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Drug Testing Your Teenager: Is it Right?

Studies have found that at least 98 percent of teenagers lie to their parents. Most often, it is because they think they might get in trouble, that their parents would be disappointed, or that they’d be punished and banned from doing something they want to do. According to the same research, among other topics, the average teen will lie about alcohol and drug use.

So, many parents often find themselves faced with the question: Should I drug test my teen? Maybe you have suspicions that your teen is using. Maybe your teen has a history of using drugs in the past. Maybe your teen is in recovery, and you want to ensure his or her sobriety is maintained. No matter the case, you have a right to be concerned. As a parent, you want to ensure your child stays on the best possible path. The question is, does this involve drug testing your teenager? Is that right for parents to do?

Adolescence is a time for changing. Hormones, social circles, identity conflicts. This is just a part of the development process. But during all this change, parents might find it hard to get through to their teens. Having a dinner conversation is one thing (amidst cellphones and social media), but establishing an open and trusting relationship with your teen can be a whole different ballgame. So, while drug testing a child makes sense for some parents, know that it can affect the level of trust between you and your teen.

So, Should You Drug Test Your Teen?

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in general, advises against drug testing teenagers. The reason for this is because it can be invasive, harming the parent-child relationship and creating “an environment of resentment, distrust, and suspicion.” This is especially true if your child does not have a history of using drugs, or you cannot sufficiently justify the reason for doing so. Many teens do not have intentions of using drugs or drinking. If this is your child, he or she may resent the lack of trust you have in them.

If you wish to establish a healthy and trusting relationship with your teen, and you are only suspicious of drug use, try out other methods to open up the conversation first. Try a calm intervention. Let your teen know that you are there to listen. Ask your teen specific questions, without being accusatory. Ask your teen why he’s been out late, who she’s been hanging out with, where he has been, what is going on in her life. Ask your teen if he or she has drank, or used drugs, or what high school parties really entail. Be understanding. During these conversations, try not to be harsh, judgmental, or reactive. The best thing you can do for your teen is to remain calm, so that your child will more readily open up about his or her activities and whereabouts. You can read more tips here.

Of course, this rule does not apply to everyone. If your teen has a history of drug use, and a history of lying to you about it, a conversation might not be enough. In this case, it is important to involve a clinical professional, such as your physician or an addiction specialist. Know the tell-tale signs of teen drug use, but do not go buy a drug test without consulting with an expert first. As Dr. Sharon Levy, Director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, suggests, drug testing is “not a stand-alone treatment for a substance use disorder.”

Teenagers who have been drug tested before may also have workarounds that parents should know about. If you have been drug testing your teen, he or she may try to switch substances to avoid a positive drug screen. For example, your teen may have tested positive for marijuana in the past. However, if he or she switches to a synthetic version, like K2 or Spice, it may not show on the typical drug test.

The General Rule of Thumb on Drug Testing Teens

As a parent – and especially a worried one – it can be very tempting to drug test your teen. After all, drug testing kits are readily available on store shelves, and are relatively inexpensive and easy to use.

If you are looking into drug testing as a preventive tool, or just slightly suspicious, however, you should consider alternatives. Not only could you end up losing your teen’s trust, you may also make your teen more likely to hide things or lie to you. Not to mention, drug tests are not always reliable for identifying teen drug use. This is because most teen drug use is sporadic. Teenagers often experiment with drugs “once in a while” – not every day – which may not show up on the average drug test.

If you are looking to drug test your teen with a history of drug abuse and addiction, or if you suspect your teen is using drugs very regularly, then a drug test may be warranted. Remember, the best way to do this is through a clinical professional. Talk to your child’s doctor or counselor about your options. Many physicians’ offices and addiction specialists will offer drug testing for teenagers with a history of drug abuse, or whose parents have concerns about a substance use disorder.

However, it’s important to only do this when justified. Again, teenagers are in a delicate phase of life. With all the changes happening within and outside them, they need a constant. That constant – that consistent source of love and support – is you.

If you are concerned about your teen’s drug use, and would like to consult a professional, please do not hesitate to call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793. Turnbridge is a dual diagnosis treatment center specializing in teen and young adult drug use. We are here for you.