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How Do You Know If You Have a Drug Problem? The Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST) Can Help.

8 minute read

Your friends and family have started to show concern. They tell you your drug use is out of control. They are worried about you. Your boss is threatening to fire you because you are often late and your work has become sloppy. For you, using your drug of choice is like an itch that you constantly need to scratch. It is never out of your thoughts. You might be wondering if you have a problem with drug abuse. How can you find out if you need professional help?

Or maybe you have a friend, a co-worker, or a family member who is using. You see the signs, but how can you tell if someone you love is at risk for drug addiction? Drugs can cause havoc in a person’s life, and someone who uses recreationally can become addicted and in trouble very quickly. A situation that seemed like a minor concern can spiral out of control in a heartbeat.

How the DAST Can Help

If you are concerned that you or someone you love might have a drug problem, you can start by taking the DAST (Drug Abuse Screening Test). The DAST is a self-diagnostic screening tool to help you assess whether or not there is something to explore more seriously. The DAST-10 is a 10-question yes/no questionnaire that you can either take yourself or with a loved one. The DAST-20 is a longer version (as below). Both tests only take a few minutes to complete.

Note: This tool assesses drug use, not alcohol or tobacco.  In this assessment, drug use is defined as:

  1. The use of prescribed or over-the-counter drugs in excess of the directions and
  2. Any non-medical use of drugs, including:

Answer “yes” or “no” to the questions below:

1. Have you used drugs other than those required for medical reasons?
2. Have you abused prescription drugs?
3. Do you abuse more than one drug at a time?
4. Can you get through the week without using drugs (other than those required for medical reasons)?
5. Are you always able to stop using drugs when you want to?
6. Do you abuse drugs on a continuous basis?
7. Do you try to limit your drug use to certain situations?
8. Have you had “blackouts” or “flashbacks” as a result of drug use?
9. Do you ever feel bad about your drug abuse?
10. Does your spouse (or parents) ever complain about your involvement with drugs?
11. Do your friends or relatives know or suspect you abuse drugs?
12. Has drug abuse ever created problems between you and your spouse?
13. Has any family member ever sought help for problems related to your drug use?
14. Have you ever lost friends because of your use of drugs?
15. Have you ever neglected your family or missed work because of your use of drugs?
16. Have you ever been in trouble at work because of drug abuse?
17. Have you ever lost a job because of drug abuse?
18. Have you gotten into fights when under the influence of drugs?
19. Have you ever been arrested because of unusual behavior while under the influence of drugs?
20. Have you ever been arrested for driving while under the influence of drugs?
21. Have you engaged in illegal activities in order to obtain drug?
22. Have you ever been arrested for possession of illegal drugs?
23. Have you ever experienced withdrawal symptoms as a result of heavy drug intake?
24. Have you had medical problems as a result of your drug use (e.g., memory loss, hepatitis, convulsions, bleeding, etc.)?
25. Have you ever gone to anyone for help for a drug problem?
26. Have you ever been in a hospital for medical problems related to your drug use?
27. Have you ever been involved in a treatment program specifically related to drug use?
28. Have you been treated as an outpatient for problems related to drug abuse?

More About Helping Loved Ones

Scoring and Interpretation

A score of ‘1’ is given for each YES response, except for items 4, 5, and 7, for which a NO response is given a score of ‘1’. Research has found that when scoring using the DAST-10, a score of 12 and greater could indicate a substance abuse problem.

What If Alcohol Is the Problem?

If the substance you are concerned about is alcohol and not drugs, consider using the MAST (Michigan Alcohol Screening Test). It’s a similar diagnostic screening tool to the DAST, but it’s used for alcohol abuse. It was invented in 1971 and is still in use today.

The MAST helps you determine if your family, work, or relationships are being affected by excessive alcohol use. There is a longer version that can be administered by a doctor or therapist, and there is a shorter version that you can take yourself.

