Grand Futures: Should you drug test your child?

Growing up is never easy, and being a parent these days presents a whole host of challenges. Peer pressure to experiment with drugs can be difficult to resist for youth. As a parent, you may be considering drug testing with the expectation that it will discourage your son or daughter from experimenting with drugs or prevent experimentation from escalating into serious abuse or addiction, hopefully preventing harm down the road.

A common misconception that can influence parents to consider drug testing their teenagers is the thought that students are out partying and abusing alcohol, tobacco and other drugs frequently. This isn’t unique to adults.

According to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, Steamboat Springs High School students believe 90% of their peers consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, when, in reality, only 25% reported using alcohol in the past 30 days. This perception gap is also seen with tobacco and marijuana and often leads to both students and parents making uninformed decisions about youth use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

In general, it’s risky to test your child without a good reason. A kid who has no intention of experimenting with drugs or alcohol will understandably resent the lack of trust indicated by testing without justification. There are some things to consider as you navigate this decision.

Is testing an invasion of my kid’s privacy? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that testing can be a breach of trust that may damage the relationship between parent and child. If not done correctly, you may be viewed as a police officer rather than a parent, which doesn’t promote a healthy, trusting relationship.

Why it’s best to leave drug screening to the professionals

Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, recommends against home drug testing. In Dr. Levy’s words, “I am not at all convinced that drug testing is useful as a preventive tool; it is a terrible tool for identifying use (since most teen and young adult drug use is sporadic, which is very unlikely to be picked up by a random test), and it is certainly not a stand-alone treatment for a substance use disorder.”

Further, some kids will switch substances in an attempt to avoid positive drug screenings. For example, some teens who smoke marijuana will switch to a synthetic form (K2 or Spice) to beat a marijuana drug screen, often with disastrous outcomes.

“If you suspect your child has a substance use problem or disorder, my suggestion would be to drop the drug kit and speak with a health professional,” recommends Dr. Levy.

For more information about drug testing, read the full blog post by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Additional resources regarding how to talk to your kids about substance use and prevention are available at or

Lindsey Simbeye is the executive director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.