An alcohol assessment is a process that determines if an alcohol use disorder exists and, if so, the severity of an individual's alcohol problem.
You may be concerned about your alcohol use or the alcohol use of someone you love. Perhaps you’ve had a legal incident involving alcohol use (e.g., DUI, public intoxication). If so, seeking an alcohol assessment is usually a practical step; it may even be court-ordered.
Understanding what this assessment entails is vital to making the most informed decision about your or your loved one’s future.
This article explains what an alcohol assessment is, specifically:
- The different factors considered during an alcohol assessment
- What an alcohol assessment determines
- How the alcohol assessment works
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12. Final Words
An alcohol assessment is a process that determines if an individual's alcohol use is:
- Becoming problematic
- A poor coping mechanism
- Maladaptive and potentially destructive to one's self and relationships
- Or if a recent incident like a DUI, altercation, or a legal incident was situational and not the result of an alcohol use disorder
The assessment looks at a person’s drinking patterns, how much they consume on typical occasions, and the dangers of long-term alcohol use, misuse, or abuse.
An alcohol assessment can also be used:
- As a diagnostic tool to help counselors determine the best course of treatment.
For example, let’s say a client consistently consumes alcohol and they regret their consumption afterwards or are getting feedback from loved ones about their drinking being concerning. These circumstances may merit an assessment. A professional can determine if the person has a problem and, if so, what kind.
- As a critical step in the legal process.
For example, if you face legal trouble, you may be asked, or it may be suggested to you, to undergo an alcohol assessment. This helps the lawyer provide a more objective opinion about your alcohol use. In turn, judges will appreciate that they have a third-party professional opinion to help assess the level of risk to the public and the potential you may have for reoffending. It can ultimately help the court see your attitude and willingness to take responsibility for your choices and actions, which is generally favorable toward resolving the legal process.
If you or someone you love struggles with alcohol, consider seeking an assessment. It could be the first step to getting the help you need.
An alcohol assessment begins with a questionnaire about your alcohol use. This includes questions about:
- How much you drink
- How often you drink
- What type of environment you typically use alcohol in
These questions help determine whether a diagnosis or condition exists—and if so, the severity of the problem and whether you’re at risk of developing serious health issues due to drinking.
From here, if applicable, the assessment will dive deeper to evaluate whether:
- You’re in a low- or high-risk environment for alcohol use
- There are stressors that could make healing more complex.
- You are setting yourself up for success to avoid future negative incidents related to your alcohol use.
Your answers are then compared to other individuals with similar characteristics.
The assessment will also ask about your current situation, such as:
- Your job
- Relationship status
- Criminal history, if any
- Living situation
Read more about what happens during an alcohol assessment.
Trained and licensed professionals conduct alcohol assessments. These may include social workers, counselors, or therapists.
Evaluators use standard screening questionnaires in addition to interviews to gain better context of the questionnaire responses.
Substance abuse counselors will also use the information from the assessment to create a treatment plan if one is appropriate/needed. The substance abuse treatment plan helps individuals minimize risks for a substance use disorder and/or overcome a diagnosable substance use disorder and live healthier lives.
You’re generally asked several questions during the alcohol assessment, such as:
- At what age did you first experiment with alcohol to feel a physical effect or "buzz"?
- What was your alcohol use like between the ages of 18 and 23?
- If you ever got drunk, do you remember what age you were the first time?
- If you drink regularly, do you have a preferred alcoholic drink or brand?
- About how many times a year do you attend a special event or celebration where you typically consume more alcohol than you usually would?
- Have you ever received professional treatment for alcohol use problems?
- Have you ever attended support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Smart Recovery to help you reduce or stop alcohol use?
- Does anyone close to you express concern about your drinking habits?
You may be faced with a court-ordered drug and alcohol assessment. A judge usually orders this assessment as part of a DUI sentence. Defense attorneys also may recommend you voluntarily complete an alcohol assessment so you can show up to court proactively and well-prepared.
Evaluators will consider three main factors when conducting an alcohol assessment:
A drug and alcohol assessment will consider underlying medical and family history. These include:
- Any mental health conditions you have
- Any physical health conditions
- Family history of alcohol use, abuse, or addiction
Evaluators will consider the frequency and quantity of your alcohol use. The drug and alcohol evaluation will also consider your age and gender. These factors affect the likelihood of developing alcohol abuse or addiction problems.
Evaluators will consider how and when the individual drinks, what they feel like when they drink, and what they like and perhaps don’t like about using alcohol.
As every individual is different, there’s no one way to prepare for an alcohol assessment. However, there are general suggestions you can follow to help you feel more comfortable and confident going in.
