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Drug Testing at Home: Pros & Cons of a Home Drug Test for Teens

Drug test form with a pen on top  

It is now possible to conduct a drug test for teens at home. One advantage of an at-home drug test is that it is conducted in the privacy of one’s own home and can be done so at a relatively affordable price. Depending on the substance, prices range from under $10 for a marijuana testing kit to much higher prices for kits that test multiple drugs at once. If there are concerns or even suspicions about a teenager using drugs, at-home drug tests offer a way to assess drug use and open the door for direct communication. However, drug testing at home is not so clear-cut and comes with several disadvantages.

Why Parents May Want to Drug Test Their Teens

The impulse to drug test teens is an understandable one. Youth drug testing can be the first step in identifying a problem. Parents may choose to drug test their teens for a variety of reasons, including:

  • To prevent early substance abuse: How can parents prevent drug use in teens? It might be tempting to begin drug-testing children while they are young and even before they may have experimented with drugs. While it is wise to think about prevention early and often, there is not any evidence to suggest that drug testing is an effective method for teen substance abuse prevention.
  • To discourage further drug use: If a teen currently uses drugs, parents may be tempted to use at-home drug testing to confirm their suspicions. They may also continue drug testing to confirm there is no longer teen drug use. Again, there is little evidence to suggest that home tests are effective at preventing future drug use. Additionally, drug tests can be manipulated in a variety of ways.
  • To determine whether drugs are being used: How can parents detect teen drug use? Unfortunately, there is not a single drug test that can detect every drug teens may be using. Drug tests may become outdated as new drugs surface constantly. In the absence of other evidence (declining scholastic performance, odd behavior, etc.), one drug test alone may not give accurate results. Importantly, energy drinks can give false positives on certain drug tests.

Home Drug Tests Can Be Harmful

While home drug tests for teens are safe for them physically, there are other serious risks that need to be considered. Communication between parents and teens is extremely important and vital to a functioning relationship. There are healthy ways to talk to teens about this difficult subject.

Asking for or demanding a home drug test is sending the message that there is no trust. Even worse, deciding to drug test your teenager without them knowing is sure to be taken as highly invasive and a violation of their privacy. Whatever information is gleaned from a drug test, however flawed, could severely damage relationships between parents and their teens and can often encourage teens to be less communicative and increase their drug use.

Tips for Parents Who Decide to Drug Test

If a home drug test for teens is deemed absolutely necessary by parents or guardians, there are several considerations about the type of test, its accuracy, who will conduct the test and the expected results. Parents should never conduct a drug test on a whim without understanding all the potential outcomes.

Know Your Test (Accuracy and How It Works)

Parents may wonder, “How do I test my teenager for drugs?” If considering a specific test, parents must be familiar with how to test their teens for drugs. This involves reading the instructions on the packaging carefully, in full, and before administering the test. The test should be conducted and interpreted properly. There are a number of home drug testing kits available, each with its own set of guidelines. Some tests use saliva and others need a urine sample. Some tests look for evidence of the use of just one substance while more expensive kits attempt to assess the sample for a number of drugs.

Finally, pay close attention to how long the test takes to detect drug use. Evidence for different substances remains in different sample types for different amounts of time. For example, marijuana may be present in the urine for far longer than it is present in saliva, effecting a positive or negative on a drug test.

Consider Whether You Will Conduct an Observed Drug Test

Parents must decide if they will be physically present for every step of sample collection. Since many tests require urine samples, this can be a fairly delicate matter and certainly one that you must consider very carefully.

One way that drug tests can be falsified is by providing “borrowed” samples or those that teenagers have taken from a friend whom they know is not using drugs. Watching the sample collection process can be very tense. Having a parent insist on an observed drug test where the collection process is so personal could potentially cause deep humiliation that leads to resentment.

Prepare Yourself for False Results (False Negative or False Positive)

Even if everything is done right in the collection and analysis of a home drug test, it is still possible that the results could be either false negatives (wrongly called as negative; the teen was actually using the drug) or false positives (wrongly called as positive; the teen was not actually using the drug).

The internet is rife with rumors about what might cause false positives, such as energy drinks. However, not every source of such errors has been determined. Alternatively, false-negative drug tests can fail to show evidence of a substance that has been consumed. In the case of a urine test, this can be intentionally caused by diluting the sample by drinking large amounts of water before the test.

Discuss Drug Testing with Your Teen’s Pediatrician

If trying to determine the best way to drug test teenagers or even determine if teens should be drug tested, it may be wise to consult their pediatrician. They will be able to advise you on an appropriate and effective drug test for teens and even help to preserve the relationships between parents and teens.

If your teen is struggling with addiction and any co-occurring mental health conditions, contact the Next Generation Village today. A representative can discuss recovery programs offered and can provide tips about at-home drug tests.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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