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If you’re concerned that your loved one is struggling with addiction, you may want to turn to a professional for a formal evaluation or assessment of their drug and alcohol use. Alternatively, perhaps your loved one has been court-ordered to undergo an assessment or is seeking an assessment in order to enter an addiction treatment program.

Whatever the circumstances, it’s useful to understand how a typical drug and alcohol evaluation works and what to expect if you’re seeking one.

Who conducts a drug and alcohol evaluation?

Drug and alcohol evaluations are typically conducted by medical professionals, including primary care doctors, dentists, obstetricians, and pediatricians who are treating patients that they suspect may be suffering from a substance use disorder. Medical staff at an addiction treatment program may also be able to conduct drug and alcohol assessments, as well.

Why are drug and alcohol assessments necessary?

If your doctor, dentist, or another medical professional identifies troubling signs and symptoms that could indicate you are struggling with addiction, they may conduct a formal screening. This commonly occurs if patients show signs of abusing medications or experiencing mental or physical complications from addiction. In some cases, patients request that their doctors conduct a screening, while in other cases, doctors proactively choose to do so.

In some situations, individuals may be mandated by a court to undergo a drug and alcohol assessment or screening. Individuals may undergo a version of a drug and alcohol assessment when they enter an addiction treatment program, as well.

Common factors for conducting a drug and alcohol assessment include:

  • Patients who are seeking pain medications for the first time, or would like an increase in an existing pain medication prescription
  • Patients who exhibit medical complications from substance use, such as dental issues from the chronic use of methamphetamines
  • Patients who are pregnant and exhibit signs of addiction at any point during their pregnancy
  • Young adults who discuss frequent substance use or show signs of addiction
  • Individuals who have experienced criminal or legal trouble due to their addiction

Remember, if you do undergo a screening, that a drug and alcohol assessment is not a punishment. Instead, it is an opportunity for a medical professional to assist you in finding resources for help and treatment. There should be no shame or guilt associated with the process. Rather, an assessment is intended to help catch addiction-related issues prior to them spiraling out of control and harming yourself or others.

How does a drug and alcohol evaluation work?

doctor conducting a drug and alcohol assessmentThe process for a drug and alcohol evaluation usually includes an interview, a formal assessment and screening, and a discussion about recommendations and resources with a doctor or other medical professional.

1. Interview: A medical professional will typically begin the assessment process with an interview of their patient, helping them understand how long the individual has been using addictive substances and which types. This interview might also include a portion focused on the impact of addiction and substance use on the patient’s life, including any risk-taking behavior or other health complications.

2. Assessment and Screening: Medical professionals have a variety of tools at their disposal to help make a formal diagnosis of a substance use disorder. These include many different assessment tools which include a variety of questions designed to help gauge the severity of the disorder. Among these different tools include:

  • A “quick screen” tool that includes questions designed to help medical professionals identify risky substance use in its early stages and intervene before it becomes uncontrolled
  • A brief “opioid risk” tool that, in 1 minute or less, helps physicians determine if their patients are at high risk for opioid addiction, particularly in the form of pain medications
  • A screening tool designed to measure the likelihood of addiction among individuals who are managing chronic pain
  • A tool that determines the risk level for patients who are using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
  • Dedicated assessment tools for both problematic alcohol and drug use

In addition to these tools, doctors may also use their professional judgment and knowledge of their patients to help make a determination. They may request their medical records from previous doctors and even interview family members and friends of the patient for a more complete picture.

3. Recommendations and Resources: The final step in the assessment process is the recommendation, or intervention, phase. In this step, the medical professional conducting the assessment will make a formal determination. They will also provide recommendations and resources to the patient, including, if appropriate, a referral to an addiction treatment program.

A drug and alcohol assessment doesn’t have to be an intimidating and upsetting experience. Instead, view this conversation with your doctor as an opportunity to learn more about addiction and find the tools and resources you need to get sober.

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