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Guidelines for Screening Adolescents for Substance Use Disorders

The problem of substance abuse among adolescents is sufficiently widespread to warrant concern. Nearly half (47%) have tried an illicit drug by the time they finish high school. If inhalant use is included in the definition of illicit drug use, almost a quarter (28%) have used as early as the 8th grade-when most students are only 13 or 14 years old. Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2008). Adolescents differ significantly from adults in their physiological, mental and emotional development as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. Experimentation with substances is common through out this transition and many times lead to serious impairment in development which leaves adolescents unprepared for the challenges of adulthood. Given these factors and the need for early detection, it is critical that a wide range of professionals who come into regular contact with adolescents be able to recognize the signs of substance use. This information focuses on the most current procedures and instruments for detecting substance abuse among adolescents and how the information is to be utilized.

The Screening Process

Substance Use Disorder-Related:
Use of substances during childhood or early teenage years
Substance use before or during school
Peer involvement in substance use
Daily use of one or more substances

Physical or sexual abuse Parental substance abuse
Sudden downturns in school performance or attendance
Peer involvement in serious crime
Significant change in physical health
Involvement in serious delinquency or crimes
HIV high-risk activities (e.g., intravenous drug use, sex with intravenous drug user)
Indicators of serious psychological problems (e.g., suicidal ideation, severe depression)

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Legal Issues in the Screening of Adolescents

Source: CSAT TIP-31 Screening and Assessing Adolescents for Substance Use Disorders

Adolescent Screening Instruments
DAST-A Screening Instrument
Sample Qualified Service Organization Agreement

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