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Parental Strategies: To Test or Not to Test, That is the Question
December 12th, 2018

Thoughts on Drug Testing Your Teens

Parental concern about drug use is almost universal, and the topic of whether or not to drug test one’s own child is a consuming dilemma. Parents’ major concerns regarding drug testing include a lack of knowledge about what is available, what to do if the tests are positive, and most importantly, the chances that drug testing interferes with the relationship, and the strong desire to maintain trust. The other concern I hear most often is, what should the timing of drug testing be (i.e., is it done after one suspects a problem, or is it a preventative measure)?

Although opinions vary, I believe drug testing is a valuable tool for many reasons. Urine drug testing kits are readily available at your local pharmacy or on the internet. Most of these kits test for a panel of drugs, including alcohol, marijuana, opiates, benzodiazepines and cocaine. Many synthetic and club drugs will not show up, and require sophisticated and expensive testing. I recommend testing because it goes a long way to removing questions or doubts, and if test results are negative, a parent can much more easily dispense with their suspicions and probing questions. One of the main benefits of drug testing is that it provides a reasonable and built-in excuse for your child to refuse temptation or peer-pressure to use. Saying “no, I can’t, my parents will test me when I get home” is clearly understood.

If framed in a positive manner (i.e., “I just want to do this so we can get this concern out of the way and not be bothered by it”), most kids will not protest too much. If a request produces great anger, resentment, and refusal, that may be a sign that there is something to hide.

When should one consider testing? The clearest answer is if there is concern or suspicion of use, obviously. It is a much more difficult decision if one is trying to use it as a precaution or preventative measure. If you have a good relationship with your child, if they talk to you about the pressures of use in the community, then you can discuss the issue with them. Letting them know that your relationship, trust, and communication are of utmost importance, allow them to have a voice in the decision. When there is any suspicion or concern, drug testing is a good tool.

If you decide to test, there are some important considerations. Testing should be random, and not announced. It can and should be linked to those times that you are especially concerned. Know that some substances, like alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamine clear the system relatively rapidly, within one to three days, while marijuana, which is stored in the fat cells, will stay in the system and continue to test positively for 30-60 days.

You need a strategy to respond to positive test results – what will you do? Having this in place will lessen anger and battles that may result. Finally, be aware that results of drug testing can be inaccurate. There are a small percentage of false positives, or substances which may trigger a positive test that are not drug related. The percentages of these are small, but they do exist. More significant issues involve tampering with tests. If your child is having a problem, then the desire to hide it from you will be great. Teenagers have vast availability of resources aiding them in covering up their use, including ingesting substances, diluting, or even using someone else’s urine. When you are dealing with this level of deception, then it is best to consult a professional and decide upon a course of assistance. Please know that the Thelma McMillen Center provides free drug testing for teens, and if results are positive, provides resources to parents.

In summary, I believe drug testing is a useful tool to both lower anxiety among parents, provide a built-in excuse for teens, and ultimately to build trusting relationships.

Remember, if you have issues you would like to see addressed, please email me at askdrgelbart@gmail.com.

Moe Gelbart, Ph.D. 
Executive Director, Thelma McMillen Center