Screening for adolescent substance use; Changing routines during COVID-19


Screening for adolescent substance use

I want to congratulate Dr. Verma on her article “Opioid use disorder in adolescents: An overview” (Evidence-Based Reviews, Current Psychiatry. February 2020, p. 12-14,16-21) and would like to make some contributions. Her article describes several screening tools that are available to assess adolescent substance use disorder (SUD), including the CRAFFT Interview, National Institute on Drug Abuse–modified ASSIST, Drug Use Screening Inventory (DUSI), Problem-Oriented Screening Instrument for Teenagers (POSIT), and Personal Experience Screening Questionnaire (PESQ). The ideal screening tool should be brief, easy to use, sensitive, specific to substance use and related problems, and able to guide subsequent assessment and intervention when appropriate.

Because evidence suggests there are continued barriers, such as time constraints, in evaluating for adolescent SUD,1,2 I believe the Screen to Brief Intervention (S2BI) and Brief Screener for Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug (BSTAD) should be included.3,4 The S2BI and BSTAD are brief screeners that assess substance use, are validated for adolescent patients, can be completed online, and can assist in identifying DSM-5 criteria for SUD.

The S2BI has demonstrated high sensitivity and specificity for identifying SUD.3 The single screening assessment for “past-year use” is quick and can be administered in a variety of clinical settings. The S2BI begins by asking a patient about his/her frequency of tobacco, alcohol, and/or marijuana use in the past year. If the patient endorses past-year use of any of these substances, the S2BI prompts follow-up questions about the use of prescription medications, illicit drugs, inhalants, and herbal products. A patient’s frequency of use is strongly correlated with the likelihood of having a SUD. Adolescents who report using a substance “once or twice” in the past year are very unlikely to have a SUD. Patients who endorse “monthly” use are more likely to meet the criteria for a mild or moderate SUD, and those reporting “weekly or more” use are more likely to have a severe SUD.

The BSTAD is an electronic, validated, high-sensitivity, high-specificity instrument for identifying SUD.1 It asks a single frequency question about past-year use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana, which are the most commonly used substances among adolescents. Patients who report using any of these substances are then asked about additional substance use. Based on the patient’s self-report of past year use, the screen places him/her into 1 of 3 risk categories for SUD: no reported use, lower risk, and higher risk. Each risk level maps to suggested clinical actions that are summarized in the results section.

Kevin M. Simon, MD
Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellow
Boston Children’s Hospital
Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry
Harvard Medical School
Boston, Massachusetts

Disclosure: The author reports no financial relationships with any companies whose products are mentioned in this article, or with manufacturers of competing products.


1. Palmer A, Karakus M, Mark T. Barriers faced by physicians in screening for substance use disorders among adolescents. Psychiatr Serv. 2019;70(5):409-412.
2. D’Souza-Li L, Harris SK. The future of screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment in adolescent primary care: research directions and dissemination challenges. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2016;28(4):434-440.
3. Levy S, Weiss R, Sherritt L, et al. An electronic screen for triaging adolescent substance use by risk levels. JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(9):822-828.
4. Kelly SM, Gryczynski J, Mitchell SG, et al. Validity of brief screening instrument for adolescent tobacco, alcohol, and drug use. Pediatrics. 2014;133(5):819-826.

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