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Should I Test my Teen for Drugs?

Every day, teens must navigate through a tough world – a world more difficult than the one most parents had to deal with. The peer pressures alone are unimaginable. Coupled with social media use, ever-growing technology, and a whole new set of expectations, the teen years are downright difficult.

But no matter what a parent does, there is no guarantee their children will never be exposed to illegal drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, statistics don’t lie: By the time they’re 17, 70% of kids say they’ve been offered illegal drugs, according to yearly surveys conducted by Columbia University. Deni Carise, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Recovery Centers of America and Adjunct Assistant Professor at University of Pennsylvania, offers her insight into teen drug testing with some benefits and next steps.

If you decide to test your teen, these suggestions could provide them with easy outs

  • When offered drugs or alcohol, your teen can opt out with a great excuse that doesn’t alienate them from peers by saying, “I can’t drink/do drugs. My mom and dad drug test me.”
  • Some families have a “code” that teens can use when they are in an uncomfortable situation. For example, your teen might tell their peers they have to check in with you and when they call you, they could use a phrase such as “But I’m not ready to come home yet” to let you know that they are in an uncomfortable situation and would show their friends you are forcing them to come home. This lets them save face but also gets them out of the situation.

If you are going to test your teen, there are a few things to decide up front

What are you going to do if your child tests positive? First, be aware that the tests are not 100% reliable. You may want to consider a second step. Second, a confirmed positive result will require a response from you – the worst thing you can do is test your child … and not know what to do or say next.

  • Will you call a drug and alcohol abuse counselor?
  • Will you tell your teen to stop and let them know you will continue testing randomly?
  • Will you sit down with them and find out what is going on in their world, and why they are using?
  • Will you ground them until they turn eighteen?
  • Will you call the parents of their friends?
  • Will you rant and rave and threaten, and hope you scared them straight?

Plan ahead

What are you going to do if they test negative?

  • Will you speak a quiet word of appreciation for their character and good decisions?
  • Will you scowl and wonder out loud how they cleaned up so fast?
  • Will you coldly remind them that they will have to do this again sometime soon?
  • Will you thank them for their patience and understanding?

The choice is always yours but we hope these guidelines are helpful for you. If someone you know needs is struggling with addiction, call 1-800-RECOVERY. Who do you know we can help today?

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