“Let’s Talk”: Social Workers’ Vital Role in Reducing Risky Drinking

By Takia Richardson, LICSW, LCSW, NASW Senior Practice Associate, Behavioral Health, and Diana Ling, Outreach Program Coordinator, Health Behavior Research and Training Institute, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin

Social workers are needed on the front lines of a growing women’s health issue: risky drinking. Women’s rates of deaths tied to alcohol increased 85 percent from 1999 to 2017, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. That’s compared to a 35 percent increase among men and a 51 percent overall increase in Social Worker Talking With Client Across Tabledeaths tied to alcohol.  What’s more, research also shows that women who drink alcohol face a higher risk of alcohol-related problems – including liver damage and heart disease – than men who drink the same amount.

As one of the largest groups of behavioral health providers, social workers are well positioned to help women avoid drinking too much, including avoiding alcohol during pregnancy. In addition, the variety of social work practice settings – including health and mental health centers, hospitals, and private practice – creates a wide range of opportunities to assess and intervene when women drink at risky levels.

What Social Workers Can Do

Alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) has been proven to work: It can reduce how much alcohol a person drinks on an occasion by 25 percent, and public health experts recommend it for all adults, including pregnant women. Yet only one in five adults who binge drink say they’ve been advised by a health professional to cut back on drinking.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, an opportunity to make alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) part of your routine practice. Social workers are often poised to conduct alcohol screening and deliver brief interventions, especially when they are key members of clinical teams serving women of reproductive age. Alcohol SBI can also be Social Worker Talking With Female Clienteasily embedded into biopsychosocial assessments.

Help your clients take the first step to better health by starting the conversation about risky drinking, including advising women not to drink at all if they are pregnant or may be pregnant.

NASW and the NASW Foundation, along with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other leading medical organizations, have teamed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Collaborative for Alcohol-Free Pregnancy, a cross-discipline public health initiative. Together, we are working to encourage health professionals to make proven prevention strategies part of routine practice.

To learn more, visit NASW’s Behavioral Health webpage for practice tools and professional development resources. Additional clinical resources are available through our Collaborative partners:

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