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Neuroscience and Substance Abuse

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SW706, Section 001

The criminalization of substance use disorders is perhaps one of the most urgent racial and social justice issues of social work today. Understanding the neuroscience behind substance use disorders is one of the most impactful strategies for social workers to employ when advocating for clients at interdisciplinary tables. This mini-course will provide an introduction to the neuroscience of substance use disorders with emphasis on both science and social justice. Topics covered include basics of cellular communication and neurotransmission, different types of neuroimaging techniques and the structural and functional impact of the main classes of psychoactive substances. The course will also address interdisciplinary health considerations (chronic pain, pregnancy, overdose prevention), harm reduction models, MAT, systemic racism and the carceral system. Social work students will receive most current neuroscience perspectives on the development and trajectory of chemical dependence that can be employed in practice to directly challenge stigma related to substance use disorders. Students will learn about structural and functional neurological changes that comprise the characteristic symptoms of substance use disorders and will be able to identify the genetic mechanisms that result in sustained changes in mesocortical and mesolimbic dopaminergic processing. Students will critically evaluate current approaches to diagnosing and treating substance use disorders and will discuss strategies to apply translational knowledge gained from neuroscience in practice.

Semester: Fall 2021
Instructor: Kathryn K. Irish
U-M Class #: 30417
Program Type: Residential
Format: Online
Credits: 1 Credit Hours

Pathway Associations

Community Change
Interpersonal PracticeElective (Host)
Mgmt & Leadership
Policy & Political
Program Evaluation
Older Adults
Children & Families

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