You Think He’s Using – Should You Drug Test Your Teen?

Is at-home drug testing a good idea for parents who suspect their teen's using?

You’re seeing all the warning signs: Your child’s grades are sleeping, he's becoming a recluse in his bedroom and no longer participating in the activities he used to love. Everything points to drug abuse, but should you go and buy a drug test to confirm your suspicions? More importantly, would it even help the situation?

To Test or Not to Test?

Plenty of parents and professionals are divided on this issue. Some local organizations believe it’s the only way to stop the drug epidemic in their community. First Step, a new community program in upstate New York, is even trying to intervene on teen drug use by offering free drug tests to parents who believe their children have a drug problem. A positive result won’t result in legal consequences, but the teens will be referred to local counselors and treatment facilities.

“We're seeing seventh- and eighth-graders now using heroin, so we need to get into the schools...and be more proactive with everything,” said Broome County’s District Attorney Steve Cornwell. "You don't have to wait until your son or daughter is a full-blown addict [to get help]."

But Sharon Levy, a pediatrician and director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Children's Hospital Boston, told U.S. News & World Report in 2008 that she would never advocate parents drug testing their children. She also added that there is no evidence drug testing kids will keep them away from substances.

When Testing Backfires

Some studies have found that home drug testing may have the opposite intended effect. A 2013 research project from the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, involving middle and high school students, found that drug testing resulted in slightly lower marijuana use, but significantly higher use of other illicit drugs. A separate study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2012 concluded that “drug testing should never be undertaken as a stand-alone response to a drug problem.”

If you suspect your child is using, this doesn’t mean you should avoid taking a proactive approach. Here are some of the ways you can effectively confront and encourage him to seek help:

  • Ask: Simply asking the question is a great way to open the lines of communication. Administering a drug test can make your child feel like you don’t take their word at face value.
  • Wait for an ideal moment: Don’t have the conversation if you’re feeling angry, aren’t prepared with information to answer their questions of if your child is clearly drunk or high. Pick a time where everyone is relaxed and clear-headed.
  • Prepare yourself for their reaction: It’s possibly that not only will your child react poorly to the conversation, but come back at you with personal attacks such as calling you a liar or hypocrite. Figure out how you will respond to this ahead of time.
  • Seek professional help: If you believe it’s necessary, set up a more formal intervention by hiring a trained professional such as a qualified counselor or interventionist.

Image Source: iStock

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