In This Article Alcohol Problems: Practice Interventions

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • Manuals and Guidebooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • International Works
  • Family Interventions
  • Treatment History
  • Biological Factors
  • Harm Reduction
  • Prevention of Binge Drinking
  • Special Populations
  • Alcohol and Interpersonal Violence
  • Treatment Effectiveness

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Social Work Alcohol Problems: Practice Interventions
Katherine van Wormer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0057


Since America’s war on drugs got under way in the 1980s, the government’s attention has been predominantly on illicit drugs and only minimally on alcohol problems. Yet, it is the legal drug alcohol that is associated with the majority of substance-abuse problems in American society, most notably alcohol-related traffic fatalities, child abuse and neglect, fetal alcohol syndrome, and violence. This article identifies treatment resources from the fields of social work, psychology, and counseling, with specific relevance to alcoholism treatment. Government resources available over the Internet are identified as well. An emphasis is placed on treatment interventions that are empirically based and that have served the test of time. Because European treatment approaches are different from those in the United States, where the disease model predominates, every effort has been made to include European and Australian sources written in English. The readings in this article on issues related to alcoholism treatment cover matters including the history of alcohol use, biological aspects of alcohol misuse, harm reduction, and binge drinking.

Introductory Works

Many excellent references provide a foundation for knowledge about the state of alcoholism treatment. The reader will learn from these resources that a wide range of treatment models are available, and some disagreement exists among writers within the United States as well as globally concerning which model is the most effective. Loosening the Grip, a popularized book by Jean Kinney (Kinney 2014), offers a good deal of factual information about the biology of alcohol and is therefore a good place to start for an overview of the impact of alcoholism. Instructors might want to consult Audrey Begun’s book chapter (Begun 2012) also for a general introduction to alcohol problems in US society. The chapter in Rooney 2018 focuses more on policy treatment issues; its major contribution is in the attention to the involuntary nature of the treatment clientele in this field, in which most clients are pushed one way or the other into entering treatment. Social workers might want to read the description in Daley and Feit 2013 of how social work roles intercept with problems related to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. For classroom viewing the documentary Addiction (Home Box Office 2007) is useful in the interviews it provides with experts on addiction and the brain, and film of an actual drug court in session. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is one of the most invaluable resources for alcoholism counselors and researchers. The listing here (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2014) provides much useful information about alcoholism’s impact on society.

  • Begun, Audrey I. 2012. Alcohol abuse and dependence: The 7% problem. In Social work matters: The power of linking policy and practice. Edited by Elizabeth F. Hoffler and Elizabeth J. Clark. Washington, DC: NASW Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    An excellent introduction to social work practice with persons with alcohol problems. Discusses the extent of alcohol problems in our society.

  • Daley, Dennis C., and Marvin D. Feit. 2013. The many roles of social workers in the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug addiction: A major health and social problem affecting individuals, families, and society. In Special issue: The role of social work in the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. Social Work in Public Health 28.3–4: 159–164.

    DOI: 10.1080/19371918.2013.758960E-mail Citation »

    This article is an introduction to others in the journal issue; it gives an overview of social work roles in the many diverse fields in which social workers will encounter people with substance abuse problems.

  • Home Box Office. 2007. Addiction: Centerpiece documentary.

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    This documentary is the centerpiece of the nine films that make up the Addiction Project. Segments on the brain and interviews with well-known scientists and specialists in alcoholism and other forms of drug abuse have been directed and produced by award-winning filmmakers and experts in the field.

  • Kinney, Jean. 2014. Loosening the grip: A handbook of alcohol information. 11th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    E-mail Citation »

    This user-friendly book, highlighted with cartoon drawings, provides an excellent introduction to facts that alcoholism counselors need to know.

  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2014. Measuring the burden of alcohol. Washington, DC: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

    E-mail Citation »

    Charts and diagrams are provided to show the devastation caused by heavy drinking, in terms of health and economic factors.

  • Pagano, Maria E., William L. White, John F. Kelly, Robert L. Stout, and J. Scott Tonigan. 2013. The 10-year course of Alcoholics Anonymous participation and long-term outcomes: A follow-up study of outpatient subjects in Project MATCH. In Special issue: Alcoholics Anonymous: Science update. Substance Abuse 34.1: 51–59.

    DOI: 10.1080/08897077.2012.691450E-mail Citation »

    Results at ten-year follow-up of participants in the experimental treatment offered by Project MATCH counselors showed significant effects of Alcoholics Anonymous meeting attendance on reduced alcohol outcomes.

  • Rooney, Ronald, ed. 2018. Strategies for work with involuntary clients. 3d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Since most of the clients in substance abuse treatment are sent there involuntarily, this is an excellent resource with a wealth of practical suggestions. Includes one chapter and much other material on working with clients with addiction problems.

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