Advocacy in Action

Through the stories we share, the Admissions Team at Baylor University hopes to inspire and educate future leaders in the field of social work.

Looking to Impact Substance Abuse Issues in Your Community? Consider a Degree in Social Work

Written by Dr. Danielle Parrish on 12.6.18

Substance abuse affects approximately 20 million Americans and their families and communities, and 7.9 million individuals with substance use disorders also have a mental health disorder. Addictions can take many forms, but the most commonly abused substances are alcohol and illicit drugs.

Alcohol abuse can have a devastating effect on an individual’s health and functioning, lead to severe family dysfunction or developmental disabilities for an unborn child, and result in dangerous motor vehicle accidents. Illicit drug use is increasing nationally, which can lead to health and mental health problems, risk of HIV/AIDS, interaction with the legal system, child welfare system, job loss, and homelessness.

There is an urgent need to prevent, treat, and support the recovery of individuals impacted by substance use, yet there remains a gap between the need for treatment and high quality prevention and treatment services. Social workers are uniquely qualified to fill this need by becoming skilled practitioners, administrators, and developers of evidence-informed programming. Read on to see how you can make a difference in your community and impact the substance abuse issue with your master’s in social work.

Explore Baylor University's digital resource page: Master of Social Work — The  MBA of the Helping Professions!

The Opioid Epidemic

Recently, there has been a drastic increase in the use of prescription drugs, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives for non-medical reasons. Currently, 1.9 million Americans meet the criteria for dependence on prescription pain relievers, which has surpassed all forms of illicit drug use with the exception of marijuana. This has, in part, led to the recent opioid epidemic.

The current opioid epidemic that the United States is grappling to deal with, was nurtured by free and relatively unrestricted access to addictive prescription drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) exists to advance scientific research with the purpose of understanding drug abuse, and supporting prevention and treatment plans for the good of public health.

According to NIDA, these statistics begin to cover the scope of the current crisis:

  • Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.

  • Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.

  • An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.

  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin, first misused prescription opioids.

  • Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.

One particularly devastating result of increased opioid misuse is the rising incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome. Substance abuse during pregnancy can lead to deleterious health outcomes for both the mother and child, and the child may suffer from lifelong developmental and learning disabilities. Additionally, substance use commonly co-occurs with mental health disorders, which can lead to complex needs for treatment.

How Social Workers Help 

Social workers frequently encounter individuals, families, and communities impacted by substance abuse when working in mental health settings, medical settings, child welfare, non-profit organizations, courts and criminal justice settings, and private practice. They may provide specialized substance abuse prevention programs in schools or primary care clinics, or work in treatment and recovery programs.

Social workers are uniquely qualified to understand the impact of substance abuse on an individual or family within the context of their larger environment. They are trained to look at and build on the strengths of their client, view their client within the larger environment, think critically, and utilize evidence-informed prevention and treatment approaches. They are aware of the stigma around substance abuse, and equipped with skills to competently intervene with individuals and family members impacted by substance abuse in a caring and respectful manner.

The MSW Program at Baylor

The Master of Social Work (MSW) program at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, welcomes individuals who are committed to excellence and passionate about helping individuals impacted by substance abuse. Our mission is to prepare compassionate alumni who have acquired the knowledge and skills to work in a culturally responsive and competent manner with individuals, families, and communities dealing with substance abuse.

Specifically, our MSW curriculum provides extensive training, evidence-informed models, and the opportunity to develop the necessary skills to ameliorate substance abuse disorders across the lifespan, prevention, treatment, and recovery spectrums. Our training program is unique in its focus on training students to ethnically integrate religion and spirituality with social work practice. This means our students develop their own ethical practice boundaries, and recognize and honor the unique religious or spiritual beliefs of the client. Such client led ethical integration can often hold important benefits for the client’s treatment and recovery.

You can make a lasting impact in your community and in the lives of individuals with your MSW. If social work practice and this kind of work is interesting to you, and you are looking to serve others in a caring and compassionate way, we encourage you to reach out and explore our program!

For more information on how you can earn your Master of Social Work degree and make a difference in your community, explore our digital resource page, Master of Social Work — The MBA of the Helping Professions.


Posted by Dr. Danielle Parrish

Dr. Danielle Parrish joined the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work in August 2018 after serving on faculty at the University of Houston for nine years. Dr. Parrish is also affiliated faculty with the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research specialties include Evidence-Based Practice, Intervention & Implementation Research, Prevention of Substance-Exposed Pregnancy, and Juvenile Justice Populations among others.