Screening for Substance Abuse - Treatment Solutions

Screening for Substance Abuse

We know it is important to identify and get help to people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. But as a new survey suggests, putting this into practical methods is often difficult to do.

Substance Abuse and Health Screens

The study was done by researchers at Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). They found that people who abuse unhealthy substances are less likely to take part in preventative health services. This study looked at the number of patients that went in for services such as mammograms and vaccinations, and found that those with substance abuse problems were less likely to use these services than the general public. Researchers concluded that, “We speculate that persons with unhealthy substance use who are not engaged in primary care at the high thresholds used in these analyses may have substantially lower receipt of preventive services.” (1)

Lack of Substance Abuse Screening

It is important for a person’s overall health that they get these regular screens and preventative services. But if we apply the same logic to screening for substance abuse disorders, we find a larger problem. Someone with a drug or alcohol addiction is less likely to have a primary physician who would recommend these tests but who would also screen for substance abuse disorders. Therefore, substance abuse screenings done only in doctor’s offices are not effective in reaching a large proportion of people with substance abuse problems.

This relationship can work both ways. We need to either find a way to get these people in to doctors offices to be screened for substance abuse and preventative health services, or we need to find another way to get substance abuse treatment to these people so they are more likely to take care of their overall health also.

Drug Screening Through Primary Care Doctor

Working with primary care doctors is a good way to identify and help people with an addiction, and there is more help in place today for doctors who are doing substance abuse screenings. NIDA and the American Society of Addiction Medicine launched a program this year that creates a support network for doctors that have found patients that struggle with an addiction. For those people with substance abuse problems that go to the doctor, this program is a valuable tool. “Physicians are in a really unique position not only to identify patients with substance abuse problems but also to serve as prevention resources. [Doctors have the capability] to identify people who have started using drugs but have not yet become addicted,” said Gaya Dowling of NIDA. (2)

Drug Screening Elsewhere

However, there are still many addicts who avoid doctors offices whenever possible. There must be other ways to screen for substance abuse among these people that so desperately need help. There is a push to get hospitals, urgent care clinics, and shelters to do more screening on individuals they see. These locations are more likely to have addicts walk in who have no other resources for help. With the right kind of training and screening techniques, we can do more to help people with an addiction who may not be looking for help on their own.


(1) Substance Abusers Less Likely to Use Preventive Health Services

(2) Phone, email service offers tips on drug abuse screening

Unhealthy Substance Use A Risk Factor For Not Receiving Some Preventive Health Services

No sources available.