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Teen Caught Smoking Pot: Should We Try Teen Drug Testing?

Dear Your Teen:

After being caught smoking pot in our home, my older teen is requesting and willing to do drug testing on his own. We had contracted with him that he was allowed to live in our home if he followed our rule of no smoking inside our home. He offered to drug test, self initiated, as a means to regain our trust. I am not sure what to think of this offer. I am very confused since we did not request this of him. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

EXPERT 1: Jason Joyce, M.Ed., PCC-S, LICDC

First off, you are dealing with an issue that many parents struggle with. A recent study indicates that almost 45% of high school students try marijuana before they graduate. There are many reasons why your teen might turn to marijuana, including relieving stress, fitting in with others, and because he sees it as a fun thing to do. I wouldn’t read too much into your son wanting to provide a urine drug screen. It shows that he cares what you think of him. Or at the very least, he is motivated to stay in your home currently.

If you suspect your teen is using drugs regularly, it is imperative to take action, just like you would for any health emergency. One available tool is drug testing. There are many different options available at your local pharmacy, and on the Internet. Please take note though, that drug tests do not test for all drugs, just specific ones. And some drugs are detectable for longer periods of time than others.

Drug testing for teens is not a magic wand that can be waved and solve all his current issues with marijuana. It can be a valuable part of a larger process. This includes talking to your son about the risk and consequences of continued marijuana use, including limiting the cash that you give to him. Drug testing also serves as a great way for your teen to feel less pressure from peers. They can simply say, “My mom drug tests me when I come home, so I can’t go smoke.”

Know what you’re going to do with the results (i.e. have a specific plan if the test comes back positive). A positive test with no follow-up gives the message that you don’t know what to do. Or worse, that you don’t really care about his drug use. Also note that a negative test just means your teen hasn’t used recently. Some drugs stay in urine for just hours, others for days.

Drug testing for teens is not a magic wand that can be waved and solve all his current issues with marijuana.

Lastly, if you believe your son is using on a regular basis I would suggest that you seek professional counseling to help your teenager and your family. Frequent marijuana use often requires professional help to guide you along the way. We would want to be sure that your son is not suffering from an addiction issue. These illnesses can be debilitating. Although once a teen reaches the age of majority (is no longer a minor), you have no obligation to him, denying that there is an actual illness working in this type of situation can be potentially harmful to your son.

EXPERT 2: Kim Lash, MA, LSW, Drug/Alcohol/Crisis Counselor

First of all, does the rule of no smoking in your house mean that it is acceptable for your teen to smoke at places outside your house? (i.e. friends houses, parties, outside in the yard.)  I would guess it is not; therefore the idea of random drug testing done at a doctor’s office, lab, or treatment facility would be appropriate. Your son appears to be concerned about his relationship with you.

I support drug testing (not a home kit) because teens are very savvy tampering with drug tests. Drug tests for home use run the risk of being inaccurate. Even though you did not request drug testing, it is a concrete tool. This can support his goal of regaining trust with you.

I would also suggest your son having a drug assessment at an appropriate referral source or program if there are other “warning signs” such as change in friends, grades dropping, loss of interest in activities he was once involved in, depression, isolation from friends and family and mood swings.

James Joyce has been providing treatment and supervising programs for substance use disorders in Northeast Ohio since 2005. He believes strongly in the Co-Occurring treatment disorders model and has worked to bring forth integrated treatment interventions for youth in Northeast Ohio. 

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