Treatment Facilities & Programs

Alcohol and Drug Screening

By Stacy Jackson, Addiction Treatment Specialist

Employers, legal authorities, and concerned relatives increasingly seek out alcohol and drug screening programs to detect the presence of excess levels of alcohol as well as any illegal drugs in the body. There are also alcohol and drug screening questionnaires available online and from substance abuse counselors, which help those who may be addicted to one or more substances determine the need for immediate treatment. Oftentimes, alcohol and drug screening is the first step toward successful drug treatment, whether for alcoholism, crystal methamphetamine addiction, addiction to opiates, marijuana, cocaine, or for a combination of drugs and alcoholism.

Alcohol and drug screening can be carried out voluntarily, or by court order. When carried out at the workplace, it is usually done as part of the employment contract or other legal agreement, or it may even be required by law in cases where an employee's drug or alcohol use would affect his/her job performance in a way that could be hazardous to him/herself or others. Sadly, crystal meth addiction and other substance abuse treatment sometimes only can begin when an addict loses his/her job or is otherwise penalized because of the effects of his/her compulsion to abuse substances.

If it is possible to intervene before the addiction reaches that level, such interference can begin with voluntary screening. A suspected addict who admits the need for drug treatment often begins by assessing the extent of his/her dependency to the substances that he/she is abusing. This can be done by contacting a counselor or other substance abuse professional, who will administer a questionnaire similar to those found on the Internet. These questionnaires ask the subject to evaluate his/her experiences with the substances that he/she is using. For example, it asks why he/she turns to these substances, how often he/she uses them, whether he/she has had legal, social, employment or other personal repercussions due to his/her substance abuse, and to what extent he/she goes to obtain the chemical substances that he is suspected of abusing. Physical alcohol and drug screening is also available on a voluntary basis; take-home kits allow parents or other relatives of addicts who are in need of drug treatment to confront the addict after checking for the presence of illicit substances in their urine.

Once any type of evaluation reveals clearly addictive or abusive behavior related to one or more substances, action must be taken. More important than the method of alcohol and drug screening is what is done after it becomes clear that the subject of the screening is suffering from one or more addiction disorders. Most substance addictions, such as crystal meth addiction, are so dangerous that immediate and decisive treatment must be sought immediately. Unless there is a legal order for a certain type of treatment, immediate drug treatment should focus on detoxification to rid the body of the harmful substances that have been abused as well as to deal with the withdrawal symptoms that sudden cessation of use of illicit drugs or alcohol may cause.

Detoxification should then be followed by a recognized and comprehensive rehabilitation program that treats crystal methamphetamine addiction as an illness that must be handled as such, and not as a personal weakness. This is because addiction results when the brain develops a need for a certain substance, and reacts in specific ways when that substance is unavailable. This cycle of dependency is both a physical and psychological one, but it is caused by the effects of drugs and alcohol on receptors in the brain, so that the process of addiction is clearly physical. Condemning the rehabilitation patient for becoming an addict is counter-productive and will only lead to feelings of worthlessness that he/she will then mask by finding another negative outlet. Separating the addict from any sources of the abused substances, and conditioning him/her to rebuild his/her life without their negative effects, is the only way to achieve any sort of lasting results from drug rehabilitation.

Once there has been any sort of progress, alcohol and drug screening should continue at regular intervals, and any comprehensive rehabilitation program should compel its participants to agree to regular screening. This is because addiction is a chronic illness that never really is cured. The desire for the drug rarely if ever disappears. Conditioning that focuses on the destructive effects of the drug will dissuade the patient from using it for a relatively long period of time, but the desire for it can be triggered once again by inadvertent social exposure to the drug or by an emotionally difficult event, such as loss of a job or a loved one.

In addition, alcohol and drug screening that focuses on how a patient reacts to the absence of the substances after rehabilitation will help professionals determine whether there is a chance of relapse, and what must be done to prevent it. For instance, if a patient reports constant personal stress a few years after completing a successful course of drug treatment, a counselor can help him/her deal with this stress before he/she turns back to substance abuse out of frustration. If a patient has not done enough to distance himself from the environment and social interaction that led him to become involved with drugs, the counselor can guide him/her as he/she attempts to form healthier social relationships and build an environment that keeps him/her safe and drug free.

Alcohol and drug screening is therefore helpful not only before drug treatment for crystal methamphetamine addiction and other substance abuse disorders begins, but also to make sure that the rehabilitation program is accomplishing its goals and continues to do so once the acute phase of rehabilitation has produced at least temporary success. Substance abuse, including crystal meth addiction, alcoholism, and abuse of prescription drugs as well as use of cocaine, marijuana or opiates is a disease. Screening detects the presence of the disease of addiction as well as the effectiveness of drug treatment programs that combat the disease, but may never be able to truly cure it. As more is understood about the mechanism of drug addiction, it is hoped that better drug treatment will result; indeed alcohol and drug screening that is meant to help addicts and their loved ones seek treatment may also reveal more and more of the necessary information that is needed to better understand addiction. Such information can then be used by researchers who are working to develop more effective methods of permanent drug treatment that can put an end to the ravages of addiction once and for all.

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