Do you suspect that your child or teen is abusing alcohol or drugs? As much as you wish you could believe them when they say "no," do you also wish you could know for sure? At-home drug-testing kits are becoming increasingly popular among parents who are looking for ways to protect their children and keep them drug-free. The tests are available on-line or at many local retailers. But before you add them to your shopping list, you should carefully weigh the potential advantages and disadvantages of using them.

What drugs can these tests screen for?

The tests can screen for as few as one drug or as many as twelve, depending on the manufacturer and the needs of the purchaser. Some tests screen urine whereas others use hair samples. Among the substances for which at-home testing is available are Alcohol, Amphetamines, Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Buprenorphine,Cocaine, Ecstasy (a.k.a. MDMA), Marijuana (a.k.a. THC), Methadone, Nicotine, Oxycontin (and other opiates), and Phencyclidine (a.k.a. PCP).

Advantages

  • Faster Results – As opposed to going to a hospital or mailing samples to a lab for analysis, at-home testing can provide results in a matter of minutes.
  • An "Out" for Your Child – According to some manufacturers of these products, children and teens who are regularly or randomly drug tested by their parents have an excuse to tell their peers when confronted with an opportunity to abuse a substance – an excuse that is hard to counter with "your parents will never know!"
  • Affordability – At-home drug-testing kits are relatively affordable (when used sparingly and reasonably often).
  • Privacy – By testing at-home, parents who are concerned about a specific child can assure the family's and child's privacy.

Disadvantages

  • False Positives – Some substances (like poppy seeds, medicines, and mouthwash) can cause a false-positive result; this may lead a parent to accuse their child of abusing a substance when the child is really innocent.
  • Relationship Damage – Medical professionals have expressed concern that parents who drug test their children this way risk damaging the teen's feeling of trust in their relationship with their parents.
  • Frequency Necessary to Truly Screen for Use – Many substances are metabolized quickly and do not stay in the user's system for a long period of time. Testing as often as would be necessary to catch most instances of substance use could be pricey.
  • Kids Who Outsmart the Test – Parents need to realize that there are many directions that a child's substance abuse problem could go. Just because regular testing shows a decrease in the amount of the substance that they are looking for does not necessarily mean that the child or teen has stopped using; they may have simply replaced the drug that the parent keeps testing them for with another! Parents need to always remember the "big picture."
  • Absence of Professional Advice – At-home testing addresses only a small element of the entire problem of substance abuse and addiction. Seeking medical or other professional advice can help parents better assess the extent of the problem.