Screening for Substance Abuse: Good Idea or Not Ready for Prime Time?

Publication ID Published Volume
9012 October 4, 2011 7


This resource is a web-based module that introduces the practice of screening for substance abuse in health care settings and considers the question of when to implement a screening program. It reviews existing standards of screening for substance abuse and asks whether health systems should expand current practices to ask about use of drugs besides alcohol and tobacco. In addition, the module provides in-depth teaching on the key concepts of sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values. The module is multimedia and delivers the above content through the use of video, text, graphics, and voiceover, as well as questions followed by expert and peer feedback. Medical, dental, and nursing students in our research mentorship program were asked to complete the module as part of their summer experience. Evaluation of this pilot revealed that almost all of the students thought the module was easy to navigate; dealt with a subject of interest; covered most of the expected topics; was clear, logical, and orderly; and had the right balance of multimedia. Students felt challenged by the material and stated that it raised questions they had not previously considered about the practice of screening and the interpretation of screening test results. This module is one of six in a series created for the New York University Substance Abuse Research Education and Training Program. The program is a National Institute on Drug Abusefunded initiative whose aim is to enhance interest in substance abuse research among health professional students, including, but not limited to, students in medicine, nursing, and dentistry.


Truncali A, McNeely J, Huben L, Kerr D, Naegle M, Gourevitch M. Screening for substance abuse: good idea or not ready for prime time?. MedEdPORTAL Publications. 2011;7:9012.

Educational Objectives

By the end of this resource, learners will be able to:

  1. Distinguish screening from assessment and diagnosis.
  2. Define current screening guidelines for substance use disorders and detail why the guidelines exist.
  3. Identify and apply the criteria involved in determining whether to screen for a given condition.
  4. Demonstrate understanding of concepts that describe a screening test, including sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values.
  5. Assess the pros and cons of novel approaches and expanded substance abuse screening.


  • Screening, Drinking, Alcohol, Tobacco, Drugs

Material Access

Please sign in to access this material.

Please register for an AAMC account if you do not have one.


  • My MedEdPORTAL
  • Contact Us

Subscribe to Our Quarterly Newsletter

Receive featured content & announcements!

ISSN 2374-8265