Other Youth Topics

Screening & Assessment

Although prevalence rates of certain substances have been steady or in decline, others are on the rise. The normalization of substance abuse among youth highlights the importance of screening and assessment (a more in-depth look at the issues) in order to prevent future substance dependencies. Screening and assessment procedures are extremely important tools in identifying substance use, abuse, and dependence. Performing an effective screening and assessment depends on factors specific to each individual case. For example, some factors to consider are whether the youth has been drinking or abusing substances recently, the rapport between the youth and the interviewer, and the assurance of confidentiality. A good resource for understanding and choosing screening and assessment tools can be found here.

Biological screenings, such as blood tests or urine samples, are the most effective tools to determine if an adolescent is using alcohol or drugs. But because biological screenings can require parental consent, and can be difficult or costly to acquire, using a questionnaire may be a better way to perform the screening. Questionnaires can also help to identify the possibility of abuse/dependence, which can lead to a more in-depth assessment and referral to treatment if necessary.

Before using any screening tool, it is critical to establish a level of comfort with the youth by explaining that you will be asking personal questions and that the information will help you provide him or her with the best possible care. It is important to assure them that all responses will be confidential (dependent on the youth’s age)1 and that he or she does not have to answer any questions that make him or her uncomfortable.

If the screening process produces a positive result, then the next step is to initiate a more thorough assessment process to determine the severity of the problem and the best course of action. A useful tool for finding drug and alcohol abuse treatment is the treatment locator provided by SAMHSA. This interactive map can help to locate a treatment facility that is closest to you. Learn more about treatment for substance abuse.


Substance Abuse Treatment Locator
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides an online resource for locating drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs across the country. The Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator lists:

  • private and public facilities that are licensed, certified, or otherwise approved for inclusion by their state substance abuse agency; and 
  • treatment facilities administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and the Department of Defense.

Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention for Youth: A Practitioner’s Guide
This resource, from the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is designed to help healthcare professionals detect alcohol-related problems before they start. This document also provides information on how to counsel youth and connect them to external sources of treatment. 

1 Office of Civil Rights, 2006