Monthly Archives: May 2012

What is a Substance Abuse Evaluation?

A Substance Abuse Evaluation is an assessment of an individual who has used, abused or become dependent upon a mood altering substance such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or opiates.  The need for a substance abuse evaluation occurs when the individual has experienced negative consequences due to the use of the mood altering substances.  Some examples are a man that received a DUI arrest, a woman who has been put on probation due to frequent absenteeism at work that is substance abuse related, a teenager who suddenly changes friends and whose grades make a turn for the worst or a young person that ended up in the emergency room after overdosing on prescription drugs.  The suggestion for a substance abuse evaluation may come from a lawyer, the court, a boss, a concerned family member or a spouse.  What is the process once the person decides he or she needs a Substance Abuse Evaluation?

Step 1 Set the Appointment

The person needing the evaluation makes an appointment with a counselor who has specialized in Substance Abuse Counseling.  It is important to bring important information to the assessment.  For example, if the client needs a Substance Abuse Evaluation for the courts, it is important to bring copies of all the legal documents.  The evaluator will need the contact information of the attorney, the date of the arrest, the specific court and judge and any other pertinent legal information.  It is important for the evaluator to know exactly why the individual needs the evaluation so that the evaluator can choose the appropriate assessment tools.

Step 2 Attend the Assessment

The person receiving the evaluation usually fills out basic information, and some written assessments about their substance abuse history.  After completing the initial paperwork, the evaluator will conduct an oral interview.  The interview is designed to get as much information regarding the history of substance use, and the negative consequences associated with the substance use.  The amount of negative consequences indicates the severity of the problem.  The evaluator also discerns the level of positive impression management.  Positive impression management is the level of putting on a good front, despite having many substance abuse related problems.  There is usually some level of minimizing the impact of the substance abuse, and this is revealed through the inconsistencies during the oral interview. It is recommended for the person being evaluated to be as honest as possible, because inconsistencies and minimizations can result in more severe recommendations.  The evaluator’s main objective is to clearly recommend whatever level of care is best for the person struggling with the substance abuse. To use an analogy for an example, the emergency room is not appropriate for a sprained hand, just as an outpatient doctor visit next week is not appropriate for a heart attack victim.  The evaluator is seeking to clearly assess the severity of the problem. And make the appropriate recommendation.  The interview usually takes between 45 – 75 minutes.

Step 3 The Written Report

The evaluator will go over all the information of the interview, and score any standardized assessments that were used.  Usually, a Substance Abuse Report will have a clinical summary, a diagnosis and recommendations.  The clinical summary is a general summary of the substance abuse history, supported by facts received from the written and oral interview.  The evaluator will give his or her opinion about the level of substance abuse, based on the amount of negative consequences.  The diagnosis is the appropriate DSM IV diagnosis.  This diagnosis is based of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by the medical profession.  There are standard diagnostic codes for certain disorders, and it helps professionals in the mental health field have a common understanding of the substance abuse problem.  The third part of the report is the recommendations for the person who is evaluated.  Any substance abuse evaluation will have recommendations for the individual, and they are based on the severity of the substance abuse problem.  Recommendation can vary from educational counseling to inpatient substance abuse treatment.  The recommendations are the steps an individual should take in order to discontinue the substance abuse.  The written report is given to the person evaluated, and also to other important individuals such as a lawyer, spouse or boss.

These are the 3 basic steps of a Substance Abuse Evaluation, and it can serve as a catalyst to help someone that you love out of the self-destructive cycle of substance abuse.

Dean Sunseri is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Baton Rouge, who has specialized in the evaluation, assessment and treatment of Substance Abuse.  He is co-author of the book A Roadmap to the Soul.

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