Social workers have vital role to play supporting people who use alcohol

Lack of confidence can mean social workers always refer to specialist services, but they are well-placed to respond to people's needs

By Wulf Livingston, senior lecturer in social work at Glyndŵr University Wrexham

Alcohol use frequently presents itself as an element in all aspects of social work practice. It is often the thing which many individuals resort to, enabling them to cope with complex, distressing and painful life experiences. Such use, especially excessive and sustained, also leads to harmful consequences, for the drinker and those they live with.

Having the time to appropriately assess and work with such use is often a challenge to busy, hard-pressed social workers. Many are fearful about their knowledge about alcohol, especially when associated with illegal drug use. Tensions about role legitimacy to intervene, often lead to social workers being expected to or thinking that they must always defer or refer to specialist service providers.

Yet social workers, by the very nature of their involvement, are well-placed to have initial conversations and support individuals experiencing difficulties associated with their own or someone else’s drinking. Communication, engagement, need, risk and support are our bread and butter. Indeed, sometimes specialist services are less well-placed than social workers to respond to holistic needs of those with disabilities or in older age. Social workers are trained to have sensitive conversations about delicate and difficult matters, and alcohol should be no different. There are a range of well-evidenced interventions to support working with individuals. Many of these like cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, motivational interviewing and solution focused therapy are already in most social workers’ tool kits. Increasing numbers of texts and resources are available to social workers to help them translate existing knowledge framework into confidence about working with alcohol.

So if you recognise you do have a role to play here and want to talk about some of the current concerns for social workers about working with alcohol, then come and join me at Community Care Live London for a session which will explore understanding about:

  • Alcohol use and capacity: working with intoxication.
  • Risk and parents who significantly use alcohol.
  • Alcohol use within specific communities: older people; mental health, disabilities, young people.
  • Working within expectations of supporting compulsory treatment and testing.

Wulf is one of a number of expert trainers, practitioners and leaders speaking at Community Care Live London on 26-27 September. Register now for your free place. Community Care Inform Adults subscribers can also read Wulf’s in-depth guide on working with adults and alcohol use.

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One Response to Social workers have vital role to play supporting people who use alcohol

  1. david August 9, 2017 at 11:29 pm #

    100% agree. It is hard work. Full of step forwards then steps back. But the skills we have can and do translate with a bit of thought and reflection.

    But you need time. And time is not really encouraged these days.