Intake Drug Treatment & Assessment Programs | Drug & Alcohol Abuse Assessment

What to Expect From the Intake Assessment & Treatment Process

Before a patient is admitted into a rehab program, they will first undergo an intake process. The rehab intake process typically occurs immediately upon the patient’s arrival at the treatment center, aiming to evaluate their unique treatment needs and set them up for successful recovery.

The intake process is a fundamental part of drug treatment programs. It allows the treatment center staff to collect and analyze key information about the patient and devise an approach tailored to their needs. Intake usually involves a series of questionnaires and interviews, as well as a number of medical, clinical, and psychiatric assessments.

The information collected via these assessment procedures is essential to the treatment planning process, as it enables the clinicians to develop short- and long-term goals that maximize the chances of lasting recovery.1

The Goals of the Intake Process

The primary goal of the intake process is to help determine those characteristics of the patient and their circumstances that might affect the choice of treatment and its success. By assessing the patient’s emotional, medical, and social needs, the clinician is able to develop treatment goals, address potential barriers to treatment compliance and engagement, and monitor the set goals over the course of the treatment.2

Overall, the intake process should make the first step to recovery as comfortable as it can be for the patient. It should also help the clinicians devise an individualized approach that successfully addresses the patient’s unique condition.

Conducting Intake Drug Assessments

Individuals struggling with substance abuse may find it difficult to take the first step in addiction recovery and talk about their drug use. This is why the intake process is designed to help relax the patient and motivate them to enter and engage in appropriate drug treatment programs.3 During the initial assessment, the treatment center staff may:

  • Evaluate the individual’s readiness to change and willingness to participate in treatment.
  • Establish rapport with the patient and encourage them to speak about their drug use.
  • Introduce the patient to the assessment process.
  • Ensure the patient that all the information they provide is confidential.
  • Match the patient with the most appropriate treatment setting that will effectively support recovery.
  • Shape the treatment plan to the patient’s unique needs and circumstances.

intake drug assessment & treatment programs

Areas of Assessment

The intake process for drug treatment programs is usually made up of several different steps. These steps may include the initial contact with the patient, a series of administrative processes, as well as a variety of comprehensive assessments of the patient’s emotional, social, and medical needs. The process may take several hours and is usually fairly involved for the patient.

Initial Contact and Interviews

An individual’s experience with drug treatment begins when they or one of their family members contacts or visits the facility. Upon the initial contact, the potential patient will most likely speak with an admission coordinator who will collect some basic information about the person and their substance abuse problem.

During the initial interviews, the patient may be asked about their drug use and medical history, as well as some detailed questions about their personal, professional, and social life. Additionally, they may be asked to complete questionnaires that help determine the patient’s needs and help the staff to create a customized treatment plan.

The purpose of these interviews and questionnaires is to become aware of the nature of the patient’s chemical dependency and thoroughly assess their condition to determine the most effective plan for action.

Medical Assessments

During the intake process, the treatment center staff will also perform comprehensive medical and physical examinations of the patient.4 This may include physical exams, toxicology tests, and assessment of potential drug withdrawal symptoms.

The purpose of medical evaluations is to examine the overall physical health of the patient, identify any co-occurring medical issues, and determine the need for detox medication.

Clinical Assessments

In order to have a sound understanding of the patient’s treatment needs and goals, the staff will also perform a series of clinical assessments. This may include a comprehensive evaluation of the patient’s:

  • Substance abuse history.
  • Medical status.
  • Behavioral history.
  • Education.
  • Legal problems.
  • Family circumstances.
  • Co-occurring disorders.
  • Spiritual needs.
  • Motivation for treatment and recovery.

Psychiatric Evaluations

The patient’s psychological state may also be evaluated. If deemed necessary, the patient will undergo a psychiatric evaluation. This type of assessment may include screening for existing mental health conditions, mental health and treatment history, symptomatology, and reviewing the patient’s reasons for seeking treatment. These evaluations will also help determine the right treatment plan for the patient.

Assessment and Treatment Planning

Once relevant information has been gathered through screening and assessment, it is time to put treatment into practice by creating a tailored treatment plan. In order to develop a custom plan for each patient in an inpatient addiction treatment setting, the staff will review the results of the conducted assessments and consult with the patient if needed.

One approach to treatment planning is to match the patient with the least intensive treatment option that is expected to be effective. This is known as the stepped care approach, in which the intensity of treatment is varied depending on the patient’s response to the chosen intervention.5 This approach helps optimize the use of available resources, reduces the need for unnecessarily invasive treatment, and increases the chances of successful long-term recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions


  • During the intake process for drug treatment programs, the patient will undergo substance abuse testing. This typically includes analyzing a urine or blood sample, although a sample of hair or saliva may also be used in some cases.The results of a drug test can show the presence of a single or multiple substances in the system, as well as identify the drug in question. Drug testing also plays a role in the diagnosis, choice of treatment, and monitoring of the treatment’s success.6

  • The comprehensive assessment performed during the intake process serves as the basis for creating a tailored treatment plan for the patient.7 The treatment planning process may deal with questions such as:
    • Will the patient need withdrawal management? If the patient is dependent on a substance, they will need proper withdrawal management based on the type of drug they are dependent on.
    • Does the patient have other medical or psychological issues? If the assessment has identified potential psychological and medical concerns, the treatment plan should be created in a way that addresses these concerns properly.
    • Which is the least intensive treatment option that may be effective for the patient? Not all individuals who struggle with drug abuse need prolonged treatment. For instance, the staff may determine that a tailored outpatient treatment program may be the better choice for the patient based on their reported drug use.

  • Substance abuse screening is a process used to determine the possible presence of a problem and evaluate the need for assessment.8 Assessment, on the other hand, is a process that aims to gather detailed information about the substance abuse problem, determine a diagnosis, and develop an appropriate treatment plan that effectively addresses the issue. Both processes normally occur at intake, but often continue throughout the course of the treatment to identify potential issues that may manifest after the initial evaluation.

  • While the screening and assessment procedures aim to gather as much information about the patient’s condition as possible, the treatment planning process is where this information is put to practical use.In fact, the primary goal of substance abuse assessments is to carefully evaluate the specific needs of the patient/ This allows professionals to devise a custom approach that will guide the patient towards lasting recovery and minimize the possibility of relapse.


1. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2017).Appropriate use of drug testing in clinical addiction medicine.

2. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Substance abuse: Clinical issues in intensive outpatient treatment; Chapter 5. Treatment entry and engagement. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).

3. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2009). Substance abuse treatment: Addressing the specific needs of women; Chapter 4: Screening and assessment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).

4. Donovan, D. M. (2004). Assessment to aid in the treatment planning process.

5. McNeil, S. E., Cogburn, M. (2020). Drug testing. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.

6. World Health Organization. (2009). Clinical guidelines for withdrawal management and treatment of drug dependence in closed settings: 3, Assessment and treatment planning using the stepped care approach. Geneva: World Health Organization.