- Choose a qualified assessor. It’s essential to choose an assessor who is qualified to perform the assessment you need. You can always ask for the evaluator's professional credentials before meeting them or look them up on their state’s professional licensing website, which all states have. Keep in mind that online assessment providers are now widely accepted as professional and can be a very helpful option because of the ease and convenience.
- Set a time and place for the assessment. Once you’ve chosen an assessor, you’ll need to schedule a time and place for the assessment. Select a time when you can focus and provide honest answers about your drinking habits.
- Be prepared to answer questions honestly. The success of your alcohol assessment depends on your willingness to be honest about your drinking habits. Prepare to answer questions about how much you drink, how often you drink, and why you drink.
- Follow your assessor’s recommendations. After your assessment, your evaluator will provide a report of their findings. They may also recommend treatment or further evaluation. If you have questions or concerns about the recommendations, reach out to the evaluator to discuss your results. A conversation may provide further clarity and can lead to a more accurate report and a fairer depiction of your situation to the courts.
- Remember, you don’t have to agree with the outcome of the alcohol assessment. You can ask questions about your assessment if you think the evaluation was unfair or biased. You also can seek a second opinion if you wish. Remember to try to be respectful and open if you want to challenge your assessment results.
The assessment length depends on where or how you take the alcohol assessment.
Some services are slower than others. For reference, here’s a general timeline for partnering with the right experienced and prompt online assessment provider:
- Register and purchase the assessment: 3–5 minutes
- Complete a questionnaire: 10–15 minutes.
- Conduct a phone or video conference interview with a professional evaluator: 40–50 minutes.
- Stand by for the evaluator to send a copy of your report: in most cases, two business days (or sooner if you request a rush order service).
There are three possible outcomes of an alcohol assessment. The evaluation can conclude the following:
- The individual does not have a problem with alcohol use. This may mean there are no formal recommendations, or there could be a suggestion or two to help minimize any risks going forward, such as attending a Victim Impact Panel or an online education class.
- The individual misuses alcohol and needs to change to better understand their stressors, habits, friendships, and intimate relationships, or lack thereof. In this case, a good evaluator may suggest the individual experiment with cutting back or stopping drinking for a predetermined period to encourage greater insight and self-awareness. In many cases, this is all that is needed to begin a positive cycle of change that includes returning to using alcohol in a moderate and non-abusive manner. If something more harmful is discovered, the evaluator can help the individual find additional support.
Knowledgeable substance abuse evaluators may also help a person find good quality support meetings, education, blogs, or therapists to help them deal with any underlying issues that may contribute to their misuse of alcohol or other substances.
- The individual has an established pattern of problem drinking that is diagnosable. Someone with a diagnosable drinking problem is putting their future physical, mental, and relational health in jeopardy and could benefit from professional treatment that fits their needs. They will most likely be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. This medical condition has specific symptoms and needs customized treatment.
A drinking problem can also mean a person’s alcohol use is causing harm to them or those around them. If this is the case, a professional can assess how the client can better control alcohol use or consider discontinuing use for an extended period of time or even permanently. This is often accomplished through a combination of education, counseling, and formal group or intensive treatment program participation.
There are pros and cons to getting an alcohol assessment.
- An alcohol assessment helps individuals understand if they have a high potential to develop a drinking problem.
- It can be used as a diagnostic tool to help determine an individual’s best course of treatment if it is decided that treatment is needed.
- It may help uncover underlying medical conditions related to alcohol consumption which are in the individual’s best interest to treat as early as possible (for example, anxiety, depression, or PTSD).
- For court-ordered assessments, participating in an alcohol assessment can help individuals remain compliant and navigate the legal process smoothly. It shows court authorities they’re willing to cooperate.
- An alcohol assessment may help a person mitigate their DUI charges, especially if an evaluation determines individuals don’t have an alcohol use disorder or positive action steps have already begun or been completed.
Finding the right assessment provider is key. Otherwise, you risk running into some disadvantages:
- It may be needlessly expensive.
- It may be time-consuming if the service provider is backed up with clients or inexperienced at delivering written assessment reports on a regular basis.
- It can be confusing and stressful, especially if someone doesn’t partner with a reliable assessment provider.
Overall, an alcohol assessment is an excellent tool if you’re concerned about your drinking or the drinking of someone you love. The assessment can show a court you’re being proactive and taking your situation seriously.
An alcohol assessment could be a great help if you are trying to show the court you are open to constructive criticism and taking your situation seriously. It could also be essential in determining whether you actually have a problem with alcohol abuse or addiction.
If you learn that you don’t, that is great news. If you learn you have risks for the future, you can address them proactively and early. If you learn you have an actual alcohol use disorder, you can begin to get care and help right away.
Being honest and open when answering questions during the assessment is crucial. The more information the assessor has, the more accurate the assessment is. This information helps determine the necessary care level and is important even if little or no formal care is recommended.
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