Jim Savage specializes in adolescent substance abuse assessment and intervention. For more information or to schedule an appointment call (214) 789-8456

The importance of assessment cannot be emphasized enough:

a. Substance abuse may be a problem before parents have any idea it exists, but problems are being seen in other areas: truancy, poor grades, family problems, legal problems, poor health, change in friends, etc;

b. It doesn’t hurt to rule out the possibility that substance abuse could be contributing to the problems. If this isn’t the problem, then a plan can be developed to pursue other efforts to address the problem. On the other hand, it is not unusual for parents to be stunned when they find out the truth about what their child has been up to, and identifying the need to treat a substance abuse problem may being saving their child’s life.

Substance abuse often causes problems before the actual chemical use is identified.  Parents become confused and frustrated as they try to address the problem- without knowing what the problem really is.

Truth be told, it is not difficult to determine that someone has a substance abuse “problem”. Many times a 5 minute talk over the phone can provide enough information to have a reasonable expectation that a complete assessment will indeed lead to a recommendation that treatment is indicated.


The first and foremost objective of substance abuse assessment is to gather information and determine a diagnosis

  1. Chemical use history

  2. Psychosocial history

  3. SASSI (scored test)

  4. UDS (drug test)

  5. Parents (collateral information)

Factors that go into a good assessment


  1. The ability to confront denial and get an accurate report of the client’s chemical use. This requires good understanding of the world of drug use (a recovering counselor often has an advantage in gaining the client’s confidence and establishing good rapport), and an aggressive attitude to dig for more information, confront inconsistencies, and obtain and compare information from parents and other sources. It is an unfortunate disservice when a counselor accepts an inaccurate report and in turn provides an ineffective recommendation. With substance abuse this can be a matter of life and death.

  1. Educating the client about what it means to have a problem. If done effectively, this can go a long way in removing resistance to treating the problem. In many cases parents need the same education.

  1. Referral. It is important that the counselor have a good understanding of treatment options, levels of care, and considers all factors that go into determining an appropriate recommendation.


Present recommendation, remove resistance, create motivation for treatment

“Now let’s take a look at where you’re at…”

  1. If treatment is recommended and the client is in any way resistant, the counselor should recognize that the assessment must in effect become an intervention. This involves developing a strategy that

  1. empowers the parents,

  2. removes the client’s defense mechanisms, and

  3. accomplishes the goal of getting the client the appropriate help.

Simply informing the parents “your child is addicted to marijuana and needs to go to residential treatment” will more than likely leave the parents in an unresolved mess with an angry child as they leave the office.

Assessment is the first stage of treatment. Effective intervention reduces wasted treatment time.

An effective approach is to recognize that treatment begins with assessment. Taking the time to educate the client, confront denial, remove defense mechanisms, and identify treatment expectations prior to actually beginning treatment saves valuable treatment time by having the client better prepared from the outset.

PREVENT! is a comprehensive assessment program that provides a more intensive process of helping the client identify where he or she is with regard chemical use and helps them become motivated to make positive changes in their behavior. For more information CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to listen to the Honorable John Payton, Collin County Municipal Court judge, discuss addressing teen substance abuse through truancy court.


The PREVENT! Program

A 5-session individualized program that provides the most effective way of addressing substance abuse issues for teens and young adults.