When you’re worried about your teenager using drugs, it seems as though opportunities to police his or her behavior are everywhere. Ads on TV proclaim the importance of at-home drug tests, the drug store stocks testing supplies, and perhaps your other parent friends have given drug testing a try.
However, there are some serious aspects of at-home drug testing to consider before purchasing a test kit.
Know the False Discovery Rate
The whole point of drug testing your teen is to figure out whether she’s using drugs, right? Unfortunately, no medical test is 100% accurate, but at-home drug tests may be even more problematic than drug tests performed in a certified laboratory.
For example, taking certain medications or eating certain foods may increase the likelihood that your teen will test positive for an illegal substance — even if she never used drugs.
A false positive result can leave all family members feeling confused and betrayed by the drug testing process.
There Are Also False Negatives
Equally important to recognize is the possibility of false negatives. False negatives occur when your teen really is using drugs but comes up negative on a drug test. Most over-the-counter drug tests require a urine or saliva sample. Savvy teens who expect a drug test may swap samples with a clean friend or otherwise evade detection.
Feasibility of Drug Testing
Unfortunately for would-be home drug testers, many illegal substances clear a person’s system within 48 hours. This raises serious concerns about the feasibility of accurate drug testing.
Unless you plan to spend large amounts of money on testing supplies and conducting very frequent tests, you may not catch sporadic or casual drug use by your teen.
Rupturing the Relationship
One of the most serious problems with at-home drug testing is that it seriously erodes the relationship you have with your teen. Of course, most parents resort to drug testing as a last ditch measure for a teenager who has shown:
- Personality changes
- Behavioral problems
- Physical symptoms, such as fatigue
- Other signs of drug use
However, instituting a home testing policy may seem unnecessarily punitive and harsh to your teen. The result may be an increase in drug use or other problem behaviors, rather than a decrease. In fact, this is one of the reasons that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend home drug testing.
Alternatives to Home Drug Testing
If you’re concerned that your teen has an alcohol or drug problem, there are better approaches than home drug testing. First, try having a frank conversation about drug or alcohol use without resorting to threats or angry language.
If your communication with your teen has eroded, ask a trusted family member or your child’s pediatrician to initiate the conversation.
In situations where your concerns about drug use arise from behavioral changes, contact your teen’s school and ask teachers whether they have noticed changes. Conducting a thorough assessment, including an interview with a psychologist or other mental health professional, is a wise approach to identify drug use or other problems with your teen.