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Screening Method Fundamentals

Screening Method Fundamentals

Screening is a pivotal process to assess an individual's suitability and qualification for enrollment in a specific program. The eligibility criteria are generally determined based on the program's objectives, target audience, and funding prerequisites. Numerous criteria can be easily determined during the screening process, such as the individual's age, gender, place of residence, legal status, veteran status, income level, and referral source.

Screening information is collected through specific forms that gather individual data (e.g., age, sex, residence), referral source, presenting problems, insurance availability, and the decision on program acceptance or referral elsewhere.


Screening tasks involve the following:

  • Compiling screening forms.
  • Analyzing information from referral sources.
  • Conducting interviews with prospective individuals.
  • Evaluating the gathered data based on established criteria.
  • Deciding for intake if the individual meets the program requirements.  

Important factors and screening guidelines for alcohol and drug abuse

  • Screening should target individuals identified as at-risk, conducted by professionals in diverse settings.
  • Collaboration among agencies and professionals is crucial to establish effective screening processes, techniques, and tools.
  • Sensitivity to racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and gender-related considerations must be integrated into all screening instruments and procedures.
  • Initial screening procedures should be concise and time efficient.
  • Information should be gathered from multiple sources to ensure comprehensive and accurate assessments.
  • Building rapport with the individual is vital during the screening process, offering emotional support and guidance, especially as it might be the individual’s first attempt to seek help. 
  • If the individual is unsuitable for the program, counselors must explore appropriate referral options and discuss them with the individual.

Using a screening tool during the screening process is essential. These tools provide a standardized and structured approach, ensuring everyone gets assessed using the same criteria. This helps to reduce any biases or variations in how assessments are done. The great thing about screening tools is that most are designed to be short and quick to use. Despite being concise, they can effectively spot individuals at risk of a specific condition or problem. When we catch these risks early, we can step in with timely intervention and support, preventing things from worsening. Using a screening tool makes the whole screening process more objective, efficient, and accurate. This leads to better identification and support for individuals facing potential issues or risks. It's a valuable tool to help us provide the proper assistance to those most in need of it. Below are some screening tool examples.

CAGE questionnaire

The CAGE questionnaire is a concise and widely used self-assessment tool consisting of four questions. Its purpose is to screen for alcohol abuse or dependence. If more than two questions receive a positive response, it implies the likelihood of alcohol abuse or dependence, indicating the need for further assessment or intervention (Dhalla & Kopec, 2007).

AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test)

The AUDIT, a 10-item screening tool, identifies individuals who may be involved in hazardous or harmful patterns of alcohol consumption, as well as those who may be dependent on alcohol (Reinert & Allen, 2002). Developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the AUDIT finds extensive use in healthcare, criminal justice, and social service settings.

In addition to measuring the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption, the AUDIT also considers the negative consequences associated with alcohol use. These consequences include physical or mental health problems, conflicts in interpersonal relationships, and engagement in risky behaviors Reinert & Allen, 2002). Furthermore, the test evaluates an individual's perception of their drinking behavior. This includes their concern about their drinking habits and readiness to make changes.

The Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI)

The Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) is a comprehensive screening tool comprising 71 questions (Miller & Lazowski, 1985). Its purpose is to evaluate the presence of substance abuse and dependence in individuals. The SASSI serves as a quick and dependable method for identifying substance use disorders and determining the need for further evaluation and treatment.

The SASSI is vital in screening individuals for substance abuse in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, and substance abuse treatment programs. It assesses various substance use disorders, including alcohol and drug abuse and dependence (Miller & Lazowski, 1985). Additionally, it examines the co-occurrence of psychological and medical conditions.

The SASSI employs a combination of self-reported questions and behavioral observations to gather information about an individual's substance use history, patterns of substance use, and associated problems (Miller & Lazowski, 1985). The results obtained from this assessment provide valuable insights to healthcare providers. These insights aid in making informed decisions regarding treatment planning and developing effective interventions tailored to individuals with substance use disorders.

DAST-10 (Drug Abuse Screening Test)

The DAST-10 is a valuable tool used to gauge the presence and seriousness of drug abuse and dependence. It serves as a self-administered screening mechanism, identifying individuals who may be susceptible to drug-related issues and determining the necessity of further evaluation and treatment (Skinner, 1982). Inquiring about an individual's drug usage within the past year, the DAST-10 encompasses various aspects such as frequency, quantity, impact on daily life, and withdrawal symptoms (Courtemanche et al., 2023).  It covers a wide array of substances, including both legal and illegal ones like alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drugs. 

By providing an initial assessment of an individual's drug use and its repercussions on their life, the results obtained from the DAST-10 can guide healthcare professionals in deciding whether additional evaluation or treatment is necessary. However, it is essential to note that this tool does not act as a diagnostic instrument for substance use disorders. A comprehensive assessment conducted by a qualified healthcare provider is imperative for accurate diagnosis and appropriate intervention.


To sum up, screening is fundamental in evaluating an individual's suitability and qualification for enrollment in a specific program. The eligibility criteria are determined based on the goals of the program, its target audience, and funding requirements. Screening involves:

  • Compiling forms.
  • Analyzing referral information.
  • Conducting interviews.
  • Evaluating data against established criteria.
  • Making informed intake decisions.

Utilizing screening tools during this process is important. Tools like the CAGE, AUDIT, SASSI, and DAST-10 offer a standardized and efficient approach, reducing biases and ensuring timely identification of at-risk individuals. Early detection of risks enables timely interventions and support to prevent further escalation while providing appropriate assistance to those in need.

Danny Wamsley, LCASA

Danny Wamsley is a licensed addiction specialist with a clinical certification with the National Association of Dual Diagnosis (NADD). Danny currently works in manage care as a DSS liaison. His primary goal is to provide consultation to social workers who are involved with child-protective services and In-Home Services. Danny also has 10+ years of experience working with individuals diagnosed with intellectual disability and substance use. Danny’s professional interests include addictions/recovery, intellectual disability, foster care, military, trauma, and domestic violence.

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Opinions and viewpoints expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of CE Learning Systems.

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