families, and communities affected by social problems such as addiction. In many countries social workers specialize in alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs field, whereas others provide services to individuals and their families in specialty settings in which addiction is often integral to the clients’ presenting problems.
In order to discuss the role of social support in addiction recovery, we must first define social support and identify key features of social support.
Social support is a general rubric that encompasses at least three distinct types of support:
1. perceived support
2. enacted support
3. social integration
Perceived support: Perceived support also known as functional support (Wills & Filer, 2001) is the subjective judgment that family and friends would provide quality assistance with future stressors. People with high perceived-support believe that they can count on their family and friends to provide quality assistance during times of trouble. This assistance may include listening to the stressed person talk about troubles, expressing warmth and affection, offering advice or another way of looking at the problem, providing specific assistance such as looking after the children, or simply spending time with the stressed person.
Enacted support: Enacted support reflects the same kinds of assistance just listed, but emphasizes specific supportive actions, whereas perceived support emphasizes the stressed person’s judgment that such actions would be provided if needed. Surprisingly, perceived and enacted support are only modestly related (Lakey & Drew, 1997).
Social integration: Social integration refers to the number or range of different types of social relations, such as marital status, siblings, and membership in organizations such as churches, mosques or temples. Social integration is most often only weakly related to perceived and enacted support (Barrera, 1986).
Social support can be a very powerful and beneficial force in the recovery process. The benefits of social support can:
* counteract shame, isolation and secrecy,
* reduce stress
* decrease isolation and loneliness,
* increase safety and security,
* help individual to escape the narrow world of one’s own concerns,
* make the sense of belongingness and inclusion,
* enhance sense of meaning and purpose,
* hope and optimism about the future,
* provide valuable information like telling someone about a helpful website about addiction,
* provide necessary or desirable resources like giving someone a book about recovery,
* provide concrete assistance like driving someone to the doctor’s office,
* provide emotional support such as empathic listening; encouragement; understanding; compassion; shared problem-solving
The Roles of Social Workers in the Field of Addiction
Social workers are the primary providers of psychosocial services in addiction treatment centers around the world. With their expertise in addiction and its psychosocial impact on clients and their family and community, social workers have training in dealing with psychosocial issues such as anxiety, family relationships, changes in lifestyle during and following treatment. Social workers are also there to help clients with re-integration in to the workforce and to cope with fears about recovery which is stressor experienced by many addicted clients. Social workers can assist with practical needs such as employment and financial stressors caused by the illness. The social worker is an important link in the chain of communication that takes place in busy centers. Social workers accompany clients through all phases of the recovery and the following hints describe the role of the social worker in more detail along the treatment trajectory:
1. Viewing the client as part of a larger system while providing individualized treatment, as appropriate, is a mainstay of delivery of effective services.
2. Addiction and the process of recovery can significantly disrupt a client’s family system therefore the intervention of social workers is needed.
3. Understanding the implications of addiction recovery with regard to client abilities is a key factor to be considered.
4. Social work practice should focuses on early prevention and the importance of education for teens and adults.
5. To meet the needs of clients with addiction, social workers must pay attention to legislative and public policy at local and national levels to support client success in process of recovery.
6. Social workers should provide a basis for advocating for clients to be treated with respect and dignity, have their confidentiality protected, have access to supportive services, and have appropriate inclusion in decision making.
* Barerra, M., Jr. (1986). Distinctions between social support concepts, measures, and models. American Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 413-445.
* Lakey, B., & Drew, J. B. (1997). A social-cognitive perspective on social support. In G. R. Pierce, B. Lakey, I. G. Sarason, & B. R. Sarason, (Eds) Sourcebook of social support and personality (pp. 107-140). New York: Plenum.
* Wills, T. A., & Filer, M. (2001). Social networks and social support. In A. Baum, T. A. Revenson, & J. E. Singer (Eds.), Handbook of health psychology (pp. 209-234). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Sajjad Majidi Parast
Research Manager of Hana Social Work Clinic
“Master of Social Work from the University of Allameh Tabatabai”
“Iranian social worker’s media campaign on social protection of recovered”