What is a Substance Abuse Assessment?

A substance abuse assessment is a series of specific questions by an addictions counsellor to determine various aspects of someone’s consumption. When a person struggles with substance abuse disorder, there are certain steps to undergo. Assessment is one of them.

However, it does not mean a person could not just enter a private detox or rehab without prior assessment. It does, however, mean that, in general, any person struggling with illicit drug, alcohol, or medication abuse must undergo a proper assessment.

This step determines the proper course of treatment that will be most beneficial to the person.

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How is an Assessment Done?

There are various forms of substance abuse assessment. For instance, when a family member or an addicted person calls for help, the counsellor can do an assessment on the phone. A more detailed assessment occurs when the person arrives at an addiction treatment center.

When done on the phone, the referral counsellor will usually ask about the type of substance being used and the length of use. It’s important to know if the person has been using for weeks, months, or years. Knowing if they’re using opiates, pot, beer, or hard liquor will help determine the course of treatment.

Substance abuse assessment

The CAGE Substance Abuse Assessment

A well-known preliminary assessment is the CAGE assessment. It is an acronym for the following words:

  1. Cut
  2. Annoyed
  3. Guilty
  4. Eye

The CAGE acronym-represented letters are from these questions:

  1. Have you ever felt you should “cut” down on your substance use?
  2. Have people “annoyed” you by criticizing your substance use?
  3. Have you felt bad or “guilty about your substance use?
  4. Have you ever used a substance first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or start the day (an “eye” opener)?


Your answers will indicate a possible substance abuse problem. Typically, answering “yes” to two or more questions suggests you may have a substance dependency.

Other Forms of Assessment for Substance Abuse

As a substance user, you may not be comfortable speaking with your doctor or clinician in person. In this case, you can fill out a self-assessment form online and send it to your physician or assigned clinician. One can find such forms with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is a US site but still relevant for Canadians.

Whether for yourself or a loved one, this action helps determine the level of substance use disorder or if there is a problem to start with. When accurate information is given, it helps lay out proper treatment schedule. These assessments mainly aim to help the addiction counsellor or medical clinician determine the most appropriate treatment plan that will suit your needs.

Substance Abuse Assessments In Summary

A substance abuse assessment is a tool to help those struggling with drugs, alcohol, or prescription medication. The key factor for the client is honesty in their answers. Altering or lying will only hinder your recovery. You owe it to yourself to face the facts and get the best results for a substance-free life.   

Marc J. Bernard

Marc J. Bernard

Substance Use Disorder & Recovery Professional,
Referral & Consultation Counsellor


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