Should you force your teen to have an at-home drug test?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug testing should never be done as a stand-alone response to a drug problem.

Should you force your teen to have an at-home drug test?
 If you are concerned that your teen may be using drugs or alcohol, take them to their primary care physician for a professional assessment.

Teens are known for their highs and downs, but if your teen suddenly gets irritable, spends time with a new group of friends, or starts performing poorly in school, you may wonder if drugs are the cause. 

Drug testing your child at home may seem like a simple way to obtain an answer; after all, there are loads of at-home drug test kits available over-the-counter at pharmacies across SA. But, according to experts, at-home drug tests may not be the best option for several reasons.

Five cons of at-home urine drug tests

Urinalysis, or chemical examination of urine, is the most frequent at-home drug test. However, rapid at-home drug kits – even those that offer a combination of five different drug tests, have limitations, and parents must be aware of the following pitfalls:

  1. The reliability of drug testing is not always certain, and your teen may resent you for insisting they be tested.
  2. The test may not detect all illegal substances. The majority of standard urine tests do not detect the use of LSD, ketamine, Ecstasy, inhalants, or anabolic steroids. Additionally, they may be unable to identify alcohol, the drug most commonly used by adolescents.
  3. Other medications are only detectable for a brief period after consumption. Except for marijuana, most drugs may be flushed from the user’s system in as little as 12 hours. Within two or three days, these substances are nearly invariably undetectable.
  4. Some drug tests may incorrectly identify residues of authorised medications, including ibuprofen or naproxen, as indicators of marijuana usage.
  5. In drug tests, sinus or allergy medications may appear as amphetamines.

Your GP can offer assistance

According to experts, there are better ways to discover what’s behind your child’s problematic behaviour. Instead, consult your child’s physician if you suspect your teen is abusing drugs.

Your physician may be able to detect drug usage in your adolescent through an interview and a routine medical exam. Although you may wish to be there, the doctor should speak with your adolescent alone and in complete confidentiality. Don’t be anxious that you will be in the dark on a severe issue. Your physician will inform you if your teen is in imminent danger.

If drug testing is required

  • You and your paediatrician should collaborate to verify that your lab findings are accurate.
  • Ensure that your teen’s sample is taken and handled with care by a qualified, professional laboratory.
  • Anticipate human mistakes and false positives.
  • Ensure that the results are documented accurately.
  • Remember that lab tests are only one indicator of drug usage. 

How drug testing could hurt your relationship

Teens may regard parental drug testing at home as intrusive and a violation of their rights. You are not the police and certainly do not want to play that role in your child’s life. It may harm your relationship and bond, resulting in more behavioural issues.

How should you proceed?

If you are concerned that your teen is abusing drugs or alcohol, you should get them evaluated by their primary care physician or other healthcare specialists. If it is confirmed that your teen has engaged in substance misuse, your healthcare professional will be familiar with the available resources for intervention and treatment services.