Mental Health

What is a Substance Abuse Evaluation?

Substance abuse is the medical term used to describe a pattern of using a substance (drug) that causes significant problems or distress. This may be missing work or school or using the substance in dangerous situations, such as driving a car. It may lead to substance-related legal problems or continued substance use that interferes with friendships, family relationships, or both. Substance abuse, as a recognized medical brain disorder, refers to the abuse of illegal substances, such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. Or it may be the abuse of legal substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, or prescription medicines. Alcohol is the most common legal drug of abuse.

According to the World Health Organization, one of the key impacts of illicit drug use on society is the negative health consequences experienced by its members. Injecting drugs carries a high risk of infection with blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, and the sharing of contaminated needles and syringes is an important mode of transmission for those viruses. Drug use also puts a heavy financial burden on individuals, families, and society.

What is a substance abuse evaluation?

A substance use evaluation, also known as a drug and alcohol evaluation, is a process that takes place between an individual and an addictions counselor. It typically comprises of a clinical interview, completion of written assessments or screening tools, and a urine drug screen that culminates in a written letter describing the results of the evaluation including any diagnoses or recommendations for substance abuse treatment.

The purpose of substance abuse evaluations are:

  • To determine if the individual has a drug or alcohol addiction
  • To assess the level of severity of the substance use or addiction
  • Discover if there are any co-occurring conditions, including physical or mental health concerns, or other drug use
  • To measure the extent to which the individual’s substance use affects their life
  • To provide an overview of the person and their particular circumstances so that the treatment can best suit their needs for recovery

Usually, a certified state agency administers substance abuse evaluations. The overall purpose, process, and types of assessments and treatments tend to be uniform. But each state has its own requirements.  People are often referred for a substance abuse evaluation due to court proceedings, recent arrests, and/or return-to-work or fitness for duty concerns.

These are examples of circumstances or convictions where a judge might require an evaluation:

  • Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving under the influence of drugs (DUID)
  • Minor in Possession (MIP)
  • Arrest for drug or alcohol possession
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Public intoxication
  • Using a false ID
  • Custody of minor children concerns (abuse, neglect allegations)

Generally, the offender is responsible for the costs of the evaluation and the treatment program. The substance abuse evaluation fee varies by state, but it’s typically around $100 to $150 and is paid directly to the agency performing the evaluation.

What to Expect During Substance Abuse Evaluation?

Every evaluation begins with a comprehensive diagnostic assessment performed by addiction counselors. A Substance Abuse Evaluation looks at past and current substance use patterns, family background and relationships, medical status, legal status, educational background, and any history of substance abuse treatment.

Each evaluation results in a typed report being sent to each referring agency. If a substance use diagnosis is identified, the facility will then determine the extent or severity of substance abuse and the lowest level of care required to safely and successfully achieve sobriety. Recommendations in the Evaluation Report are based on each client’s personal history, legal status, and risk of ongoing substance use determined during the evaluation process.


Dr. Oche Otorkpa PG Cert, MPH, PhD

Dr. Oche is a seasoned Public Health specialist who holds a post graduate certificate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an MPH, and a PhD both from Texila American University. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK. He authored two books: "The Unseen Terrorist," published by AuthorHouse UK, and "The Night Before I Killed Addiction."
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