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Ages & Stages

Home Drug Testing: Information for Parents

If your teen suddenly becomes moody, is spending time with a different group of friends, or starts failing in school, you may wonder if drugs are to blame. While drug testing your teen at home for drug use may seem like​​​ a straightforward way to get an answer, it probably is not the best way.

Drug tests are not always reliable, and your teen may resent being tested. Other methods may be better. Through confidential interviews and questionnaires, your pediatrician can help assess whether your teen has a drug problem without resorting to lab tests. If a lab test is necessary, your doctor will assist with the process to ensure the test is ordered, processed and interpreted correctly. 

Where We Stand

If your teen does undergo a drug test, it should be knowingly. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) opposes drug tests without a teen's knowledge and consent. Parents may use logical consequences such as suspending driving privleges or grounding, if an indicated test is refused. Consult your pediatrician if you believe your teen should be tested for drug use.

Limits of Urine Drug Testing

A chemical analysis of urine—or urinalysis—is the most common drug test. But the test has limits, and parents should consider the following pitfalls:

  • Test may not detect all illicit drugs. Most routine urine tests do not catch LSD, ketamine, Ecstasy, inhalant, or anabolic steroid use. They also may not detect alcohol, the substance that teens are most likely to use.
  • Test results may be false negatives. Other drugs are detectable for only a short time after they are used. Most drugs—other than marijuana—can be flushed from the user's system in as few as 12 hours. Within 2 or 3 days, these drugs are almost always undetectable.
  • Test results may be false positives. Urine tests that do detect drug use may be misleading and should be confirmed by more specific tests. For instance, routine urine test results may show marijuana use days—or even weeks—after your teen has quit using the drug. Some drug tests may mistake traces of legal painkillers containing ibuprofen or naproxen for signs of marijuana use. 
  • Sinus or allergy medicines may show up as amphetamines in drug tests. Other common medicines can test as tranquilizers.

Your Pediatrician Can Help

Your pediatrician may be able to identify drug use by interviewing your teen. Though you may want to participate, let the doctor talk to your teen alone and in strict confidence. Do not worry that you will be kept in the dark about a serious problem. Your pediatrician will tell you if your teen is at immediate risk.

If drug testing is called for...

  • You and your pediatrician should work together to ensure you get reliable lab results.
  • Make sure your teen's sample is carefully collected and handled by an experienced, certified laboratory.
  • Guard against human error or false positives.
  • Be certain the results are properly recorded and kept confidential.
  • Remember that a lab test is just one measure of drug use. Your pediatrician also will take into account your teen's behavior as a whole.​​​​

​Healthy Children Radio: Drug Testing (Audio)

Drug testing is a complex medical procedure that can be useful as a part of a complete assessment for substance use or mental health disorders in adolescents. But it's not something that parents ought to do on their own, or without their child's permission, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Pediatrician Sharon Levy, MD, FAAP, comes on the Healthy Children show on RadioMD to talk about what parents should do if they suspect their child may be using drugs or alcohol.
 Segment 1: AAP Recommendations on Drug Testing In Children & Adolescents

Last Updated
Adapted from Testing Your Teen for Illicit Drugs: Information for Parents (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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