Should you drug test your kid?

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)To drug test, or not?  That is the question facing parents who are concerned that drugs or alcohol are part of their teen’s secret lives. And that is a reasonable concern: prescription pills are the drug of choice for 12 and 13-year olds, and 85% of teens graduate from high school having tried alcohol or drugs that were not prescribed for them.

Drug testing can put your mind at rest or confirm your worst fears.  It can also give your child a way to resist peer pressure.  No matter how much we parents value rugged individualism, it is the rare child who can say “No” when everyone else is saying “Yes.” Ostracism feels like a very real threat while addiction or overdose are inconceivable outcomes. Being a teen is all about fitting in, and a child who doesn’t go along with the crowd can be ostracized or bullied. ““I really want to party, but my mother is INSANE!  She drug tests me, and I don’t want to get busted” gives teens a socially acceptable “out” while letting them retain appear to be one of the herd.

Drug testing also tells your child that you are serious about your standards and expectations.  It puts teeth into your rules and shows that you mean what you say. Your kids may assert, “I can’t believe you don’t trust me!” and you may fear that your alleged lack of trust will jeopardize your relationship with your kids. You can explain to them that you know how hard it is to be a teen and that you are giving them the gift of being cool and safe at the same time.  Then end the conversation. A teen who continues to argue over this indignity is a teen crying out for drug testing.

I drug tested my child halfheartedly and erratically.  I didn’t want to find out the truth, and I didn’t know what I would do if the test came up positive.  My inability to drug test him revealed my own sense of powerlessness over the darkening storm clouds.  And it was so much easier to accept his claims of innocence then figure out how to solve our problem. And I was ashamed to buy drug test kits at my neighborhood pharmacy. And….and….and….

But now—now more excuses.  You can  purchase drug test here, inexpensively and confidentially.

Ask the Expert: Should I even consider letting my son back in my house?

1179314_28920035 angry boyYOUR QUESTION: Our son has been growing with his infatuation with drugs over the last 3 years. I fear it is now at an addiction level. My son wouldn’t follow my house rules. He would often argue with me and steal from his sisters as well as me. He would do drugs in the house. I attempted to send him to boarding school in hopes the change of situation might offer him a different path if he chose it. He didn’t. He now has been living with his Dad ONLY for the last 7 months. My son denies any drug issue, but it is there. His father doesn’t want to seek help for him. Doesn’t want to do a forced rehab. I can see both sides… if he isn’t ready for help– it won’t take. But his dad wants to make him stay at my house again. Dad thought I was too structured and controlling AND he has let him come and go as he pleased. My son didn’t do well at all in school. He has a network of drug friends. Should I even consider letting him back into my house? I am looking to protect my daughters from this situation– NEVER MIND I HAVE A CHILD WITH CANCER– so I have been busy trying to get her well…. and she doesn’t need the added stress of a brother verbally abusing her mother and on drugs.

Photo of Ricki TownsendANSWER FROM EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: You didn’t mention your son’s age, and there are definitely different issues and legal obligations to consider if a child is a minor. My response assumes he is over 18.

Infatuation, discovering, experimenting: these are warning signs of dependence or addiction if they go past a month or two. As a colleague of mine explains, “If you are experimenting, you are going to know after the first couple of times if you like it or not. If it goes past this, then you are heading into addiction.” Addiction is not about a one-time event; it is about an ongoing love affair with intoxication. Three years into this, he is well beyond “experimenting.”

You mention “forced rehab,” and I’d like to point out that in most cases rehab IS forced because no one wants to go to treatment. They are forced by the courts, by families, by jobs. Once in treatment, a light bulb often goes on, and the addict/alcoholic realizes this is what they want, and they embrace the community of healing and the education of rehab. All of this happens because the brain is allowed to start the healing process. As the brain begins to heal, rehab often inspires people to change because if they  don’t, they will lose their jobs, their marriages, the friends, and their health, for starters. They aren’t forced; they have a choice at that point, and it becomes clear to them as their brains begin to heal.

As far as your daughter, she deserves your full attention because she is trying to get well and she needs your help. That being said, you may choose to require your son to drug test as a requirement of being in your life or your home. If he chooses to do drugs and tests dirty, then he is making a choice not to live with you.

You have the right to allow or not allow toxic people in your life. If your son is being abusive, then you can calmly let him know that he can’t come by until he changes his behavior. That is a good example of what I consider giving people a reason or incentive to change. You can find support for a healthy family by attending Al-Anon meetings. I also offer family counseling over the phone and have worked with many families across the nation. I wish you the best during this stressful time.

Ricki Townsend

Music To My Ears – Parents taking action by drug testing their teen

Many of my posts focus on the aftermath of addiction, chronicling the devastation that is inevitable due to severe drug and alcohol abuse. Today I am focusing on the hope for this generation of teenagers. While at my morning workout there was a conversation among the wonderful women in the group. The conversation was about ‘pre-testing’. ‘Hmmmm… ,’ I thought,’ I need to listen to this…’ The Mom’s in the group were talking about how they drug test their teens in order to keep them accountable and give them a reason to tell their friends they can’t try drugs and alcohol.  ‘My parents drug test me and I’ll get grounded or in trouble’. This was music to my ears, a full symphony no less!
One of the ways we can help our teens is to do this act of love. While I am an activist for prevention of teen drug and alcohol addiction and I often talk about the effectiveness of randomly drug testing your kids, it isn’t always clear what parents think of this. It was truly a joy to hear the positive conversation about parent’s drug testing and telling other parents why they do it and having such a constructive conversation amongst the group. The thought of drug testing my kids never even entered my mind when they were in high school. Even when the trouble started with my daughter I didn’t consider drug testing. Thinking back now I realize it could have done several things. It would have forced me to see clearly what was going on – I was in denial and that is a dangerous place to be. It would have validated the seriousness of the drug abuse that was taking place. I would have no longer been able to hope it was nothing serious, I would have known it was very serious. All of this is hind sight, I realize, but worth sharing for others to gain insight. I applaud parents willing to drug test their teens – it is a very loving act that can possibly be the difference between a sober teen or a teen traveling down a road that can lead to eventual addiction.

Trust Your Instincts to Help your Loved Ones

teenager contemplating futureIt has taken time and practice but I have learned to trust my instincts. I find that when I don’t trust my instincts, I can find myself regretful in the end. Sometimes it is very clear when you have an instinct that something is not right and then sometimes it’s those subtle, nagging thoughts. There are also times when you hear something that doesn’t add up and typically you should realize it right at that moment, but you cloud your thinking by wanting to give someone the ‘benefit of the doubt’ or feel you should trust them. I was reminded of this recently in a couple different ways which gave me cause to pause and think about it.
One signal on this topic was an article that I read that gave a series of things to do to help your kids stay away from drugs and alcohol. One of the suggestions was to drug test your teen. The argument was that as parents we want to trust our kids and that even when asked our teen may downplay or deny any drug or alcohol use. My belief is that if someone is contemplating drug testing their teen, they probably have an instinct telling them something is wrong that they need to address. When drug and alcohol use becomes a problem there were many signals and instincts that we have yet we don’t want it to be true. In retrospect, we find we should be facing all of these signals and instincts with every tool or action that we have. One small act of drug testing to confirm what you probably already know, and then can openly address, is better than having your child become hurt or killed due to drug and alcohol use. I know now to act on my instincts, even if it is uncomfortable, for those I love.