Purpose of review: Adolescence is a developmental period characterized by relatively high rates of substance use and substance use disorders. Precise assessment and classification of adolescent drug use behaviors are essential in gaining an accurate understanding of the nature and extent of adolescent drug use, and possible intervention or treatment needs. There has been a select group of recently published research reports and manuscripts that address critical and emerging issues pertaining to the classification and assessment of alcohol and other drug use behaviors among adolescents. An overview of these publications is provided and their clinical relevance is discussed.
Recent findings: The paper will focus on recent research, most from the United States, that addresses four main issues. One is the application of the new DSM-5 criteria to adolescents, including the advantages and disadvantages of the new criteria for substance use disorders. The second issue pertains to advances in instrumentation that provide new tools for researchers and clinicians in assessing substance use in adolescents. A significant public health issue is addressed as the third theme in the paper - screening for alcohol abuse in college settings. Finally, the paper reviews how the emerging science of brain development can inform the assessment process.
Summary: Recent advances in the adolescent drug abuse assessment field continue to inform clinical service and research. As a whole, these advances have strengthened the field, but continued research is needed to further refine assessment practices and standards and to better understand how to define a substance use disorder in youth.