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The Substance Abuse Questionnaire (SAQ)
The Substance Abuse Questionnaire (SAQ) is an adult substance (alcohol and other drugs) abuse assessment instrument or test that also measures aggressiveness, resistance, and stress management skills. The SAQ has 153 items, takes 25 to 30 minutes to administer and reports are available for printing on-site within 2½ minutes of test data entry. The SAQ is a computer-scored self-report test suitable for assessing or screening adults.
The SAQ has six measures or scales:

1. Truthfulness Scale: evaluates how truthful the client was while completing the SAQ. This scale identifies denial, guardedness, equivocation or defensiveness.

2. Alcohol Scale: assesses the presence of alcohol use and alcohol-related problems, if any. Alcohol is a legal or licit substance and refers to beer, wine and other liquor.

3. Drugs Scale: measures drug use and the severity of drug abuse. Drugs refer to marijuana, crack, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines, barbiturates, heroin, etc. The Drugs Scale also encompasses prescription drug abuse.

4. Aggressiveness Scale: evaluates the client’s forcefulness, belligerence and tendency to act out. Aggressiveness is often exacerbated by substance abuse.

5. Resistance Scale: assesses the client’s level of uncooperativeness or opposition to a change in their current state. It is often advantageous for staff to have an idea of how resistant a client will be in intervention, counseling, treatment and/or supervisory settings.

6. Stress Management Scale: The Stress Management Scale measures the client’s ability to manage or handle stress, tension or pressure. Poor stress management can often amplify mental health symptoms or exacerbate substance abuse or impair the client’s adjustment in the home or work.
The SAQ is used in adult court and probation departments and is appropriate for both misdemeanor and felony cases. The SAQ is also used for substance abuse screening in intervention and treatment intake settings as well as in other professional mental health agency evaluations.
A concise, objective, and standardized assessment tool that measures substance use and abuse in addition to other attitudinal, behavioral and stress management skills is very useful. When identifying substance use/abuse, knowing whether the client was being truthful is critical. And, from a supervisory and counseling/treatment perspective, it is equally important to establish how aggressive and resistant the client will be. When screening patients, defendants, offenders and probationers, identifying the presence of established substance (alcohol and drugs) abuse facilitates effective placement into appropriate levels of counseling, treatment and/or supervision levels.
Unique SAQ Features
Truthfulness Scale: Identifies denial, attempts to fake good, defensiveness, and problem minimization. This scale has been validated with the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)’s L and F-Scales, polygraph examinations, experienced staff judgment and truthfulness studies. The SAQ Truthfulness Scale has been empirically demonstrated to be reliable, valid and accurate.
Truth-Corrected Scores: The inclusion of a Truthfulness Scale in the SAQ allows for use of a sophisticated psychometric technique known as truth-correction. This proprietary truth-correction procedure is comparable to the MMPI K-Scale correction. The SAQ Truthfulness Scale has been correlated with the 5 other SAQ scales. The truth-correction equation then converts raw scores to truth-corrected scores. When the Truthfulness Scale is at or above the 95th percentile, all SAQ scale scores are invalid (inaccurate). To highlight extreme invalidity (inaccuracy), when the Truthfulness Scale score is at or above the 95th percentile, all other SAQ scale scores are set to the 99th percentile. Essentially, a Truthfulness Scale score at or above the 90th percentile represents a distorted and inaccurate test characterized by extreme denial, defensiveness and problem minimization. A Truthfulness Scale score at or above the 90th percentile invalidates all other SAQ scale scores. Truth-corrected scores are more accurate than raw scores. Raw scores reflect what the client wants you to know. Truth-corrected scores reveal what the client is trying to hide.
Not just another alcohol or drug test: The SAQ not only measures alcohol and drug use/abuse, but also assesses other important areas of inquiry: client truthfulness at time of assessment, along with aggressiveness and stress management skills.
The SAQ has both an Alcohol Scale and a Drugs Scale which are independent of one another. This allows evaluators to concurrently determine whether alcohol and/or drugs are problematic for their client. Elevated (70th percentile or higher) scores on either the Alcohol Scale or Drugs Scale represent problematic substance use. If both Alcohol Scale and Drugs Scale scores are at the 70th percentile or above, this indicates polysubstance abuse and the highest scale score represents the substance of choice.
The SAQ's Alcohol Scale and Drugs Scale identify individuals with alcohol-related and drug-related problems. The filtering system works as follows:
Risk Category
Risk Range
Low Risk
0 - 39%
Medium Risk
40 - 69%
Problem Risk
70 - 89%
Severe Problem
90 - 100%
The above table is a starting point for interpreting SAQ Alcohol Scale and Drugs Scale scores. Reference to this table shows that problems are not identified until a scale score is at or above the 70th percentile.
Risk range percentages were initially conceptualized from the psychometric literature. Subsequently, they have been endorsed by our peers and test users. When obtained risk range percentages are compared to these cognitively established risk ranges, very close approximations are invariably attained. Classifying clients according to pre-defined risk ranges provides an efficient and workable solution to offender risk. The percentage of clients falling into each risk range closely approximates the predicted percentages.
For example, Alcohol Scale risk ranges are: low risk, zero to 39th percentile; medium risk, 40 to 69th percentile; problem risk, 70 to 89th percentile; and severe problem, 90 to 100th percentile. Low problem severity should be matched with low intensity intervention/treatment programs. And high problem severity should be matched with high intensity intervention/treatment program placement. Appropriate matching is key to intervention/counseling/treatment success.
Assessment for the Reading Impaired: Over 20% of tested clients have some form of reading impairment. For this reason, the SAQ is available in Human Voice Audio (English and Spanish). The test items are read aloud to the client. This test presentation procedure helps resolve many reading and cultural differences issues. A person's passive vocabulary is often greater than their active (spoken) vocabulary. Having items read out loud helps reduce cultural and communication problems. Human Voice Audio is available free.
Confidentiality: Test users are encouraged to delete clients’ names from diskettes, flash drives or the online SAQ database. Deleting names does not delete client demographics or SAQ test data, which is used for subsequent research and analysis. Once client names are deleted, they cannot be retrieved. This proprietary name deletion procedure involves a few keystrokes and ensures that client information is kept private. Our secure, encrypted database protects all test data. The name deletion procedure and secure database ensure full compliance with HIPAA Federal Regulation C.F.R. 164.501.
ASAM Compatibility: The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recommends levels of intervention or care based on the severity of an offender’s alcohol and/or drug condition. The SAQ follows a similar logic – the Alcohol Scale and Drugs Scale scores represent the severity of the client’s alcohol and/or drug-related condition. The SAQ is consistent with ASAM methodology in that the severity of a client’s condition directly influences recommended levels of counseling, intervention and treatment.
Behavior Data Systems, Ltd.
P.O. Box 44256
Phoenix, Arizona 85064-4256
Telephone: 1(800)231-2401
Copyright © 1997. Behavior Data Systems, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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