Perhaps you have wondered whether you should give your teen a drug test because of their behavior, or something you heard or found. This is rarely an easy decision. First, you should be clear that it is your right and responsibility to drug test your kid if you feel this is the right course of action. If there is no reason to drug test your kid then, like with many unnecessary tests, chances are it will do more harm than good. If you coerce your child into a drug test for no good reason, they will likely resent it. Alternatively, your teen may already have a history of drug problems and is trying to get back on the right path. In this case, drug testing, especially agreed upon drug testing, can be beneficial. Blood tests are more invasive than other types and, though they are safe, they do involve drawing blood which people react to differently. These are all considerations that should be taken into account before insisting on a test.

Importance of dialog

A rush to drug testing should not be an excuse to avoid dialog. It can be far easier to throw out a general threat of a drug test than to engage in dialog with your teen. Experimentation during teenage years is common, and many teens may try something once and conclude they are not interested and never try it again, whether that is tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. In that case, the worst outcome may be to have them documented as a user when it is something they never planned to return to. You could end up pushing them to indulge further simply because they figure they might as well now that they are thought of that way. Dialog is an excellent way to determine if your teen merely tried something once and didn’t like it, or if they are developing a problem requiring further intervention. Some types of drug use should never be taken lightly as even one-time use can be fatal, such as with heroin and other opioids. In that case, more serious action, including drug testing or the threat of drug testing, may be appropriate to emphasize the dangers involved.

Should I test my teen?

Even if your teen is not using drugs, he or she may agree to a drug test as a way to prove you wrong. There are different types of tests, some of which are more invasive than others, including urine tests, hair tests, and blood tests. At best, you can expect to be reminded and tormented by your teen for thinking they were using when they were not, and you have to weigh the erosion of trust with what an unwarranted test could lead to. Like with many parental dilemmas, there is no absolute right or wrong here, and you should use your best judgment. If your teen knows the test will be positive, they will probably confess something, at which point you should engage in more dialog with them. You want to learn about the nature of their teen drug problem, so you can plan how to tackle it. Drug testing can be a part of this but is rarely an effective solution on its own.

When you decide to test

Explain that you are not satisfied with their explanations and you have a right to make certain there is no drug use or drug users in your home. Emphasize that this is something that happens in many situations in the real world, with employers frequently requiring it of workers or applicants. Your teen also could be hiding a more severe problem and may be in the throes of drug addiction. They may need the help of a drug treatment center for teens to learn about that in advance. If things are at a point where your teen is stealing to support a drug habit or putting themselves or you at risk, you can be more forceful. They may try talking you out of it but, if they have a dependency problem, any promises they make will not count for much. You need to be the strong one here and show you are serious about testing them or getting them involved with a teen drug addiction program. It’s possible that by being firm, they may simply admit their problem at this stage, allowing you to start discussing what to do about it, which could involve out-patient or in-patient rehab if serious enough. Be firm, but also give your teen options to take control themselves by admitting their drug use and choosing to take action to turn things around.

If you know of a teen who is struggling with drug addiction, contact the Anthony Louis Center to learn about local resources that are available to deal with drug abuse in teens.