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Addiction is a health condition that can be evaluated and treated like one in almost all situations. However, one of the biggest remaining barriers between potential patients and effective addiction treatment is the uncertainty about the process and what happens when you seek addiction treatment. 

Fortunately, a lack of knowledge is something that addiction recovery experts can help address. 

Let’s start by talking about substance abuse evaluations, what they are, why they’re used, and what you can expect to happen during an evaluation. 

This information can be helpful if you’re trying to get help or convince a friend or family member to get help for themselves. Of course, this isn’t comprehensive, and your doctor may need to take additional steps depending on your health, but this guide should give you a good idea of what to expect. 

If you do need additional assessment, your doctor should be able to explain what they are doing and why during your evaluation. 

There’s much to cover on this topic, so let’s dive right in. 

What Is A Substance Abuse Evaluation?

A substance abuse evaluation is the process that doctors, nurses, and therapists can use to help determine if someone is dealing with an addiction, get more information about their physical and mental health, and rate the severity of their potential addiction. 

All the information gathered during a substance abuse evaluation can help create a customized treatment plan for patients. It’s also important to help get a sense of the additional situational or health challenges that could impact addiction treatment or that need to be managed at the same time. 

These evaluations are never about passing judgment on a patient or trying to discover their secrets. Instead, evaluations aim to gather all the information needed to help the patient best

Addiction isn’t a one-size-fits-all problem, so treatment can’t be one-size-fits-all either. Instead, it needs to be customized, and this process helps make treatment customization possible. 

Substance abuse evaluations are similar to, and can sometimes happen at the same as, a psychological evaluation, especially if you or your doctors suspect that you might also have a mental health disorder impacting your substance use. 

The Steps Of An Addiction Evaluation

What Are The Steps Of An Addiction Evaluation?

Every addiction evaluation is a little different, but there are a few common steps most medical professionals will take when working with a patient and figuring out a good treatment plan for dealing with addiction. 

This is an ordered list, but depending on the situation, your clinician might move around the steps a little bit to better meet your needs and any deadlines or other hurdles depending on your insurance or legal situation. 

Remember, addiction is a disease, a treatable disease, but also often a chronic one. Therefore, you may revisit parts of your addiction evaluation throughout and even after treatment to see what progress or changes have happened since your initial evaluation. 

1. Gather information

The first step any medical professional will take is to learn a little more about your situation and substance use. For instance, they might ask what substances you take, how much and how often you use, when you first started using, and if anyone else in your life also uses them. 

This information helps your doctor understand your current situation, risk factors, and even why you’re seeking help when you are. 

If you’re being evaluated for legal reasons, like a recent DUI charge, they might also ask if you have a history of similar charges or have had legal problems because of your addiction. 

2. Physical Exam

After getting some information from you, the next step is usually a standard physical exam. They’re looking to see how healthy you are,  signs of recent weight gain or loss, and other physical consequences or signs of addiction, like yellowish skin tone and track marks. 

Depending on your situation, or if you have already disclosed a history of self-harm, your doctor may also perform a skin check to ensure you’re safe. 

Physical exams can sometimes be difficult or stressful. It’s okay if you need to ask for a minute, want to request your exam be performed by someone of the same gender, or ask why any part of the exam is being performed. Sometimes, your doctor may let you opt out of parts of your exam if they are too stressful to manage.

3. Lab Tests For More Health Information

Depending on your addiction and what tests you have already performed, your doctor may order additional lab testing, often blood and urine, to better understand your overall health. 

These tests may also reveal more information about your addiction. For instance, it’s common for people with alcohol use disorder to deal with damage to their liver. The severity of the damage and signs of how long that damage has been there can tell your doctor a lot about your addiction. 

In the future, labs may also be performed to show how much your body has healed since overcoming addiction and to track any lingering health problems after you recover. 

4. Go Over Treatment Options

Once your medical care team has a better sense of your situation, physical and mental health, and the specific risks and causes of your addiction, they’ll be able to talk with you about treatment options. 

Depending on the severity of your addiction, they might recommend some treatments over others, or they might want you to prioritize mental health treatment or let you know about physical problems that need to be addressed at the same time as addiction treatment. 

This session isn’t necessarily about planning. It’s more about letting you know your options and what your care professionals would recommend and like to see in your care. 

5. Create A Customized Treatment Plan

Generally, this last step happens after you’ve had a little while to think about your options and what your care provider has recommended. A customized treatment plan is a little bit like a roadmap to how you’ll recover from addiction and what services you and your medical care think will be most appropriate. 

Remember, treatment plans change all the time, so don’t be afraid to say something if you think you need to change your treatment plan once you start. 

What Kind Of Questions Do They Ask During A Substance Abuse Evaluation?

Many people get nervous about answering questions about addiction, especially if they are addicted to an illegal substance. 

The good news is that most of the time, your substance abuse evaluation isn’t about getting evidence or filing criminal charges against you. Instead, it’s about understanding your disease, your situation, and what options are available to you and will be most effective. 

Your care provider will ask about your home life, whether you have enough money to get by each month, and whether you feel safe at home. In addition, they may ask questions about your past, especially if you served in the military or if there is reason to suspect that you might have a history of neglect or abuse. 

You’ll also be asked about your substance abuse disorder, what you use and when, and how much you use if you know. 

Your doctor or doctors will ask whatever questions they think will give them the information they need to treat you appropriately and effectively. Some questions can feel invasive or uncomfortable, and it’s okay to get emotional during this process, to ask for breaks, or to ask why a question is being asked. But it’s also important to answer as completely and honestly as possible. 

The more information you give during the substance abuse evaluation, the better your providers can help you on your path to recovery. 

Get the substance abuse evaluation and help you deserve

Ready To Get The Help You Deserve?

If you or someone you love think you might have an addiction and want help, you’re in the right place. Hopefully, reading about substance abuse evaluations has made this process less frightening or helped you prepare in case you need an evaluation. 

There are a lot of options out there when it comes to addiction treatment. So it’s reasonable to research what is available in your area and what your health insurance can cover or partially cover to help. 

One of the most comprehensive treatment options is going to a full-time treatment center, also sometimes called a rehab center, that specializes in treating addiction. That way, you’ll have access to top-notch care, including services for addiction and other mental health problems, and trained professionals who can help monitor your physical health and provide any additional support you might need to stay healthy during the treatment. 

If you think a treatment center might be the right addiction treatment setting for you, you can always call Absolute Awakenings to learn more about how we treat addiction, the intake process, and what you can expect as a patient.

We’re excited to help you on your path to recovery. 


  1. Rudlin K. What Is a Psychological Evaluation? Verywell Mind. Published August 1, 2022. Accessed January 10, 2023.
  2. Addiction. Verywell Mind. Accessed January 10, 2023.
  3. Christiansen S. What Is Substance Abuse Disorder (Substance Use Disorder)? Verywell Health. Published July 2, 2021. Accessed January 10, 2023.

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At Absolute Awakenings, we take information integrity seriously. We have dedicated our resources to ensure that all content published to our blog is medically sound. As such, all content on our blog has been thoroughly reviewed by a doctorate level clinician such as a Medical Doctor, or Psy.D, so that you can trust all of the data we publish.

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