Substance Abuse Evaluations: What To Expect

If you decide to enter rehab for a substance use disorder, you might be required to undergo a drug abuse evaluation. This evaluation is a screening tool used by treatment professionals to determine the extent of one’s substance use and how they can best create an individualized care program tailored to one’s needs and situation.

What Is a Substance Use Evaluation?

A substance use evaluation is a clinical tool used to determine what’s going on with a person who struggles with addiction. Furthermore, an evaluation may also include additional questions that help identify any existing conditions that need co-occurring disorder treatment. A substance use evaluation can also determine:

  • the duration of time to which substance use has impacted their life
  • the degree of an individual’s drug or alcohol abuse/addiction 
  • if there are co-occurring concerns (e.g., depression, anxiety, etc.)

Court-Ordered Substance Abuse Evaluations

Sometimes people end up in legal trouble because of alcohol or illegal drug-related issues. The court may order a substance abuse evaluation when a charge involves illegal drugs or alcohol. When a charge involves drugs or alcohol, a judge may order a substance abuse evaluation. The evaluation is usually conducted by an agency certified by the state. In some states, an evaluation may be required as part of the mandatory sentencing procedure.

A court-ordered substance abuse evaluation might be required if you’re charged with the following:

  • illegal drug possession
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI)/ Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)  or Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID)
  • public intoxication
  • disorderly conduct
  • using a false ID
  • minor in possession (MIP)

During the evaluation, which usually lasts between 60–90 minutes, you‘ll be interviewed by someone who is trained in substance addiction treatment. They will conduct an in-depth review of your past substance abuse history and review any documents you provide (or your attorney).

When Is a Substance Abuse Evaluation Performed?

Substance Abuse Evaluations are usually used any time there is a cause for concern regarding someone’s drug and/or alcohol use. Most situations when they are performed include when loved ones are concerned about someone, for employment reasons, or legal trouble.

Worried and concerned family members and friends may suggest a substance use evaluation when:

  • they observe the individual’s substance use is causing problems in their everyday life
  • an adult child suspects substance abuse in a parent or loved one
  • an individual is unwilling to voluntarily seek treatment on their own

When an individual is performing poorly at work or their employer is concerned about possible substance abuse that may be affecting their performance, they may require an individual to undergo a substance abuse evaluation. Some behaviors that may trigger an employer can be:

  • positive drug tests

  • coming to work intoxicated or smelling of alcohol
  • inconsistent and unpredictable behavior
  •  irregular attendance

Substance Abuse Evaluations (SAEs) are conducted by medical professionals trained to evaluate individuals suspected of abusing substances. These evaluations include physical examinations, psychological testing, and interviews with family members, friends, coworkers, supervisors, and others familiar with the person being evaluated. The results of the evaluation are then used to determine whether or not the individual should be referred for treatment. 

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What To Expect During a Substance Abuse Evaluation

A substance abuse evaluation is usually broken down into two processes: screening and assessment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines these steps as the following:

  • Screening: a process for evaluating the possible presence of a particular problem. The outcome is typically a simple yes or no.
  • Assessment: a process for defining the nature of that problem, determining a diagnosis, and developing specific treatment recommendations for the problem or diagnosis.

These two steps may be administered by a substance abuse counselor, primary healthcare providers, social workers, and others. This professional will ask for information about your past and current substance use, how it has affected your life, physical health history, and any previous history of addiction treatment. 


The screening process during a substance abuse evaluation is an important part of the evaluation as it helps staff determine if the situation requires precautionary care and assistance. This step will help prevent the substance abuse from progressing into something much worse and determine if substance abuse is present. 

Commonly used screening tools include the following:

Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI): this tool helps the interviewer identify individuals who have a high chance of being diagnosed with a substance use disorder. This screening is easily-administered and can help determine the significance of someone’s substance use and any willingness to admit an issue with alcohol and/or drug use. 

CAGE Questionnaire: the most commonly used method for screening. This questionnaire asks four brief questions in relation to an individual’s drinking habits. The questions form the word CAGE – Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking or drug use?, Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking or drug use?, Do you ever feel Guilty or bad about your drinking or drug use?, Have you ever had a drink or done drugs first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (Eye-opener)? )

State-Specific Screening: Some states may have specific screening tools that may be required instead of the above-mentioned screening tools or in addition to the aforementioned tools.

Screening is most effective when administered by a professional who can review and assess the result and provide the next steps. 


A substance abuse assessment is a more in-depth evaluation of a person’s relationship with drug or alcohol addiction. An assessment identifies patterns around someone’s substance-related behavior to find specific evidence of potential addiction and to make a proper diagnosis.

A diagnostic interview usually occurs, during which the interviewer asks questions related to the screening to understand the patient’s substance use patterns. This can be accomplished by either conducting a structured interview or a semistructured interview.

 Two common tools used to perform an assessment include:

  • Diagnostic Interview Schedule-IV (DIS-IV): This is the only fully structured tool for use by non-clinical interviewers used to determine the presence of a diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).
  • Addiction Severity Index (ASI): This semi-structured interview examines drug use, alcohol use, medical status, psychiatric status, employment and support, legal status, and family/social status. ASI addresses an individual’s use of drugs and/or alcohol in the past thirty days and the lifetime of substance use patterns.

Court-Ordered Evaluations - What To Expect

A court-ordered evaluation will be similar to how a standard substance abuse evaluation is performed.  Court-ordered evaluations determine if there is an ongoing condition present such as a substance use disorder (SUD). If enough evidence has not been determined, many states may still require an individual to undergo program or treatment obligations as deemed appropriate by a judge. 

Depending on the state where you were convicted, the type of crime committed, your criminal history, and the recommendations of an agency that evaluated you, there may be requirements for you to attend one or more programs such as:

  • AA or NA meetings
  • DUI Alcohol Program or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program (RRP)
  • substance abuse education classes
  • counseling sessions 
  • outpatient or inpatient treatment at a rehab facility 
  • random drug and/or alcohol tests

If you have been convicted of a crime, you should take advantage of any programs offered by your local community corrections department. These programs can help you avoid future criminal activity, improve your chances of success after release, and exhibit to the court that you take your responsibilities seriously. 

Addiction Treatment Facility Evaluations

The first step before being admitted into an addiction treatment facility is to have someone from the facility’s clinical team perform a substance abuse evaluation. The evaluation provides the client team and other staff members a comprehensive look into your specific situation and history. This allows facilities, like Riverside Recovery of Tampa, to provide our clients with an individualized and effective treatment plan. 

Finding Treatment at Riverside Recovery of Tampa

If substance abuse is having a negative effect on you or your loved one’s life, it might be time to seek help. It can be overwhelming when a substance abuse disorder is diagnosed and know that our team at Riverside Recovery of Tampa is here for support. Almost 75% of our staff are in recovery and many of us have been in your situation before. 

Contact our admissions team at 800-871-5440 today to learn more about substance abuse evaluations, recovery, and our addiction treatment program options.