Substance Abuse and Home Drug Testing

As parents you might feel the need to check whether your teen is doing drugs. You might notice, for instance, that he or she is not doing well in school or becoming excessively moody.  Perhaps drugs are the cause.


Even though you’ve done everything you can do to communicate that drugs are not the answer to emotional turmoil, challenges at school, or conflicts among peers, you might still fear that your child is using drugs as a means to cope with life’s challenges. You might be concerned that your child is using substances without your knowing.


Some parents feel the need to ask their teen to undergo a drug test as a way to confirm their suspicions. But not only that, a positive test can then open the door to getting substance abuse treatment for your teen. It can also open up other conversations, such as what might be going on underneath the use of drugs, such as anxiety or depression.


However, for now, as parents, if you’re considering the use of home drug testing, there are some factors to consider. For instance, it’s best to tell your child that you intend to drug test him or her. The American Academy of Pediatricians and most experts agree that drug tests for teens should be done knowingly and with their consent.


However, there are limitations to urine drug testing.  Drug tests are not always reliable and your teen might resent being tested, that you’re resorting to that level in order to get the information you need. In other words, it might put a larger divide between you and your child. Furthermore, the urine test may not be able to detect all forms of illicit drugs, such as LSD, ecstasy, inhalants, and steroids. Certain tests might only be able to detect the presence of drugs shortly after use. And some tests may provide misleading results.


There may be other tools that parents can use to ascertain whether there is a concern with drugs, such as questionnaires or a confidential interview facilitated by your teen’s pediatrician or a therapist. If you do decide to do a lab test, your family doctor can help with ordering the right test, processing it, and interpreting the results.


Also, if your teen has been using drugs for some time, it might take more than drug testing or a conversation to have him or her stop her using. Often, the process of ending an addiction, or making any type of major change, can feel chaotic, for teens and adults alike. If you believe that your teen might have been using drugs for many months or years, you may want to keep the Trans-Theoretical Model (TTM), otherwise known as the Stages of Change, in mind. The model incorporated a variety of clinical theories (thus, the name Trans-theoretical) as well as the observations of individuals attempting to create sustainable behavior change.


The TTM Model, the Stages of Change, is often used to facilitate freeing adolescents (and adults) from addiction or other unhealthy habits, such as quitting smoking. The stages of ending an addiction include pre-contemplation, contemplation, determination, action, maintenance, and termination. These stages can be used as a map if drug testing leads to a conversation about bringing substance abuse to an end. Teens might like to know of them if and when he or she is ready to make such a transformation.


However, in the meantime, as you’re contemplating the use of home drug testing for your teen, consider seeking professional support. Contact either your doctor or a psychologist for support before, during, or after administering home drug testing.




HealthyChildren.Org. Home Drug Testing: Information for Parents. Retrieved on August 28, 2014 from: