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How to Drug Test Your Teen or Young Adult

by Larry Fritzlan | A practical guide for all parents and caregivers, March 1, 2007 (updated November 10, 2010)

IMPORTANT: We strongly recommend that parents do not attempt trug testing without professional training. After parents have been professionally trained, they should continue to enlist the help of professionals for additional, concurrent testing.

As more teens and young adults abuse dangerous substances—and get cagier about hiding the evidence—more parents are willing to consider testing their child for drugs. Under certain circumstances, we solidly support this decision. But a parent who drug tests a child must take care to do it right. A poorly-administered test can be worse than none at all.

The following will explain how to drug test your teen or young adult and will also explain how drug testing works in our Larry Fritzlan Recovery Services treatment program. An effective drug test has four vital elements: it must be random, observed, frequent, and varied. If even one of these elements is missing, a teen or young adult can fake the test. This can create an extremely hazardous situation in which parents, believing their child is now clean and sober, stop paying attention. Meanwhile, the child’s substance abuse, and possible underlying mental disorder, goes underground and remains untreated. So let’s take a closer look at the four elements of an effective test.

Random
It is vital that a child not know when a drug test will be administered. Kids are not dumb. Every teen or young adult who self-medicates with drugs or alcohol is well aware of “retention rates” (the length of time that ingested drugs and alcohol will test positive). So, if tests are not carried out randomly, the young person will simply time his or her drug use to avoid detection.

Let’s look at how this might work. Say that a parent drug-tests a teen every Monday, via a urine sample. Prior to the test, Informed Teen Drug User judiciously abstains. However, right after the test, he starts up again. He knows he can smoke pot that night, and then snort methamphetamine, pop Oxycontin and Vicodin, smoke crack cocaine, inject heroin, and stay drunk every day for the next four days. At that point, he temporarily stops using the drugs, but continues to stay drunk until 12 hours before the following Monday’s test. Result: He tests clean—and starts the drinking and drugging cycle all over again.

Every regularly-using kid knows this drill, follows it, and is laughing at their clueless parents. So, to make testing effective, you must test randomly, on a different day of the week each week (but, of course, not in any easily decipherable order). One way to ensure randomness is to write down each day of the week on a slip of paper and put them in a hat, and then draw out two slips and test on the days specified (more on this later). Ideally, you should test first thing in the morning when the child’s urine is most concentrated and he or she is not yet fully awake and not able to employ some “tricky” behavior.

Observed
This may be hard for some to swallow, but a parent must observe the drug test. “Oh, that’s too intrusive!” many parents say. But remember, a drug-using teen or young adult is highly motivated to escape detection. In dozens of cases, teens and young adults have told me that no one observed them taking a urine test, so they simply gave their parent someone else’s clean urine.

It’s also not enough to simply be in the room with a peeing teen or young adult. Some boys purchase a device that looks like a penis and contains clean urine; others use a small device that fits in the palm of the hand and contains a battery to warm the urine. There are stories of individuals that will even catheterize themselves and fill their bladders with clean urine!

Important: Only use a container that has a thermometer on it. Please note that the temperature will always be between 94 and 96 degrees.

We recommend that you hand your child the bottle with the label attached, but without the cap, so that they don't switch bottles. Stand near enough to be able to smell if any bleach has been added, and so you can hear the urine going into the bottle. There is a distinct sound of a stream of urine going into a bottle that is hard to duplicate (practice peeing yourself so that you can get to know “the sound”). When they hand you the bottle it will have a numbers of bubbles at the top—something not present if they poured someone else’s urine into the container. And it will be hot to the touch (between 94 and 96 degrees).

(For more on creative ways to beat a urine test, check out www.marijuana.com.)

Frequent
Testing should take place at least twice a week. Multiple, frequent tests give teens and young adults the message that they may be tested any time. One family I worked with tested their child only sporadically. Each time she tested positive, she would promise her parents that she’d never touch drugs again, and they chose to believe her. Recently, she was rushed to the hospital with a potentially fatal .4-percent blood-alcohol level. It turned out that she had been regularly abusing alcohol, cocaine and Ecstasy during the long gaps between tests.

Some parents are concerned that frequent testing will be expensive. But since our testing supplies are free, testing can be fairly economical. We recommend that parents administer tests at least twice a week, but send only one sample to the lab per week (to reduce expenses). The young adult doesn’t need to know which samples, or how many, are sent in for analysis. 

Varied
Since all drug-testing methods have their strengths and limitations, we recommend that multiple options be used—a urine test, a saliva test, and a breathalyzer. When just one method is used, a teen or young adult is more likely to successfully fake the test. For example, the parents of one boy we treated suspected that he was on drugs, yet he always tested clean. It turned out that he had been giving them someone else’s clean urine. When we administered a saliva test, he showed up positive for five different drugs!

Our Parent Training Program
We offer a program on drug testing for parents who are concerned about their child’s potential drug usage. It is a half-hour training on how to drug test your child and how to effectively use the various options—urine testing, saliva testing, and the use of a breathalyzer. Please contact us for more information.

Our Testing Options

Adolescent Recovery Services offers test kits and lab analysis for the following drug tests:

  • Standard Urine Test: detects presence of marijuana, opiates (including Oxycontin), cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, barbiturates, and alcohol.
  • EtG Urine Test: New test that detects the above substances, and in addition detects metabolites of alcohol for up to 80 hours after use.
  • Saliva Test: Detects marijuana, opiates (including Oxycontin), cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, and barbiturates. (Make sure your teen does not have water in his mouth.)
  • Breathalyzer: Detects alcohol (make sure your teen blows, and not sucks, into device).
  • Other optional tests are available for nicotine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and steroids.

For Professionals: Larry Fritzlan Recovery Services works collaboratively with referring treatment providers. Give us a call if you would like to consult on a case.

For Parents: Larry Fritzlan Recovery Services invites you to contact us at any time if you have a concern about your child’s substance use or a question about our services.

Again, we strongly recommend that parents do not attempt trug testing without professional training. After parents have been professionally trained, they should continue to enlist the help of professionals for additional, concurrent testing.

The Bottom Line
Parents must take their child's drug use seriously. Drug use beyond “once or twice” or “never more than once a month” experimentation stage may indicate that a teen or young adult is self-medicating an existing or emerging emotional disorder. Or it could signify the early signs of alcoholism or drug addiction. If you are concerned that your teen or young adult may be abusing drugs or alcohol, consult with a qualified mental health professional for an evaluation. Don’t wait. Help your child reclaim health, strength, and hope.

About Larry Fritzlan Recovery Services

After more than 20 years of working with teens, young adults and families, we know many of the pitfalls young people can encounter throughout adolescence. We also know the signs of drug use and abuse.

Call us to learn what your options are. If you suspect there’s a chance that your teenager or young adult might be using drugs, whether alcohol or pot or another substance, the time to act is now. We provide a full range of assessment, diagnosis and treatment services. Let us help you figure out what’s going on with your child and support you on the path toward returning him or her to a healthy lifestyle.

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Larry Fritzlan Recovery Services is dedicated to helping restore people of all ages to health and well-being.
Call us today at (415) 945-0923.

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