26 July, 2023

How occupational therapy can support people experiencing substance use

How does occupational therapy support people experiencing substance use?

Deirdre Ryan, Occupational Therapist here in St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS), speaks about the relationship between occupational therapy and substance use on Everyday Evidence, a podcast from the American Occupational Therapy Association.

The podcast episode follows a special issue of the journal Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, published in March 2023, which focused on substance use and occupational therapy and included an article written by Deirdre, together with Dr Marie Naughton, Meabh de Faoite, and Tara Dowd of our team here in SPMHS and Dr Ann-Marie Morrissey of the University of Limerick’s Health Research Institute.

Deirdre joins the journal’s guest editor Emily Rothman (Boston University) and Amy Mattila (Duquesne University) to discuss the role of occupational therapy in working with people experiencing substance use disorders and explore evidence-based recommendations for clinical practice, research and education.

Within occupational therapy, the term “occupation” describes the things that people do to look after themselves, enjoy their life (such as leisure and activities) and be productive (such as college or work).

During the podcast, it is noted that research, highlighted in the recent journal, is finding an awareness that activities that can be risky or unhealthy can hold meaning for people. Deirdre explains that this is an important acknowledgement in supporting people experiencing substance abuse use disorders.

“It’s really only in recent times that there’s been this increased awareness that occupations that may not seem to be the social norms or that a lot of people would automatically assume to have only negative consequences do hold quite a lot of meaning for people. Research has brought to the forefront that there is meaning in any occupation.”

She explains that she hopes this awareness will add to “more insightful and more supportive long-term interventions”.

This awareness means that, rather than getting into the “right” or “wrong” of something, “we need to focus on what that means for the person and how best to support that person’s wellbeing and function”. For Deirdre, when this focus remains at the core of everything, occupational therapy can play an important role in prevention, treatment and rehabilitation around substance use disorders across varied settings.

“Substance use disorders are so diffuse in our society now… My huge focus is just supporting the people that I work with towards creating a routine or a lifestyle where substances or addictive behaviours can be made redundant, that they are no longer relied on; so, aim to explore what people can do or what they would like to do.”

Hear more

Hear more from Deirdre and the podcast guests.

Listen to the podcast here