Sometimes, parents or other family members who have concerns about a loved one abusing drugs or alcohol want a reliable way to find out whether their suspicions are founded. In those cases, the family members may decide to purchase and administer at-home drug or alcohol tests to get the evidence they’re looking for.

However, there are many concerns about at-home drug tests, including questionable accuracy, potential for cheating, and the prevalence of false positives. In order to minimize these problems, it can help to understand the steps that are most likely to result in an accurate test – steps that can make sure a loved one is treated fairly and the test doesn’t leave more questions than answers.

Drug Test

At-Home Drug Tests

In recent years, at-home drug tests have become a popular way for parents to find out whether or not their teenagers are using drugs. Parents are using these tests for a number of reasons:

  • To verify a suspicion about a child’s drug use
  • To enforce abstinence for a child who has been caught using drugs
  • To prevent a child from engaging in drug abuse to begin with

By using at-home drug tests, parents hope that their children will be more hesitant to use drugs, knowing that they will be tested for use.

Popular tests include a variety of methods of testing for drugs. These include:

  • Urine
  • Saliva
  • Breath
  • Blood
  • Hair

Each test type has varying levels of accuracy. Urine, saliva, and breath tests can provide more immediate results but may be less accurate; blood and hair tests can be more reliable, but they require a lab to analyze the results.

Of course, professional tests through testing facilities are more reliable than any of these, and they also have in place measures to prevent cheating or tampering with the results. In addition, studies, such as one from the journal Pediatrics, have shown that these tests can be extremely unreliable – a situation that can result in even worse problems for the child if the result comes out wrong. Professional testing can help to avoid the issues that can arise from an inaccurate home test.

Using an At-Home Drug Test

Here are some steps that can improve the outcome

Step 1: Make sure the test is reliable.

Before purchasing a test kit, check into its reliability. Most important, as described by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is to be sure that the kit actually tests for the drugs that are suspected of being used. It’s also good to be aware that a number of these tests have not been reviewed or tested for accuracy by the government or scientific research, which could lead to a test that gives an incorrect result. Verifying that the test has been approved by a scientific body can help to avoid this issue.

It’s important to realize, before the test is performed, that these types of tests are qualitative, not quantitative. They can detect substances of abuse, but are unable to provide information as to how much of the substance there is. Some of these types of tests may include an option to send a positive result into a lab for further testing to get more detail. This can be an important element of the selected test for several reasons, which are discussed in some of the following steps.

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Step 2: Follow instructions.

When performing the test, it is important to read and follow the instructions thoroughly. Even slight errors in performing the test can lead to false positive or negative results. This can be true even in regards to the timing of the test. If the test is not performed or the results are not read within a certain amount of time after the drug has been used, it can affect the outcome, resulting in an inaccurate test.

Also, check the test to make sure it hasn’t been stored too long, isn’t expired, or doesn’t have other issues that might contribute to inaccurate results. All sorts of problems can result if a test result comes out wrong, including losing trust between the parents and child.

Step 3: Reduce the likelihood of cheating.

There are all sorts of websites and other resources that a person can get ahold of to help them cheat on an at-home drug test. It’s important to eliminate the possibility of this cheating, not only to improve the accuracy of the test, but also for the safety of the individual taking the test.

For example, a report from US News & World Report states that people often try to cheat a drug test by drinking a lot of water beforehand in an attempt to dilute the urine. They may also try to take high doses of vitamins to change the content of the urine or other sample, or even change the drug of abuse to one that is less likely to show up on a test, such as an inhalant.

Making sure that the person does not have an opportunity to do these things before the test can improve the reliability of the outcome and keep the person safe.

Step 4: Prevent tampering.

Another form of cheating is tampering with the kit or with the test process. According to the US News & World Report article, some people will try adding chemicals like bleach or soap – items easily found in the bathroom – to the sample. Tampering can also involve getting a sample of a clean friend’s urine to substitute.

To prevent these risks to an accurate result, it is important to make sure the individual does not have access to these types of items at the time of the test.

Step 5: Read results correctly.

Again, following the instructions on the kit as to how to read the results is important. Many false positives or negatives can be attributed to a misunderstanding on how to verify the results of the test. A thorough understanding of what to look for can be vital in making sure that the test result is read accurately.

Step 6: Understand false positives.

According to WebMD’s report on a variety of studies, false positives are common outcomes of at-home drug tests – as many as 5-10 percent of positive results are false. There can be a variety of reasons for a test to come out positive when there is no drug use, such as:

  • Eating poppy seeds, which can show up as opium use on a drug test
  • Using other medications, such as decongestants or cold medications
  • Drinking lots of coffee or caffeinated soda, which can appear to be amphetamines
  • Experiencing second-hand drug exposure, such as exposure to marijuana smoke

Because of the likelihood for a false positive, and because these tests cannot provide a level of detail that verifies the types and amounts of drugs being used, following up with professional testing should be an automatic response to any positive result.

There are more accurate ways to check for drug abuse than using at-home drug tests. As mentioned above, professional tests through drug testing laboratories have very reliable results and enact measures to prevent cheating and tampering. There are also sample collection kits, described by the FDA, that can provide lab-quality testing for samples taken at home. All that needs to be verified is that the samples aren’t tampered with as described in this article.

Drug testing can help to provide an atmosphere of accountability that makes it easier to have serious conversations with young people about drugs and alcohol. However, it can also create an atmosphere of distrust between the individual and family members who administer the test that can disrupt relationships. In contrast, professional input and support for suspected drug abuse can provide stronger tools and skills to help parents and their children look forward to a life free from substance abuse.