Carlos C. is a 36-year-old Mexican-American male who’s Spanish SASSI results indicate that he has a high probability of having a substance use disorder based on “yes” answers to Rules 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 and because his FPOS score is 5 or less (FPOS=2). Validation studies indicate that 86% of the people who have substance use disorders are correctly classified by the Spanish SASSI based on the Decision Rule (High Probability) and the False Positive Check (5 or less).
In addition, Carlos has an SCS score of 8 or more (SCS=9) indicating that he is more likely to have a substance dependence disorder than substance abuse. In validation studies, the majority of people (77%) who are test positive on the Spanish SASSI and have SCS scores of 8 or more have a substance dependence disorder rather than substance abuse or no disorder.
The Administration and Scoring Instructions and Development and Validation of the Spanish SASSI provide detailed information on interpreting the Decision Rule results, the False Positive and False Negative Check (FPOS and FNEG) and the Supplementary Classification Scale (SCS).
Three of the Spanish SASSI scales, FVA, FVOD and SYM, are composed of “face valid” items that address substance misuse in an apparent or obvious manner. Some questions address inability to control usage. For example, on one of the FVA items, Carlos acknowledged that on several occasions he has had more to drink than he intended to. Other items on these scales reflect usage in order to better cope with negative feelings or other problems. Carlos, for example, reported on one of the SYM items that when he is anxious, he feels the need to drink. The face valid scales also include items that address negative consequences of substance misuse, such as physical, emotional and relationship problems. Carlos indicated on an FVA item that on several occasions his drinking has led to problems with friends and family members, and on a SYM item he acknowledged that he has had a drink first thing in the morning to steady his nerves or get rid of a hangover.
As you can see, by reading clients’ answers to specific questions on the FVA, FVOD, and SYM scales, it is possible to gain greater understanding of the types of problems they may be having with alcohol and other drug usage. Also, providing feedback to clients on the types of problems they have identified on the face valid items of the Spanish SASSI may be useful in the process of establishing treatment goals.
The remaining scales, OAT, SAT, DEF and SAM are subtle scales — i.e., the items that comprise these scales do not address substance misuse in an obvious or apparent manner. Therefore, Carlos’ responses to questions on those scales cannot be readily interpreted. The SASSI Institute provides guidelines for interpreting four similar scales as they appear on the English versions of the SASSI. However, the subtle scales on the Spanish SASSI are not identical to the English scales, and there is not enough information available to formulate guidelines for interpreting them for clinical purposes. The SASSI Institute, therefore, does not recommend interpreting scores on the subtle scales for clinical purposes. We will however, be delighted to help you with scoring or administering the questionnaire.
I received my first Adolescent A-3 call on the helpline and was so excited and when I heard the numbers, I knew exactly why the clinician was calling.
As you look at the profile, you can see most of the numbers are within the norm. He meets Rule 6 so comes up with a High Probability of a Substance Use Disorder and no Prescription Drug Abuse. So, what clinical information can the scale scores give you with so few scales outside the norm?
Although the FVOD is within the norm, it is above average and as recommended, you can do content analysis of his Face Valid scales. Another scale to pay attention to is the OAT score of 7 which is elevated. This suggests the client can acknowledge personal limitations and shortcomings and identify with other substance abusers. However, he may not want to or think he can change. The other significant score is SAT with a score of 1 which is below the 15th percentile. This suggests he may be hypersensitive to others and comes across as having a chip on his shoulder. This gives you good information on how to approach this client, especially when giving him feedback as you process the results with him because he is not giving you a whole lot of direct information regarding his use.
A word about the VAL of 6. If the numbers had resulted in a Low Probability of a Substance Use Disorder, you would question the results and do further investigation. Because he met Rule 6, there is no need to address the VAL. That said, with the VAL being so high, was this individual trying to manipulate the questionnaire and didn’t succeed?
Finally, users of the older version will notice that the SCS has been eliminated. This will require your use of the DSM-5 to determine the diagnosis and level of severity from your assessment.
Hope this information is instructive and assists you in your practice. And remember, as usual, we are here to help, so give the clinical line a call at 800-726-0526, press 2.
Angela T. illustrates a profile often seen in people who acknowledge that they use drugs excessively and have come to rely on them as a coping resource.
Angela’s scores on the SASSI-4 meet the criteria for classifying her as having a high probability of a substance use disorder. Angela’s score on the Rx scale also indicates a high probability of prescription drug abuse.
Reviewing her scale scores reveals openness in disclosing her use of drugs and alcohol. On FVOD and SYM, Angela acknowledges extensive use of drugs and many negative consequences and symptoms of abuse. Examining her answers to specific items on these scales may help you counsel Angela, and may suggest good starting points for a more detailed history of her use of alcohol, drugs and prescription medications.
On SYM Angela acknowledges serious substance misuse that she acknowledges resulted in making her problems worse, increased tolerance, excessive use, and wishing she could cut down her use of substances. Her OAT score is in the average range, which can indicate that Angela does not necessarily align herself with those characteristics associated with substance abusers and she may not see herself as a ‘drug addict.’
With her Prescription Drug scale (Rx) score of 6, it is useful to look at those individual items as well.
Angela’s moderate DEF score suggests she can be open and realistic in acknowledging her difficulties and substance misuse. The rest of her scores fall within the normal range, between the 15th and 85th percentiles.
Given Angela’s high level of drug use and consequences, you might consider a more comprehensive evaluation to determine whether she can maintain sobriety and function well enough to benefit from a treatment program. She may need supervised detoxification or other intensive intervention.
You may find Angela able to acknowledge that she uses drugs frequently and perhaps that she drinks to excess. However, she may not see that her behavior varies dramatically from others who don’t have a substance use disorder. Feedback on where her scores fall on the profile sheet may help her see that her behaviors are not typical. Examining the items that Angela endorsed on the FVA, FVOD, SYM, and Rx scales may provide useful insight into her motivations for using and help her see the consequences that result from her use. Angela may need your help to acknowledge her pain and to recognize that there are alternatives to her current lifestyle.
The SASSI-4 screens for Substance Use Disorder (SUD) along the full DSM-5 continuum of severity: mild, moderate, and severe. A brief scale, Prescription Drug (Rx), was added to accurately identify individuals likely to be abusing prescription medications. Read a full sample assessment report on Angela T. in the SASSI-4 User Guide & Manual.
Through the years, we have had the opportunity to share inspirational stories with our colleagues about their experience using the SASSI. One such story came recently from a psychologist who uses the SASSI in his practice. This was a gratifying story for us to hear and we are pleased that he has allowed us to share it with you.
The mother of a 22-year-old woman called me because she felt very strongly that her daughter Aimee (not client’s actual name) had an alcohol problem. But Aimee was adamant, no question about it, “I don’t have a problem.”
After some persuasion, Aimee agreed to come into my office, and I invited her mother to stay in the office during the interview, with Aimee’s permission. I really think Aimee was very certain that there wasn’t a problem, and that having Mom there during the process would convince her mother of this, too. I said, “You know, Mom can be a bit of a reality check here, but I’m listening to what YOU are saying.” Aimee’s mother agreed to just listen, since she had had her say when making the referral.
We talked about it, and Aimee restated that she didn’t have a problem. She was just not aware of any bad consequences coming from drinking. Aimee really seemed to believe what she was saying, “My friends and I, we don’t have any consequences; we just enjoy drinking.” I told her that was fine and asked, “Would you like to find out if you, in fact, do have a problem, or would you rather not know?” Of course, this is right in front of Mom. And she thought about it, seeing herself as being free to say “no.” But she did say, “Yeah, I think I would want to know.” When asked about each of the DSM diagnostic criteria for substance use disorders, Aimee answered no to all symptom questions.
Then, I brought out the SASSI-4, and told her a little bit about how it would compare her responses to two known groups of people: those who have a problem and know it, own it, and the other group that is just as aware that they do not have a problem, and own that. And we will see how your responses go. She agreed that that sounded good. She took the SASSI-4, and her responses showed a high probability of having a substance use disorder. This was very surprising to her. Then I went back and showed Aimee her scores on the FVA and the SYM.
When she looked at those scores, she could see by the profile that the consequences she was getting were way out of line compared to ordinary people who drink. She runs with folks whose norm is to drink a lot, and there is a history in her family of substance use issues. She just said, “It’s almost like thinking about it and realizing that you are surrounded, and your best bet is to give up!” She surrendered to the idea that, “Yes, I’ve got a problem.” From there on she was willing to do something about it. Aimee made an appointment to see me again, and we went on from there.
Let’s say that the SASSI did not exist, and I would have had only the DSM criteria and her history. I would have had her mother’s reflections and thoughts and observations, and—I don’t feel certain, but I’m guessing—she would have walked away with the understanding that she did not have a problem. She would have gone on as she had been—because I would not have been able to make a case that she did have a problem, because there would have been no data to base that on. She may well have been one of those who left the interview, and for the rest of her life said, “No, I don’t have a problem, so get off my back.” In a sense, I really believe that the SASSI saved this young woman’s life, or at least spared her significant pain. I have always been impressed by the accuracy of the SASSI. It picks up on people who really are “sincerely deluded.” It’s interesting that her score on the Defensiveness (DEF) scale was not particularly elevated, so it was not that she was being defensive, she was just unaware of how her drinking and symptoms associated with it were beyond the norm. Her elevated SAT score – at the 98th percentile – supports the interpretation that Aimee has little insight into what may be motivating her to drink with her friends, or the negative consequences that follow from spending time that way. I am very grateful for the SASSI, and I wouldn’t do an assessment or a screening without it. I literally would refuse, because just the verbal reports can be so misleading, although not intentionally misleading, necessarily. Clients will compare themselves with the people they know who are much further along in the addiction process, and not really understand that their own behavior is a problem, just because their own behavior is not yet as severe as what they see in others. The SASSI can put a client’s use into a broader, and often more realistic context.
Original depiction, written by Nancy Winningham, M.A. based on an actual experience a clinician had using the SASSI with a client. Adapted to reflect SASSI-4 information.
We had the opportunity
to consult with a treatment provider who had called in SASSI-4 scores for a
Native American couple residing in Canada. Since both profiles nicely
illustrate important clinical features of each client, we decided to present
the interpretations in this sample. We are grateful to the treatment agency in
Northern Canada that granted us permission to use the information included in this
sample. To facilitate the presentation of the profiles in a confidential
manner, we have created fictitious names for each of the clients.
Mary, a 25-year-old
Native American female, and her husband John, a 28-year-old Native American
male, were referred to the agency for a substance use evaluation. They live in a
very small community where the base rate of substance misuse is extremely high.
Their children were recently removed from the home as child protective services
suspected alcohol abuse to be a serious problem for both parents. Mary lost her
mother, father and siblings in a tragic accident that occurred just a few
months prior to the evaluation.
Upon first glance at
Mary’s profile, she appears to have responded in a meaningful manner (RAP=0),
and there is no evidence of defensive responding (DEF=1). Given this low DEF
score, she is likely to be in considerable emotional pain. She acknowledges
significant problematic use of alcohol over her lifetime (FVA=13) and reports
behaviors and experiences that are highly correlated with substance abuse SYM=8).
In fact, her SYM score is the sole basis for classifying her as test positive
on the SASSI-4 (Decision Rule 2).
A quick look at John’s
SASSI results reveals a similar profile but with some noteworthy differences.
Although he too shows no evidence of defensive responding (DEF=4), his RAP
score of 2 raises immediate concerns of random or non-meaningful responding.
Fortunately, the treatment provider had investigated this potential problem and
was satisfied that John fully understood the items and that he responded in a
meaningful manner. The counselor attributed the elevated RAP to cultural
differences and circumstances surrounding the nature of the evaluation.
John also acknowledges
significant alcohol problems (FVA=18, decision rules 1, 2, 6, 10). Like Mary,
his responses are highly similar to individuals with substance use disorders
who report life circumstances and experiences commonly associated with substance
abuse (SYM=9). This score likewise results in a test positive on the SASSI-4 (Decision
that Mary and John both have a high probability of a substance use disorder, we
can now proceed to examine the salient clinical aspects of the SASSI results,
hopefully illuminating more specific treatment needs for each client. Notice
that Mary’s and John’s SYM scores are highly consistent with the milieu in
which they are reported to have lived. The treatment provider made specific reference
to the high rate of alcoholism in their community. Individuals who have substance
use disorders with high SYM scores frequently live in environments where the abuse
of alcohol and/or other drugs and the associated consequences are common and
normal experiences. In fact, it can be such an accepted way of living in the
community that most of its inhabitants would be flabbergasted to have their drinking
behavior characterized as unhealthy or problematic. Consequently, it is
perfectly understandable that Mary and John may have difficulty recognizing the
precarious nature of their alcohol misuse, especially as it relates to their
current difficulties with the child protective agency.
Despite the similarity
of the two profiles, one important difference is Mary’s significantly low DEF
score. This score would certainly seem to fit in with the recent trauma she
experienced. Unresolved loss and grief issues may be strong contributing
factors to Mary’s emotional pain. Moreover, the thought of now losing her
children because of her substance use may be adding significantly to her
distress. The risk of depressive symptoms possibly related to a mood disorder
may indicate the need for a comprehensive mental health evaluation, especially
to rule out clinical depression or suicidal ideation.
Individuals with this
high a level of emotional distress are often overly self-critical and can
become immobilized with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. However,
it’s also possible that Mary’s pain may act as a catalyst in helping her
recognize the need to do something about her drinking. Indeed, the treatment
provider confirmed this to be the case and described Mary as a willing
candidate for substance use disorder treatment.
On the other hand,
John’s focus may be less internally directed with a tendency to see people,
places or things outside himself as the major cause for his problems.
Individuals with low SAT scores often present as victims of circumstances,
powerless to change their behavior because of a perceived lack of influence and
control over their immediate environment. In John’s case, the treatment
provider reported that John perceived his wife as the major cause of his
problems. He was content to focus on Mary’s drinking, grief issues, and
possible infidelity as the sole source of difficulties in the family. Despite
his acknowledgment of significant symptoms related to his drinking (FVA=18
& SYM =9), he remained unwilling and unable to accept this as an important
A viable treatment
plan for this couple will have to take into consideration a number of issues.
Mary seems primed for substance use treatment but may need additional
behavioral health services. A comprehensive mental health evaluation would be
helpful in identifying the nature and extent of any concurrent problems.
Interventions directed at processing loss and grief and those that provide
support would undoubtedly be important actions to consider. Efforts should be
made to provide bonding opportunities with a treatment provider and other
sources of encouragement and affirmation. In this regard, community self-help
support groups would be a valuable adjunct to relatively intensive substance
use disorder treatment. Pending the results of the mental health evaluation,
additional behavioral health care services may be added as required.
Although John is also
in need of substance use disorder treatment, he does not appear to be a willing
candidate at this time. Efforts should be made to increase awareness and
understanding of his alcoholism and how it contributes to his relationship and
family problems. The SASSI-4 results could be used as a graphic illustration of
the serious nature of his drinking problems. Using the high SYM score, the
treatment provider may be able to convey some understanding of how John may
have difficulty seeing the unhealthiness of his drinking. A content analysis of
the FVA and SYM scales may help him to see specific ways in which his alcohol
misuse has affected his life. It would be important to keep John focused on his
own needs by helping him to accept responsibility for his life and to make
choices that are in his own best interest. Attendance at self-help support
group meetings could help to reinforce this notion. Conjoint or family therapy
may need to be deferred in order to reinforce self-focus and to discourage John
from externalizing blame to Mary.
This case emphasizes
the importance of recognizing and assessing the impact of environmental factors
when developing effective treatment planning. It is true that substance
dependent individuals often live in an environment where the abuse of alcohol
and other drugs is commonly practiced and accepted as a normal way of life. In
these situations, individuals frequently engage in heavy substance usage as a
means of maintaining acceptance and approval in the community. It’s no wonder, then,
that clients living in this type of environment are amazed when we begin to
identify their misuse of alcohol or other drugs as problematic. Given their
life experience, it would never have occurred to these clients that anyone
would view their drinking or drugging as a sign of serious problems.
As we were able to see from the above discussion, the SYM scale on the SASSI-4 can often help you to recognize this phenomenon as a potential issue to explore further. In cases where the SYM is significantly elevated, clients may express puzzlement and surprise at your suggestion that their substance use is contributing significantly to their problems. However, the knowledge that this reaction most likely stems from the normalization of substance abuse in a client’s milieu provides an opportunity for you to communicate empathetic understanding and develop further rapport with the client. Once an appropriate bond is established, efforts should be directed at helping the client achieve some awareness of and insight into the full nature of his/her substance misuse and its relationship to other presenting problems.