Tag: Low DEF Score

Differentiating between Substance Use and a Substance Use Disorder in Teens Using the SASSI-A3

This sample case is based in part on SASSI-A3 scale scores that were called into our clinical help desk. The client, Josh (not his real name), is a 17-year-old male who was a senior in high school at the time of the assessment.

Josh was referred to the school counselor after he was caught drinking beer on the school campus with some of his friends during a school-sponsored activity. Josh, an above-average student with no prior history of alcohol or drug-related problems, plans to attend college in the fall. His parents reported that Josh had been staying out later than usual on some weeknights and that they confronted him once about alcohol on his breath.

The SASSI-A3 was administered as part of the assessment to rule out the possibility of a Substance Use Disorder. The scores are illustrated in the accompanying profile. The results indicate that Josh has a Low Probability of having a Substance Use Disorder (Rule 1-8 answered “no”). The VAL and DEF scales arenot elevated, suggesting that there is not a particularly high likelihood that the SASSI incorrectly missed identifying Josh as having a Substance Use Disorder. He appears to have responded to the instrument in a forthright manner and therefore probably provided a reasonably accurate account of his alcohol and drug-related experiences (DEF=4). On the FVA items he reports using to cope with problems, moderate loss of control (drinking more than he intended to once or twice), and negative consequences including the current incident and confrontation with his parents. Both the FRISK and ATT are elevated so some attention should be given to who Josh is associating with along with his beliefs and values regarding substance use.

Given the Low Probability outcome, it is reasonable to infer from this result that Josh is most likely involved in a pattern of substance use that is experimental/recreational in nature. However, given that he has begun to experience some issues of loss of control and negative consequences, he may be at risk for developing a substance use problem if he does not receive adequate assistance and support for behavioral change. This may be a particularly important consideration when he goes to college and is likely to be exposed to peer groups in which regular substance use is the norm.

The SASSI-A3 results indicate that Josh is not likely to have a Substance Use Disorder at this time. Additional assessment information did not indicate that Josh has been experiencing risk factors over and above what was already indicated on the SASSI-A3. He will most likely benefit from a cognitively based educational/ prevention program geared towards increasing his awareness of the harmful effects of alcohol use. Values clarification and exploring alternate means of peer group support may also be effective in helping Josh make healthier social choices.

PDF Version Available for Download

Enhancing Your Clients’ Insight and Motivation Using the SASSI

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.

PDF Version Available for Download

SAM Contributes to SASSI-4 Accuracy

This SASSI-4 profile of a 37-year-old female was called in to our clinical support line. As we look at her results, it appears that she answered the items in a meaningful manner (RAP=0).  She is likely to have a high probability of a substance use disorder (SYM=6, SAM=8) based on decision rule 8.

Notice that despite the relatively low DEF score and apparent lack of defensive responding, the SAM scale score, when combined with the elevated SYM score, leads to a test positive result. While it is true that the SAM scale score plays a vital role in the accuracy of the decision rules in this case, it is important to remember that the clinical meaning of this score is unclear. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to draw any clinical inference from the fact that the SAM score is elevated.

The client acknowledges significant problems related to her use of drugs other than alcohol. She is likely to have experienced some loss of control, negative consequences, and increased tolerance as a result of her substance misuse. However, her average OAT score (OAT=3) may be an indication of some limited ability or willingness to acknowledge behavioral problems commonly associated with individuals who have substance use disorders.

The moderately elevated SYM (SYM=6) is consistent with clients who often are not able to recognize the manner in which substance use is manifested in their lives. Her responses are similar to individuals who live in a social milieu where substance abuse and its related consequences are fairly routine and normalized. This experience may limit her ability to characterize her substance usage as problematic. Indeed, she may be somewhat surprised that the SASSI results could even indicate an addiction problem.

The client’s responses are similar to those of individuals who are experiencing emotional pain (DEF=3). Individuals who score in this range tend to be overly self-critical, may experience depressive symptoms and sometimes report a history of trauma. She may be quite limited in her ability to recognize personal strengths, focusing more on limitations, failures and feelings of low self-worth.

This client is likely to have a high probability of a substance use disorder and should be considered for relatively intensive addictions treatment. A comprehensive behavioral health evaluation may be necessary to rule out the need for additional psychiatric intervention. Although she demonstrates some ability to acknowledge relevant behavioral symptoms of her addiction, a viable treatment plan should include initial efforts to increase her self-awareness and insight into the full nature of her substance use problems. Education and other cognitively based interventions may be helpful.

Most likely, she will need help in recognizing that her misuse of alcohol and other drugs is similar to that of other substance dependent people. A content analysis of her responses on the FVOD and SYM items may be one way to help her realize that it is in her best interest and within her capacity to change.

Community-based self-help support groups could provide additional encouragement and support.

In addition, evaluation for depressive symptoms and its relationship to her substance us would be important to consider.

PDF Version Available for Download