What Happens During a Substance Abuse Evaluation?

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The first step towards getting sober is recognizing you have a problem and asking for help. Whether you request help from your doctor, a mental health professional, or an addiction specialist, you will have to go through a substance abuse evaluation.

A substance abuse evaluation helps inform treatment providers about your current situation so they can assess your needs and develop an individualized treatment plan. This clinical tool can evaluate the severity of your addiction, the presence of any co-occurring disorders, and your overall health.

While this process may seem simple, it’s actually fairly detailed and complex. Here’s what you can expect.

What Happens During a Substance Abuse Evaluation?

substance abuse evaluation process

Drug and alcohol evaluations generally have two distinct phases: the initial screening and a more comprehensive assessment.


Screening can be conducted by an entry-level addiction professional or a licensed counselor/mental health specialist. This step is meant to determine whether or not you have a problem with drugs or alcohol in the first place. If the answer is “no,” you may be referred to a different type of care. But, if the answer is determined to be “yes,” you’ll move into the second phase of your evaluation: the assessment.


Assessments are conducted by a licensed professional such as a doctor, nurse, therapist, or social worker. This step is more thorough as it defines what type of substance abuse problem you have, how severe the problem is, and what your unique treatment needs are going to be. The assessment is used by the clinical team to craft an individually-tailored treatment program that gives you the best chances at sustained sobriety.

Types of Screening Used During Substance Abuse Evaluations

The screening portion of your assessment may happen in person, over the phone, or online. It is usually brief and fairly quick. There are various tools used for drug and alcohol screenings, such as:

Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI)

SASSI is a popular self-reporting screening tool to evaluate people who struggle with drug use disorder. It helps identify people who can benefit from substance abuse treatment. SASSI is usually conducted like a structured interview.[1] You will simply have to answer the questions you are asked honestly and thoroughly.

CAGE Questionnaire

CAGE is one of the most widely used questionnaires to assess peoples’ relationships with alcohol. You may be asked the following questions, such as:[2]

  • C – “Cut down” on drinking: Do you feel, or have you ever felt, the need to moderate your alcohol intake/stop drinking?
  • A – Annoyed by your drinking: Are your friends, family, and loved ones frustrated with your drinking patterns?
  • G – Guilt about drinking: Do you feel guilty about your drinking habits?
  • E – Eye-opener: Do you need to take a drink when you first wake up to cure a hangover or to prevent withdrawal symptoms?

State-Specific Screening Tools

Some states have their own screening tools that may be used in addition to or in place of SASSI and CAGE. These screening tools may vary by state.

Types of Assessment Tools Used During Drug and Alcohol Evaluations

Assessments provide a more in-depth look at your drug and alcohol use. This part of a substance abuse evaluation helps the clinical team identify patterns relating to your substance abuse, diagnose possible mental health conditions, and understand the type of care you may benefit from.

Diagnostic Interview Schedule-V (DIS-V)

DIS-V is a structured assessment tool that determines whether or not you have a mild, moderate, or severe substance use disorder by referencing the DSM-V. The DSM-V outlines 11 criteria of drug and alcohol use disorders.[3] Although the criteria are very specific, the details you provide during your interview can give the clinical team valuable insight into your treatment needs.

Addiction Severity Index (ASI)

ASI is a semi-structured interview that examines seven specific areas of your life, including:[4]

  • Medical status
  • Employment and social support
  • Drug use
  • Alcohol use
  • Legal status
  • Family/social status
  • Psychiatric status

This information can provide the clinical team with a comprehensive look into your current health status and your individual treatment needs.

How are Court-Ordered Substance Abuse Evaluations Different?

Most people who enter treatment and have a drug and alcohol evaluation do so voluntarily. However, a judge can order an evaluation through a state-certified agency if a person’s legal case involves drug or alcohol use. A few types of criminal charges that may result in an evaluation include:

  • Public intoxication
  • Distribution (selling drugs)
  • Minor in possession
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Possessing a fake ID

Court-ordered evaluations go through the same process as voluntary ones do. If you are subjected to a court-ordered substance abuse evaluation, you may feel embarrassed or ashamed, but it is still important that you answer all questions honestly and fully. The more honest you are during your evaluation, the more effective your rehabilitation will be.

Start Your Substance Abuse Evaluation Today

Has drug or alcohol abuse taken over your life? If so, our team at New Jersey Addiction Intervention is here to help. When you call one of our admissions counselors, they will conduct a pre-screening to get an idea of your needs and help connect you with an appropriate treatment provider.

Regardless of your current situation, we encourage you to reach out for help today. Addiction specialists are standing by to take your call.


  1. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/assessingalcohol/instrumentpdfs/66_sassi.pdf
  2. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/johns_hopkins_healthcare/downloads/all_plans/CAGE
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3767415/
  4. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/assessingalcohol/instrumentpdfs/04_asi.pdf

Medically Reviewed: October 22, 2021

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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