Substance Abuse & Alcohol Addiction: A Hidden Epidemic

Posted: November 1st, 2022

“In September 2018, President Donald Trump declared substance abuse and alcohol addiction an epidemic (Presidential Proclamation on National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, 2018).  In the proclamation, he reported substance abuse is destroying family relationships in family systems.  Even though the number of individuals with substance use disorders (SUD) is staggering, less than 10% of these people receive treatment (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMSHA], 2019a)”.  (Coffman and Swank, (2020). P.102)  

One of the populations I am interested in working with are individuals and families suffering from (SUD) issues.  “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”  (NASW Code of Ethics: Preamble, (2017). P.1).  Families suffering from (SUD) issues, and there are many, are incredibly vulnerable.  These families are pushed to the “margins” of society.  They are stigmatized, more often than not, being seen as “criminals”, “weak”, and “hopeless”, just to name a few of the many negative perspectives of society.  Essentially, their very dignity as human beings is lost, leaving them being defined by the disorder they suffer from.  Nobody refers to a person with cancer as a “cancer”, but people with (SUD) are often defined simply as addicts, drunks, and junkies.  Both have a potentially life-threatening disease but are seen in a very different way.   

Social workers are crucially important in helping individuals/families living with (SUD) and their roles are many.  They are advocates, mediators, counselors, and activists just to name a few.  “Today the main purpose of social work remains much the same: to empower people to grow and live healthy, productive, and meaningful lives.  Social workers accomplish this purpose by working directly with people, organizations, and communities, and by acting to change society”. (Cox, Tyson & Long, (2019). p.14).  People with (SUD) and the family system all suffer and need help, plain and simple.

In researching in the Walden Library, I have found that there is an inexhaustible amount of research that has been done in this field.  Scholarly, peer-reviewed articles abound in the study of (SUD) and from a myriad of disciplines/perspectives.  It begs the question for anyone who would argue that (SUD) should not be seen as a priority, both nationally and globally, of why such an incredible amount of research exists if it should not be seen as a priority?  

A social worker, in educating themselves on (SUD) and its devastating effects on a micro, mezzo, and macro level, would be the first place I would start to build my knowledge base.  How can a social worker be truly effective in helping these families if the families’ challenges remain unknown?  

Social workers are “generalists”, wearing many “hats”.  In the world of (SUD), a social worker should be prepared with their knowledge and skills in this area, to “wear” all of them.  What I mean by this is that there is a huge “ripple effect” with (SUD) on every level, and a social worker, in my opinion, must be greatly focused on where they want to be the most effective.  Substance Use Disorder itself creates this giant “spider web” of difficulties/issues/challenges that would be far too daunting to take on in totality, which is why I would be focusing primarily on the family/micro/mezzo level.  


Cox, L. E., Tice, C. J., & Long, D. D. (2019). Introduction to Social Work: An Advocacy-Based Profession (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Coffman, E., and Swank, J., Attachment Styles and the Family Systems of Individuals Affected by Substance Abuse, The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families (2021). Vol. 29(1) 102-108. SAGE Publications, Inc. DOI: 10.11771/1066480720934487 

National Association of Social Workers. (2021). Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers.