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A Problem-Solving Approach: Substance Use Disorder Treatment Through the Lens of a Social Worker

A Problem-Solving Approach: Substance Use Disorder Treatment Through the Lens of a Social Worker

Life of Purpose was created as part of the implementation of a macro level social work intervention to address the systemic needs of young people receiving treatment for substance use disorders (SUD) in a modern environment. By providing a research driven solution through integration with higher education, we are implementing alternative solutions and goals in the field of alcohol and/or other drug (AOD) treatment. Drawing from social work theory and lived experience, the Life of Purpose model treats young adults with substance use disorders from a problem solving approach.  Evaluation of the normative treatment episode would suggest that the industry is not providing effective solutions for the decreasing age of onset and timing in AOD treatment. A treatment methodology where young adults concurrently receive clinical services and educational support produces a service unique and arguably superior to the more generalized and generic treatment models that currently dominate the industry.

Our facility was founded to concurrently provide clinical services and educational support for young adults with SUDs whose academic path has been disrupted. One of the unique components of our business structure and treatment model is that our clinical team views young adults through the lens of person-in-environment and operates from a strengths-based perspective. Clients are engaged in a planned change process that not only incorporates effective services on a micro and mezzo level, but Life of Purpose is also equipped to perform macro (community/system) interventions. This manifests itself in an operating agreement that dedicates 10% of net profits annually to the funding of research and collegiate recovery services. We have recruited staff members dedicated to furthering our mission to reshape systemic issues that inhibit long-term recovery. It is not simply enough to provide good clinical services. Rather, efforts must be made to shape the environment we discharge our clients into following the primary phase of treatment. Through the application of an ecological perspective, we focus on the systems and seek to reform them to meet the needs of the young adults.

Evidence-based research suggests that self-esteem, meaning and purpose in life, and education levels are all insulating factors against relapse. One study evaluating the efficacy of treatment in the young adult subpopulation (aged 18-24) revealed that first-year post-treatment relapse rates range from 60% to 79%, with over 90% returning to substance use within the first five years. A number of factors are cited for the high rate of recidivism. Some include negative affect, social situations, temptations to use, and academic challenges; all are highly prevalent in youths’ daily context, and constitute key relapse triggers for the subpopulation. Youths and young adults differ greatly from their adult counterparts, and, as such, need a developmentally appropriate treatment model and recovery support system. The Life of Purpose model is designed to address many of the factors cited by various studies.

Viewing through the lens of person-in-environment, a client is treated within the context of their associated systems, allowing us to understand behavior in light of the environmental contexts in which the person lives and acts. The ecological perspective suggests that a social worker must emphasize the dysfunctional interactions between young adults with SUDs and their physical and social environments. Traditionally, young adults have been diverted away from higher education due to the view that a university campus presents as an “abstinence-hostile” environment. While it is true that nearly a quarter of the 5.4 million college students in the United States meet the criteria for a SUD, academia also provides a number of resources supportive of long-term recovery. Life of Purpose views higher education as the most logical and beneficial extension of the true continuum of care. The growing collegiate recovery movement advocates for the development of campus-based “recovery-friendly” space and supportive social community to enhance educational opportunities while supporting students’ continued recovery and emotional growth. The goal of a Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP) is to allow recovering students to extend their participation in a continuing care program without having to postpone or surrender achieving their educational goals. This first national survey of established CRPs discovered that the students in recovery with programming outperformed institution-wide averages in GPA, graduation rates, retention rates, and service hours performed. With relapse rates in the single digits over the course of the study, the students in recovery proved to be an asset to the collegiate environment. The alternative to the pursuit of higher education is placement in the unskilled workforce. Not only will young people be faced with the emotions tied to stagnation and a lack of upward mobility, but they are also likely to encounter environments with equal or greater degrees of “abstinence-hostility” than those encountered on university campuses. The employment opportunities one can obtain without a college degree or vocational certification are often teeming with heavy drinking and illicit drug usage.

Collaboration with higher education to offer academically-focused treatment affords clients in the early stages of rehabilitation the opportunity to strengthen the foundation of their lives in long-term recovery. Recovery advocates coined the term recovery capital, which is the volume of internal and external assets that can be brought to bear to initiate and sustain recovery from alcohol and other drug problems. An academically-focused treatment methodology incorporates education as a fundamental element of building personal recovery capital. Provision of access to education can dramatically alter the way one perceives his or herself in early recovery. An uninterrupted continuum of care is only achievable by systemically addressing this need through the process of endlessly funding research and collegiate recovery services on campuses. Accordingly, each client referred to a CRP will have a support structure for the entire duration of his or her collegiate experience. The resultant research conducted will support the efficacy of leveraging education to help improve outcomes within the treatment industry, and subsequently alter the way treatment is conducted for young adults in the United States. Life of Purpose and collegiate recovery friendly universities will consequently become empowered to implement various macro level interventions on a national scale.

With universities becoming the logical extension in the true continuum of care for young adults in early SUD remission, an influx of students in recovery on college campuses compels universities to provide the resources, services, and tools necessary to promote lives of health and wellness to the aforementioned population. The result is a shift that garners the treatment industry more influence in academia and support for research initiatives. Evidence-based research on substance misuse, mental health, and recovery will lead to effective advocacy, driving public policy and legislation to propel systemic change. Research findings become the keystone of evidence-based policy-making. Through effective collaboration with academia, resources will become integrated to promote the systemic changes that will empower greater support to the recovery community throughout all levels of intervention.

Life of Purpose is built to address the previous attempts to design a model of treatment for young adults, which have failed to provide the platform for a prosperous life in long-term recovery.  The foundation of our model is empowerment. SAMHSA defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” It is a social worker’s ethical obligation to operate from a strengths perspective and to utilize empowerment as a tool to help individuals increase their interpersonal, personal, political, and socioeconomic strengths so they can improve their circumstances. The utilization of social work perspectives and values has led to our incorporation of academic institutions and research in addressing systematic problems to perform new solutions and evaluate the performance. Treating young adults within the context of their associated systems has allowed us to not only provide progressive interventions during the primary phase of treatment, but has allowed us to alter systems to substantiate the growth of pro-recovery support.  Leveraging the existing support structures in the form of collegiate recovery services, and altering other existing systems to promote long-term recovery, allows the AOD treatment industry to offer an unprecedented continuum of care. The bulk of the cost of this continuum is built into tuition and produces meaningful assets to a life full of meaning and purpose.



Andrew Burki MSW

Life of Purpose Treatment
3848 FAU Boulevard, Suite 100
Boca Raton, FL 33431
Admissions: 1.888.PURPOSE

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