Stages of Assessment

The patient with coexisting AOD and mood disorders requires a thorough assessment and treatment for both disorders. The assessment process can be divided into three clinical phases: acute, subacute, and long term.

Acute and subacute assessment may not be applicable to certain patients seen in some clinical settings. For instance, AOD treatment program staff in outpatient settings may see fewer patients with acute psychiatric symptoms than are seen in detoxification settings.

Acute Evaluation: Assessing Danger to Self or Others

It is critical to assess whether patients are threats to themselves or others. This evaluation helps to determine if there is a duty to protect patients from self-harm, interrupt intentions of violence toward others, and/or warn intended victims of patients’ announced violent intent.

The responsibility to protect some patients from suicide or violence due to mental illness is not mitigated by confidentiality laws with respect to AOD addiction. Imminent risk, according to the laws of most States, justifies and requires commitment of patients or the warning of potential victims.

Generally, AOD confidentiality laws are very stringent. While some States protect against involuntary commitment for AOD abuse, they do not protect against commitment for AOD-induced psychiatric states which involve danger to oneself or others.

Screening personnel should assess whether suicidal feelings are transitory or reflect a chronic condition. Consider: Do patients have a suicide plan or serious intentions? Have they made past attempts? Whether the patients have had prior psychiatric hospitalization or are in current treatment should be determined. If patients are acutely dangerous to themselves or others, either voluntary or involuntary methods such as commitment should be pursued through local resources. AOD staff should have a thorough knowledge of local resources prior to and in anticipation of crises.

Placement in a safe holding environment can have a positive effect on patients with AOD problems and apparent suicidal intentions. If an intake facility cannot hold such patients, referral to an appropriate facility is recommended. For example, if someone walks into a program at 8:00 a.m. on Monday saying he wants to hurt himself, there should be time to talk the person down, assess treatment needs, and begin treatment or make assessment referrals. When necessary, an assessment should include a rapid triage.

In virtually every recent study of successful or attempted suicide, AOD use and major depression are among the top associated conditions. Having both conditions simultaneously leads to even greater risk of suicide.

Patients with manic symptoms that approach psychotic proportions require thorough evaluation and require urgent care. Evaluation of mania should be done on a priority basis and should be monitored during subacute assessments.

Patients who have manic and hypomanic symptoms often minimize AOD and psychiatric disorders. Because of the symptom of grandiosity, manic patients may have poor insight into their AOD disorder, their mania, and their social situation. Manic patients may not see themselves as ill. They are usually hyperactive and irritable, and often become a danger to themselves or others through impulsivity, irritability, and poor judgment. When such people are also intoxicated, most will require involuntary commitment. See Chapter 8 for a discussion of assessment of patients with psychosis.

Medical Assessment

Patients, particularly the elderly, with mood disorders may have life-threatening medical conditions, including hypoglycemia (insulin overdose), stroke, or infections. These conditions, as well as withdrawal and toxic drug reactions, must always be considered and require a thorough physical examination and laboratory assessment. Assessment personnel should make appropriate referrals for medical assessment and treatment. Facilities that have no medical component should train assessment staff in triage and referral.

A plan should be developed to assess and treat medical conditions that precipitate or complicate mood disturbances. Endocrine disorders (such as thyroid problems), neurological disorders (such as multiple sclerosis), and HIV infection should be considered. In addition to obvious medical problems, it can be assumed that basic medical needs of patients with dual disorders are not being met, and a plan should be developed to address these deficits.
Initial Addiction Assessment Using the CAGE Questions

Clinicians can easily use the CAGE questions for screening (see Chapter 3) as well as adapt them for use with patients who may have mood disorders. For example, consider the following questions adapted from the CAGE questionnaire. “Have you ever cut down or increased your AOD use related to being severely depressed (or manic, etc.)?” “Do you ever get more irritable, angry, depressed, or annoyed when using AODs?” “Do you drink or use other drugs to deal with guilt feelings?” “Do you feel more moody in the morning or evening?” “Have you ever been suicidal when intoxicated?”

Initial AOD assessment should focus on recent use of alcohol and other drugs and a behavioral history. The assessor needs to know what drug has been used, in what quantity, with what frequency, and how recently. Past treatments, past episodes of delirium tremens, hallucinosis, blackouts, and destructive behavior should be recorded.