In the addiction recovery process, a relapse to drug use or abuse isn’t a failure. It doesn’t mean that treatment isn’t working or that the person has a hopeless case of addiction that can never be addressed. It does mean that the current addiction treatment program might not be providing the person with the targeted help they’ll need to avoid temptation in the future. A relapse, in other words, provides feedback experts can use to tweak their plans and provide even more effective help in the future. Detecting that relapse, however, can be a challenge.

In an inpatient program for addiction, people are often subjected to random drug testing, just to ensure that they’re not breaking the rules of the facility. People who live at home, on the other hand, may not be provided with this same level of screening, unless their families begin following a drug testing schedule. This article will outline the pros and cons of random drug testing a loved one in this manner.

Understanding the Need

Studies suggest that people who are monitored and closely watched by their family members are less likely to begin using drugs in the first place. For example, in a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology found that children who experienced low levels of monitoring at early ages initiated the use of drugs at earlier ages, when compared to children who had high levels of supervision.

It makes sense that people wouldn’t begin to use drugs when they’re watched, as they might feel as though they’ll get in trouble for their usage. The same could be said of someone new to recovery. A person like this might know that the family has invested in recovery and hopes the person won’t ever use again. If the family is always watching, the person might be nervous about the consequences if that use is caught, and the person might not relapse as a result. Abstinence seems like a wise choice, when the family is always watching.

It would be ideal if addicted people could have open and honest relationships with their families, discussing their cravings and worries about relapse. Some addicted people build these relationships though therapy, and they’re able to articulate their needs quite clearly, trusting that their families will help them. But some people find that the need to use is stronger than the need to be honest.

A study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease suggests that people who lie about their drug abuse tend to remain drug-free for much shorter periods of time when compared to people who are honest about their addictions. Random drug testing can force people to be honest, and that could mean that people have a better chance at long-term sobriety.

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Urine Testing

Urine testing kits tend to be popular, as they’re relatively easy to administer and the results come back immediately.

Unfortunately, these tests can also be altered by:
  • Specific foods
  • Bleach
  • Substituted urine
  • Vitamin supplements

An entire online industry is devoted to urine testing for drug addiction, allowing people to alter the composition of their urine so they can pass these tests without leaving their drugs behind. With just a few clicks of a computer mouse, an addicted person could purchase a packet of ingredients that could render the urine test inconclusive.

The person could also purchase urine from a non-drug-using person, or put bleach solutions in the urine sample to alter the results. Tests that have been hijacked could give the family a false sense of security about the state of their loved one’s addiction.

The reverse problem could also occur. For example, a study in the Journal of Sports Sciences suggests that some people can even fail drug screenings because they’re taking vitamin supplements, and they might not even know that those supplements contain drugs. Families who receive a false-positive urine drug screening could believe that a relapse has taken place when it has not, and their reaction could break a bond of trust that’s been developed between the addicted person and the family.

Other Options

Drug testing kits can also be used to check hair. These tests are quite specific, as the drug content of hair cannot be altered with shampoos, bleaches or dyes. Once the drugs have entered the hair shaft, they can be picked up in a testing kit.

Additionally, this form of testing allows families to check for drug use that’s occurred up to 90 days in the past, and they provide a treatment team with detailed results about how much drugs the person has taken during that time. This test can also be done discretely, allowing families to steal hair samples and test them without the person’s knowledge.

There are some drawbacks to this form of testing. Stealing hair is a violation of privacy and trust, and people in recovery may deeply resent family members who would resort to these kinds of methods. Stealing also robs the person of a sense of accountability, as the person might not even know that the test is taking place. It’s important for addicted people to feel responsible for their actions and the consequences of those actions, and a stolen hair sample represents a loss of an opportunity to teach this lesson.

Additionally, hair sample testing results take days to return, which might allow a relapse to harden into a full return to drug use.

Saliva testing might provide a good option. These tests are slightly harder to modify, and they provide almost immediate results about most drugs of abuse. The person will know that the testing is taking place, and the family will know almost right away if a relapse has occurred.

Putting Together a Plan

In general, it’s best to let a counselor know of the family’s plans to provide random drug testing for the person they love. A counselor can help the family draw up guidelines for those tests, and a counselor might also be able to help the family know how to respond should a test come back with positive results. It’s a delicate decision, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. A counselor might be an ideal person to help the family decide what to do and learn how to do it without offending anyone involved.

The plan might include:
  • How frequently testing will take place
  • What method will be used for testing
  • What rewards the person might receive for a clean test
  • What the family might do if the test isn’t passed

Once the family has agreed upon that plan, including agreeing upon what consequences will take place if drug abuse is found, the family must work hard to stick to those plans, no matter what happens. A study about workplace drug testing might make the importance of this agreement all the easier to understand. In this study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers found that employees who felt that the drug screening was just and fair had better attitudes at work.

It’s easy to see how someone living in a household where the drug testing seems fair might also be more inclined to participate and remain pleasant, while someone who feels the test is unfair might seem hostile or angry. Following the rules is one of the best ways to ensure that the entire ordeal seems fair.

It’s important to note, too, that a failed drug test shouldn’t result in harsh punishments such as expulsion from the house or physical retaliation. Instead, as mentioned, a relapse should be considered feedback that could be used to modify the treatment plan. A person who relapses might need additional counseling sessions, a trip to an inpatient addiction program or new medications.

Following the rules is one of the best ways to ensure that the entire ordeal seems fair.

These are, once again, decisions that a treatment team or a therapist can handle. It might be best for families to agree to bring failed tests to the attention of the counselor, and then accept the decision the counselor hands down.

To find out more about monitoring someone for an addiction or to learn more about how to confront someone who is dealing with an addiction, call our toll-free line at 269-280-4673. We have a list of counselors who can hold family interventions and stop the cycle of substance abuse and addiction. Please call us today to get started.