Assessment of an Alcoholic

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This article talks about three areas of focus when doing a social work assessment of a person who is suffering from Alcoholism.

Submitted: October 06, 2014

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Submitted: October 06, 2014



Treating drug addiction and alcoholism can be very complicated. As a social worker you have to take a multidisciplinary approach, to successfully meet the needs of the consumer. Assessing the consumer is vital in treatment because you need to refer him or her to the appropriate services. You also have to find out the variety of substances the individual has used in the past, or are you using currently. Finding the cause is the primary goal for successfully treating addictions because then you will be able to work with the consumer to overcome the obstacles the individual is facing.

The first step is to indicate what intervention needs to take place, but before you even do that you have to see if they have primary alcoholism, secondary alcoholism, or reactive alcoholism. According to Suppes and Wells (2003) Primary alcoholism is “characterized by heavy drinking often in response to physiological withdrawal symptoms.” (p.318). Secondary alcoholism is when a major psychiatric disorder triggers substance use. (p. 319.) Reactive alcoholism occurs shortly after a traumatic event. (p. 319).

The next step is to determine whether or not the consumer has alcohol dependence, alcohol abuse, or alcoholism. According to Suppes and Wells (2003) alcohol dependence is “characterized by compulsive drinking that produces such symptoms as tolerance for alcohol, withdrawal from it, ineffective efforts to cut back on its use, and failure to change the drinking behavior despite evidence that is causing serious difficulty. Alcohol abuse is “the recurrent use of alcohol to the extent that repeated use results in an inability to perform role functions of everyday life.” Alcoholism is “the compulsive use of alcohol characterized by evidence of abuse or dependence, resulting in some level of personal and social malfunctioning”. (p. 319)

Once you have all the previous information I have suggested you then look at the results of the assessment and prepare yourself and the consumer to engage in the most appropriate action. After you have received all of the information from the assessment, you would begin to think critically of what may be the main cause to this behavior.

The first thing I am going to talk about is the biological dimension. You assess the person’s medical history and existing health and nutritional problems. Due to heavy drinking the individual can develop cirrhosis of the liver. If cirrhosis continues to be untreated it can cause death. The psychological dimension is when the social worker will review the consumers mental health history to see if there is an underlying cause. For example, if 32 year old James has schizophrenia and the illness is being untreated, he can resort to alcohol or other substances to stop the voices or delusions. The last dimension is social; you review the person’s relationships, inside and outside of the immediate environment. If Jonanne works as a bartender and is continuously drinking on and off the job, this environment is probably not the best place for a successful recovery.

Although, relapse is common with people who abuse substances, there is still hope for the individual. Part of recovery is when you relapse and get back up and move forward. Something I believe the system fails to do for these individuals is once they are discharged from treatment, a lot of times they go back to the same environment. For most individuals, you have to change the people you hung around with, places where you hung around at, and things you were surrounded by. The recovery will be smoother for the person, but only if they want it.  Social work is not all about one person doing all the work, you have to guide the person, but let them make their own choices, but at the same time provide options.



Md. (n.d.). Health Risks of Alcohol: 12 Health Problems Associated with Chronic Heavy Drinking. WebM- Better information. Better health.. Retrieved November 2, 2011, from

Suppes, M. A., & Wells, C. C. (2003). The social work experience: an introduction to social work and social welfare (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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