QI received a preliminary decision to deny my security clearance. I now have to have a drug and alcohol evaluation and have no idea what to expect.  What happens during one of these sessions?

A:  A comprehensive Drug and/or Alcohol Evaluation is performed by a Licensed and Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor.  In addition, the evaluator should have a specialty certification entitled “Substance Abuse Professional” which is given by the Department of Transportation.  This adds credence to their capabilities and makes them “approved by or acceptable to the government” (within the meaning of the National Adjudicative Guidelines for Security Clearances) and adds credibility to the evaluation.

You should approach the evaluation as if you were participating in a confessional with a member of the clergy.   Be completely candid, honest and forthright throughout the process.  An evaluation of this sort is not adversarial.

The evaluator should be highly objective, using specific criteria in questionnaires and charts to determine whether you have an issue.  For alcohol use you may have a Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) administered, and/or an Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT).  For drug issues a Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST) will be administered.  There are more complex questionnaires that are equally valid and reliable, but for ease of use and time constraints, these are the most common.

Diagnoses are made using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – version “V” (5) also known and the DSM-V (DSM-5).  There are 11 items listed for a “use disorder” for drugs or alcohol.  If an individual possesses 2 of the 11 criteria, they are considered to be “use disordered.”  This requires attention and a recommendation of either entering treatment, such as an inpatient treatment center, or an outpatient intensive treatment center.  In addition, attendance at 12 step support groups is highly recommended.

The evaluator will forward their Letter of Disposition to your attorneys (if you are being represented) or to you directly if you are appealing on your own.  If you are not being represented you should not attempt to influence the evaluator with any suggestions of edits, changes, or requests to re-evaluate.  This could be perceived as coercion and your evaluation could be voided.

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Ms. Berlin is the owner of Compassionate Beginnings, LLC, a private integrated therapy practice in Leesburg, Virginia. Her work focuses primarily on national security cases – including the evaluation of security clearance holders, pilots (by DOT regulation), and others whose fitness for duty has been questioned by the government.