“I think my kid is using drugs. Should we drug test?”
“Where do we get a drug test?”
“Are drug tests reliable?”
“My kid has to take a drug test and I’m worried it will show drug use.”
“What should I do if the test comes back positive for substance use?”
These are questions and comments I hear more frequently than I ever imagined. Quite frankly, I never anticipated being an information source on anything related to drugs or alcohol, let alone testing for substance use.
The funny thing is before people started asking me these questions, I – again, never expecting to be – was the person asking the same ones. Why? Because when my now 24-year-old son was in high school, we noticed attitude, behavior and mood changes. We were worried he was using drugs.
If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s to trust your gut.
Drug testing was one of the ways we were able to determine whether there was substance use, but it was not a quick and easy path. In fact, it was a nightmare especially early on in our son’s substance use, which included marijuana, heroin and other opiates, and a host of other drugs over a five-year period.
My husband asked our primary care physician if he would test our son because we were worried. The doctor brushed it off saying, “It’s tough being a kid these days. He seems like a good kid. Maybe some family counseling would help.”
Finally, after calling around trying to find out how we could get our son drug tested, we discovered these were available at our local drug store. There were quick tests to do at home and mail-in tests that went to a lab. The first time we tested our son, it revealed marijuana. No surprise to him or us, although his behavior seemed to indicate other types of drugs.
To us, drug testing conveyed two important messages: 1) We are concerned, and 2) We are serious.
Our concern was multifaceted – concern for why he was using, concern for the dangers of use, concern for the consequences of use. And our seriousness was steeped in acknowledging a problem, in encouraging him to go to treatment and in supporting him in recovery.
Admittedly, after a while, we gave up on the testing. He wasn’t particularly cooperative – imagine that! And, whether positive or negative, the results weren’t always helpful to the cause.
However, at one point he had applied for a job that was contingent on an extensive drug screen conducted at a professional testing facility. The night before, he went out with friends and I knew in my heart that even if he had abstained to use in the few weeks prior that this was going to be a night that would change all that. The next day, he went to the test. The next week, he didn’t get the job. While I don’t for a fact, my hunch is he didn’t pass the drug test, and that was turning point for me in realizing the extent of his addiction – using regardless of consequence.
During each of his treatment experiences, there was always some form of drug testing but because he didn’t want to stop using the testing didn’t really motivate him to recovery until a few years later.
For example, following a successful inpatient program, he was eager to make it on his own and was resistant to support in recovery. This led to a return to use that came on quickly and took him down hard. Honestly, I was preparing to write an obituary because death by overdose was a more-than-likely possibility, and I think he realized it, too. That was another turning point.
In 2014, my son decided it was time to stop using. He no longer wanted to live as he had been: homeless, jobless, penniless. His childhood friends were graduating from college and going on to graduate school or to grown-up careers. He was finally ready for treatment. He was finally ready for recovery. This time, he knew what he wanted and he knew what he needed.
He did his research. For him, this combination included out-patient; medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opiate use disorder – specifically Suboxone (buprenorphine) to eliminate discomfort from withdrawal, decrease cravings and inhibit the ability to get high allowing him to focus on sustainable recovery; mental health support; a health-realization focus, etc. Researching the options and creating a program gave him greater buy in.
As part of his MAT program, he willingly participates in random drug testing and to date, each and every one of these has been negative for substance use!
Today, a random drug test is no longer a nightmare. It’s simply, “No big deal.”
Shortly after he began the program, I asked him why this time was different. He told me it was the first time that he wanted to stop using. In the past, he knew he needed to stop but he just didn’t want to. This shift from need to want remains key to his success and it also offered me some incredible insight that share with other parents.
It doesn’t take parents long to figure out the three C’s of addiction. We didn’t cause it. We can’t control it. And, we can’t change it. However, we have incredible influence through our unconditional love and support, and during recovery it becomes the foundation for rebuilding trust and positive family dynamics.
As one who has “been there and done that,” I understand how frustrating and scary it is to see a loved one’s problem and live with the fact that they deny the problem or resist the help that’s available. I encourage families to get smart about substance use disorders, treatment and recovery; to find support groups – either in their community or online; to share their situation with others without judgement because many have been through addiction and will be eager to help in any way possible; and to set healthy boundaries. No matter how desperate things become, never stop believing that sobriety and recovery are possible – you are not alone and neither is your loved one – as evidenced by more than 23 million people in long-term recovery.
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