Substance abuse screening and brief intervention for adolescents in primary care

Pediatr Ann. 2014 Oct;43(10):412. doi: 10.3928/00904481-20140924-09.


Adolescent substance use is common and is associated with serious mental, physical, and social risks, warranting systematic screening in the primary care setting. It is important for clinicians to become familiar with Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), including administration of validated screening tools to identify level of risk associated with substance use and application of appropriate brief interventions. Positive reinforcement and brief advice is indicated for those adolescents with no or minimal risk for a substance use disorder. Providing a brief intervention using motivational interviewing strategies with subsequent close clinical follow-up is warranted when an adolescent meets criteria for a mild to moderate substance use disorder. Referral to treatment is recommended in cases of severe substance use. Immediate action, including breaking confidentiality, may be necessary when an adolescent's behavior raises acute safety concerns. Making time to interview adolescents alone is essential. It is also important to review the limitations of confidentiality with patients and parents/guardians and offer them strategies to discuss sensitive issues with their adolescents. Available resources for adolescents, parents/guardians, and clinicians regarding the risks of adolescent substance use and evidence-based treatment options can be used to support implementation of SBIRT in adolescent primary care.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Counseling*
  • Humans
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Substance Abuse Detection*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / prevention & control*