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A Systematic Literature Review of Strengths-Based Approaches to Drug Use Management and Treatment

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A Correction to this article was published on 30 May 2023

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Strengths-based theory, a pillar of clinical social work practice, emphasizes the importance of recognizing the inherent and learned skills and abilities that people possess and can leverage toward self-actualization and wellness. However, strengths-based approaches are under-investigated in the field of drug use management and treatment, foreclosing a richer view into how to better understand, engage, and support people who nonmedically use drugs (PWUD) through practice and research. Focusing on interventions conducted with PWUD, we conducted a systematic literature review to identify, classify, and characterize existing strengths-based paradigms and approaches to drug use management and treatment. Using these findings, we formulate and describe a holistic conceptual model for advancing training, practice, and research in this space. The following domains emerged and were contextualized for their strengths-based dimensions: (1) Harm Reduction Services; (2) Strengths-Based Case Management; (3) Trauma-Informed Practice; and (4) Collectivist Racial, Ethnic, Gender, Sexual, and Intersectional Identity-Focused Interventions. These bodies of literature showed limited connectivity as a comprehensive clinical modality, which we proposed to address through the Integrated Strengths-Based Engagement Framework (ISBEF). To this end, a complex array of strengths-based paradigms have been developed and implemented to support the well-being of PWUD. However, there is a need for more rigorous and uniform approaches for the implementation and measurement of strengths-based approaches, particularly in work with racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual minority populations, which the ISBEF provides a structure for.

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Hepatitis C


Medication-assisted treatment


Medication for opioid use disorder


Opioid use disorder


People who nonmedically use drugs


Syringe Services Program


Strengths-Based Case Management


Trauma-informed Practice


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This research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (4UH3DA044829-03).

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Ezell, J.M., Pho, M., Jaiswal, J. et al. A Systematic Literature Review of Strengths-Based Approaches to Drug Use Management and Treatment. Clin Soc Work J 51, 294–305 (2023).

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