Substance Abuse Social Worker

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies substance abuse social workers in the same category as mental health social workers. The medical field increasingly treats addiction as a mental illness. As this trend continues, these two job titles will see more and more overlap.

Job Description

Substance abuse social workers help to treat people who are suffering from addiction. They coordinate and arrange psychiatric services, 12-step programs and support group meetings for their clients. Substance abuse social workers may also help their clients find housing with a halfway house or recovery center. These professionals may also assist clients who have been in legal trouble with upholding the conditions of probation or parole terms. Most substance abuse social workers are clinical social workers and can provide counseling.

Work Life

Substance abuse social workers may work in hospitals, treatment facilities, prisons, non-profit organizations or private practices. Substance abuse is considered the most emotionally trying sector of social work, because addiction is difficult to treat. Helping addicted patients cope with mood swings and relapses takes considerable amounts of patience.


Most entry-level social work jobs require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in social work. However, substance abuse social workers are generally expected to have a master’s in social work. The delicate nature of treating addiction calls for advanced training and, in most states, clinical licensure.

Successful substance abuse social workers will need to demonstrate a wealth of patience and dedication. They should also possess excellent listening, problem solving and people skills. Understaffing and heavy caseloads are not unheard of, so substance abuse social workers should be able to manage time effectively.

Salary and Outlook

The median substance abuse social worker salary in May 2010 was $38,600. However, this figure varies depending by field; substance abuse social workers in hospitals are expected to earn a median annual income of $48,010, while those in individual and family services make $36,740 per year.

As the country moves toward rehabilitation over punitive measures for addiction and crime involving illegal drugs, employment for substance abuse social workers is expected to rise. Employment is projected to grow 20 percent by 2020.