The Role of Drug Screening in Brief Interventions for Substance Abuse

August 15, 2018

Drug Testing Articles


As a doctor, it can be difficult to get someone to admit that they have a substance abuse problem. Find out more about how drug or alcohol screening can pave the way to brief interventions for substance abuse and get your patients on the path to recovery.

Drug use in the United States is increasing. In fact, it was estimated in 2013 that 24.6 million Americans, or 9.4 percent of the population, had used drugs in the past month.

While this is certainly worrisome, drugs other than marijuana have stabilized in their usage. However, over half of drug users begin by using marijuana and then graduated to more potent substances.

It is also estimated that one in eight Americans are alcoholics, which is a number that is far greater than was originally thought.

These numbers certainly seem disheartening. But you can use your knowledge of the drug and alcohol issue in the United States as an asset for brief interventions for substance abuse.

Being aware your patients may have a drug or alcohol issue is the first step to combatting it and educating them. Using simple tests to get a read of what is in their system is the best way to tailor your advice to their specific situation.
Read on to learn how important drug screenings are for brief interventions.

Assessing the Situation for Interventions for Substance Abuse

The most important thing a drug test can do is help you get a read of where your patient is when it comes to their drug habit. When asking people about their drug use or how many times a day or week they drink, they may be embarrassed to answer honestly.

These drug tests will help you know how much the patient actually is putting into their system. This works well if you give the tests randomly so that they don’t have time to prepare. If they know ahead of time, they may purposefully reduce their drug intake so that it shows lower at your office.

Use a test that instantly displays your patient’s results so you can give them the best and most accurate advice.

Tailor Your Advice to Your Findings

Using a drug test is critical because you can not only assess the situation at hand but tailor the results to your specific patient. If the patient is, for example, an alcoholic, you may recommend different resources than you would for a patient who has issues with other drugs.

Be aware of the effects of many different types of drugs on the body, not just the most common ones. This means you should be prepared for anything when your patients come to you with positive test results.

You should be able to counsel your patient on what the drugs and alcohol are doing to their body, in addition to other risks associated with it. For example, if you find drugs in your patient that is often injectable, you should have a frank talk with them about how this can lead to further health risks like HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C.

Counsel Patients on Risky Behavior During Drug Use

If you find drugs in your patient’s system, it shouldn’t just be about the drug use or needle use. You also need to discuss risky behaviors surrounding drug use.

For example, drugs and alcohol can lead to lowered inhibitions. This can lead to sexual activity that may not be acted out in the safest way possible. Your patients need to be instructed on how to ensure they are not putting themselves in harm’s way under the influence.

Other risky behaviors might include drinking or getting high and driving in an altered state. Some patients may have jobs where they operate machinery. If this is the case, it can be extremely dangerous for them to continue doing so while they have drugs in their system.

Be frank and realistic when discussing these risks. Do not exaggerate them, but ensure patients know that there is risk involved in their drug and alcohol use beyond what it does to their own bodies

Don’t Be Judgmental

You may notice that patients are afraid of being judged if they admit they are using alcohol or drugs, especially if they have a long history of substance abuse. They may feel like they have let other people or themselves down.

As a healthcare provider, remind yourself that you are there to support them, not place judgments on their choices. You can also reassure your patients that your job is to keep them healthy, not to pass judgment on their substance use.

A nonjudgmental attitude will likely help patients feel more relaxed and comfortable around you. This will make them more willing to hear your suggestions, recommendations, and counsel during a brief intervention.

People who feel judged may close themselves off, which will mean your goal of getting the patient to reduce or eliminate their intake of substances won’t be met.

Refer Patients as Necessary

After getting an idea of how much is in your patient’s system, you will need to refer them on to another professional as necessary. For some patients, you can simply advise them to be less carefree about their drug use and to take quitting more seriously.

However, for some patients, you may be concerned that they are a serious danger to themselves or someone else. Their drug or alcohol abuse may also be a result of psychological issues that you feel need to be addressed immediately.

If you feel your patient’s needs are out of your area of expertise, you should have a list of providers and facilities to refer your patient to. These may include drug rehab centers, psychiatric facilities or therapists that specialize in addiction.

Using Screening in Your Office

There are a wide variety of drug tests you can use to see where your patients are when it comes to their drug and alcohol use. Tests can be done orally, via blood, hair or urine. They may come back instantly or in a few weeks.

It is, however, recommended that you do an instant test in office so you are always able to have brief interventions for substance abuse.

You can check out Rapid Detect’s Blog for more information on the importance of drug testing, as well as a variety of available kits.

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