Home Drug Testing: What Parents Need to Know
If you think your teen is using drugs, you may have thought about using a home drug test. While this might seem like a simple and quick way to get an answer, drug tests are not always reliable, and your teen may resent being tested.
Remember that your teen's doctor can help assess whether your teen has a drug problem and a laboratory test is not always needed. However, if a drug test is recommended, your teen should know about it. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes drug tests without a teen's knowledge and consent.
Types of Drug Testing
Drug tests most commonly test urine. A breathalyzer may be used to test for alcohol use. However, it will not detect other substances. Also, many body tissues and fluids can be tested for drug use, such as hair, saliva, nails, and sweat. Some of these alternatives show promise but need to be refined. For instance, hair tests do not detect recent drug use. Hair color and type or secondhand marijuana smoke also may skew hair test results.
Limits of Urine Drug Testing
A chemical analysis of urine, or urinalysis, is the most common drug test. But the test has limits and should be confirmed by more specific tests.
Here are pitfalls parents should consider.
The test may not detect all illicit drugs. Most routine urine tests do not catch LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), ketamine, ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), inhalant, or anabolic steroid use. Use of these substances is very uncommon, but parents should be aware of this limitation. They also may not detect alcohol, the substance that teens are most likely to use.
Test results may be false negatives. Most drugs are detectable for only a short time after they are used and can be flushed from the user's system in as few as 12 hours. Within 2 or 3 days, many of these drugs are undetectable. One exception is marijuana. Teens that have been using heavily (daily or nearly daily) can have a positive test result for 2 to 3 weeks or longer (up to 6 week in some reports) after quitting.
Test results may be false positives. For instance, routine urine test results may show marijuana use days—or even weeks—after your teen has quit using the drug. Also, sinus or allergy medicines and poppy seeds (ie, poppy seed bagels or muffins) may affect test results. On rare occasions antibiotics may affect test results.
When Drug Testing May Be Required
The court system or your teen's school may require a drug test. While still a controversial policy, many schools screen young athletes for drug use. Some private schools test all their students. Urine tests also may help teens who are receiving drug treatment to stay away from drugs.
If drug testing is requested, you and your teen's doctor should work together with the school to make a reasonable plan for your teen.
How Your Teen's Doctor Can Help
Your teen's doctor may be able to identify drug use by asking you and your teen questions. However, your doctor will likely want to speak with each of you privately. Though you may want to be with your teen, let the doctor talk with your teen alone and in strict confidence. Keep in mind that your teen's doctor will tell you if your teen is at immediate risk of being harmed or causing harm.
If a drug test is recommended or required
You and your teen's doctor can work together to ensure you get reliable lab results.
Make sure your teen's sample is carefully collected and handled by an experienced, certified laboratory.
Guard against human error.
Remember that a lab test is just one measure of drug use. Your teen's doctor also will take into account your teen's behavior, report and physical exam, and your report so that test results can be interpreted in context.
You may need to use consequences such as suspending driving privileges or grounding, if your teen refuses a recommended test.
American Academy of Pediatrics
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Teen drug use is a serious problem. You do not have to handle it alone. Treatment works. Do not be afraid to seek professional help from your teen's doctor, a counselor, a support group, or a treatment program. They can help you provide the support that is so crucial to the success of any treatment program.
Listing of resources does not imply an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is not responsible for the content of external resources. Information was current at the time of publication. The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.