Beware of Online Drug and Alcohol Assessments

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.

Online Drug and Alcohol Assessments: The Experiment

image of smart phone and stethoscope to symbolize online drug and alcohol assessmentsI did a little experiment this week. To indulge my amateur investigative spirit, I went to multiple rehab websites and took some so-called online drug and alcohol assessments that claim to determine through a brief series of questions whether or not someone is an addict/alcoholic.  The premise of the so-called assessments had me skeptical going in.  After completing a dozen or so, I was downright angry.

The Results

In the online drug and alcohol assessments I completed, I experimented with many different combinations of answers.  Almost all combinations of answers resulted in the definitive conclusion that I was an addict/alcoholic, and that I needed to contact the treatment center immediately to “get my life back.”  On one of the most shameful “assessments,” I answered yes to indicate that I drank four or more times a week, but answered no to all other questions that inquired about problems related to drinking.  The result?  “I am an alcoholic.”  Wow.  According to this assessment, someone can consume one drink four nights a week, experience ZERO problems related to drinking, and that person is an alcoholic?  Such misinformation is irresponsible, unethical, and downright wrong.

Online Addiction Assessments are Faulty

I’m setting aside the fact that ‘alcoholic’ is a term the DSM abandoned in the early 1980’s, even though I do not think it is inconsequential to use a term outdated by three decades.  I found myself fuming as I imagined someone worried, scared, in a vulnerable state, completing these assessments for themselves or a loved one, being convinced that a serious problem exists, and being told the only solution is to go away for 30 days and spend 40 grand.  Many of the questions have no basis whatsoever in diagnostic criteria.  One assessment about pain medication addiction asked if I ever felt I deserved my pain medication…  isn’t it reasonable that a person in pain might feel like they deserve medication that alleviates pain?

Bogus Online Drug and Alcohol Assessments – Emotional Manipulation

Upon completion of the bogus online drug and alcohol “assessments” on drug rehab websites, the emotional manipulation kicks into high gear.  After being told I’m an addict/alcoholic, statements flood my screen to the tune of – please click below to get help for your addiction, please think about the impact this could be having on your family, and do yourself and your family a favor today. To anyone taking the bogus addiction assessments, arguably the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to not trust the manipulative tactics employed to upsell treatment and instead seek assessment from trained professionals. An assessment from an unbiased professional might cost $200, but a month in rehab can cost as much as the average American makes in a year. A second opinion is generally a wise idea, and may be especially sage in the arena of substance use given the propensity for providers in the addiction field to base practices on business interests rather than clinical indications.