Answer “yes” or “no” to the questions below:

1. Do you feel you are a normal drinker? (“Normal” is defined as drinking as much or less than most other people.)
2. Have you ever awakened the morning after drinking the night before and found that you could not remember a part of the evening?
3. Does any near relative or close friend ever worry or complain about your drinking?
4. Can you stop drinking without difficulty after one or two drinks?
5. Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking?
6. Have you ever attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
7. Have you ever gotten into physical fights when drinking?
8. Has drinking ever created problems between you and a near relative or close friend?
9. Has any family member or close friend gone to anyone for help about your drinking?
10. Have you ever lost friends because of your drinking?
11. Have you ever gotten into trouble at work because of drinking?
12. Have you ever lost a job because of drinking?
13. Have you ever neglected your obligations, family, or work for two or more days in a row because you were drinking?
14. Do you drink before noon fairly often?
15. Have you ever been told you have liver trouble, such as cirrhosis?
16. After heavy drinking, have you ever had delirium tremens (DTs), severe shaking, visual or auditory (hearing) hallucinations?
17. Have you ever gone to anyone for help with your drinking?
18. Have you ever been hospitalized because of drinking?
19. Has your drinking ever resulted in your being hospitalized in a psychiatric ward?
20. Have you ever gone to any doctor, social worker, clergyman, or mental health clinic for help with any emotional problem in which drinking was part of the problem?
21. Have you been arrested more than once for driving under the influence of alcohol?
22. Have you ever been arrested, or detained by an official for a few hours, because of other behavior while drinking?

Scoring and Interpretation

Score one point if you answered “no” to the following questions: 1 or 4. Score one point if you answered “yes” to the following questions: 2, 3, 5 through 22.

A total score of six or more indicates a serious problem.

What Happens Now?

Once you have completed one of these self-assessment tools, your score might indicate that you have a problem with alcohol or drugs. There are a number of factors that determine the seriousness of the problem, including:

  • Your age
  • The duration of use
  • The quantity of use

It’s best to consult with a professional at this time. Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a disease and needs treatment. You might be tempted to think you can address your addiction on your own. This is likely to be extremely challenging because the disease of addiction involves chemical changes in your brain that are nearly impossible to reverse without professional help.  Drug use hijacks the brain’s circuitry and reorganizes it. That’s why being addicted to drugs is not the same as finding joy from or being obsessed with something else, like a favorite TV show. Once your brain’s reward centers have been re-programmed, it is nearly impossible to remedy this on your own.

You can take the first steps toward getting your life back on track by reaching out for help and starting a treatment program. There are several levels of care available. A professional can help you determine which one is right for you right now. Some of the options include residential treatment, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient treatment. Tell your loved ones and people you trust that you need help; this is the first and most important step in recovery.

When Should You Intervene in the Life of a Loved One?

Learning that someone you love is abusing drugs or alcohol can be scary. You might be reluctant to bring it up because you think it will affect your relationship. The truth is, the addiction itself is far more likely to harm your relationship than your desire to help. Denial or unwillingness to get help is the primary reason addiction goes untreated. If you have noticed behaviors or signs of addiction that you might have dismissed in the past, perhaps it is time to take another look. Approaching your loved one about their drug or alcohol abuse problem is never easy, but it may very well save their life. Completing a drug or alcohol use assessment tool or questionnaire together with your loved one might be a good place to start. This can open up a conversation that can lead you or your loved one to get help.

Enabling vs. Helping

Family members of addicted people often struggle to understand the difference between helping and enabling. You may try to help someone you love and end up causing more harm than good. This often comes down to enabling vs. helping. For example, allowing your loved one to live in your home rent-free while they continue to use drugs or abuse alcohol is enabling. Assisting them in finding an appropriate treatment center is helping. A good way to think about this is to ask yourself, “Is my action preparing them for life beyond addiction? Or is my action allowing them to continue the addictive behavior?” The goal of helping is to support a life that is independent, healthy, and loving. Helping your loved one fill out the DAST is a great place to start. Learn more about helping someone with addiction here.

Sometimes it’s easier for a doctor or therapist to administer a drug use assessment tool like the DAST or MAST. If you encounter resistance from the person you are trying to help, it might be because they feel embarrassed or struggle to be vulnerable around you. See if they would be willing to sit down with a therapist—a neutral third party—to get more information with the DAST.

If a score on the DAST or the MAST indicates a substance abuse problem, it’s time to seek professional help. Drug and alcohol addiction cause chaos for everyone—the person suffering from addiction and those around them. Addiction is a disease, and it is treatable.

For more information about your options, contact us today.



Laurie Woodard
Medically Reviewed by Laurie Woodard, MA, LAC, LPC
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