When you face legal trouble, your future may be at stake. A drug and alcohol assessment is a favorable milestone to solving the legal process and can serve as a pathway to getting a better outcome in court as well as some helpful advice to avoid future similar problems. 

Evaluators play a key role in fulfilling those purposes. This article details what they do at a drug or alcohol assessment. Read on to understand the step-by-step process for an assessment to help you prepare.


What Is A Drug and Alcohol Assessment?

A drug and alcohol assessment determines whether an individual may have a substance use disorder. The purpose of the assessment is to: 

  • Provide the opportunity to discuss any drug or alcohol use patterns with a professional evaluator
  • Talk through potential problems resulting from drug and alcohol use
  • Look at what treatment options may be best (if applicable)

A common form of assessment consists of an online questionnaire first (also known as a mental health or substance use screening), followed by an interview with an evaluator. The right assessment provider will ensure the evaluation process is fast and  straightforward. You don’t need to worry about trick questions or complicated explanations.

What Is the Difference Between a Screening versus an Assessment for Substance Abuse? 

A screening evaluates the possible presence of a drug or alcohol problem. It provides a simple impression for the evaluator to take into account before speaking with you personally. The “screening” is simply one part of an overall assessment. 

On the other hand, an assessment interview dives deeper to define the nature of the problem and rules out certain diagnoses. Or if necessary, identifies a diagnosis and provides common sense  treatment plans. 

After the interview is completed, the evaluator will compose a report which you can review, along with your attorney and potentially provide to the court.  The report summarizes for the court what the evaluator’s professional opinion is about your use of substances, but not about your offense. You can utilize your assessment as a more personalized journey toward a safer and more responsible approach to choices about substance use.



What Can You Expect at a Drug and Alcohol Assessment? 

A drug and alcohol assessment typically consists of three main components:

1. Questionnaire

The questionnaire portion of a drug or alcohol assessment usually takes place online. It may include any of the following questions:

  • How often do you use substances?

  • What substances do you use?

  • How long have you been using substances?

  • Where do you use substances?

  • How do substances affect your life and relationships?

  • 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?

  • Does anyone close to you express concern about your drinking habits?

  • What are your goals for treatment (if applicable)?

The answers to these questions help the evaluator understand your general health,   your relationship status, living situation, employment, and other factors that could influence drug or alcohol use.

2. Interview

Upon completing the questionnaire, you will be paired with a professional evaluator. This professional will take a closer look, asking you follow-up questions based on your questionnaire results. 

Examples of queries may include details around: 

  • Your use of drugs or alcohol, including how often you use them, how much you use them, and what kind of mood you're in while using them
  • Events or situations that have arisen from your use, such as missed work or school, financial difficulties, legal troubles, or relationship problems
  • Your mental health, any medical issues, and childhood experiences
  • Your family and their substance use, if applicable

3. Discussion on Next Steps

After the interview, the interviewer will inform you about the next steps. 

  • If you don’t need treatment, the interviewer will let you know. 
  • If the evaluator believes you would benefit from education, counseling, or a more intensive form of treatment, they will create a plan with you.

Overall, the drug and alcohol evaluation results can be critical in your legal case. It shows you are cooperative and motivated to learn from your mistakes. More importantly, you’ll get the help you need to move forward more responsibly and confidently. 


Why Are Drug And Alcohol Assessments Important?

An essential step to the legal process, a drug and alcohol assessment is critical in several ways:

  • You can personally see how your alcohol or substance use compares to the average person and possibly do some important self reflection on your current situation as well as your future as it pertains to substance use
  • Lawyers can use the evaluation to help assure you are treated fairly by the court.
  • Judges can use the assessment to determine your sentence.
  • Treatment centers can use the assessment results to write your treatment plan.
  • Family members and friends can use the assessment results to help you find treatment.

A court-ordered drug or substance abuse evaluation is usually done by a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker.



How to Prepare for a Drug and Alcohol Assessment

There’s no single way to prepare for a drug or alcohol evaluation. What works for one person may not apply to your situation. 

However, one general suggestion is to write down your answers to questions you’ve been asked in the past. This will help you remember important details and facts. You can also write down questions you have for the interviewer.


Why Do Legal Professionals Request These Assessments?

Legal professionals request these assessments to help the prosecutor and judge understand if a person has a pattern of misusing or abusing alcohol or drugs, or potentially a diagnosis of a substance use disorder. Once court authorities have a better handle on a person’s use of substances from a clinical perspective they can take it into account from the perspective of public safety as well as encouraging individuals to live a sober and responsible life. 

Who Conducts the Assessment?

Professionals in various roles can conduct a drug or alcohol assessment. These include:

Social Workers

Social workers have licensed healthcare professionals who help people in various situations. They can conduct a drug or alcohol assessment and help identify the next steps depending on individual needs.

Addiction Counselors

Addiction counselors are mental health professionals who specialize in addiction issues. They can conduct a drug or alcohol assessment and help you find the right treatment program.


The Bottom Line

Drug and alcohol assessments determine if a substance abuse problem exists. Several different assessments can be used to determine this. Ultimately though, the idea of the assessment is to help decrease your risks of future problems associated with alcohol or substance use, or if a more serious problem exists to help you find the right long term care to overcome a diagnosis or an addiction. 

Be sure to equip yourself with more knowledge by understanding how to select the right assessment provider. If you have questions along the way, reach out to New Directions

Comments (3)

    • Thu, 10/06/2016 - 16:19
    • ginger thomson (not verified)

    i was recently aressted for a possesion of controled substance and paraphaneila ...the items were not mine they belong to the passenger that was rideing with me in my van . I have been advised by an LDA to reasearch and do an online drug and alcohol eval for the courts that it would help me in my case

    • Wed, 01/25/2017 - 00:30
    • washstcougar44_3553

    I need an Substance Evaluation that I was totally blindsided by. If I felt it was necessary
    I would be OK with it but, I do not have a drug, and or Alcohol I don't drink any longer, and I surely do not need the use of any drug at my age, 60 years old.

    • Fri, 06/16/2017 - 18:46
    • kent thompson (not verified)

    First time DUI that occurred nearly three years ago. Many life changes and a stroke have created a unique situation.