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Drug Testing at Home? Some Things to Consider…

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This originally appeared as a comment to Allies member hellojello who wrote in asking about drug testing at home. Our collaborator Laurie MacDougall, a family member who has embraced CRAFT and now trains other families in the CRAFT method, shares what she and her family learned through this process.

Hi hellojello,

Just wanted to share what my husband and I did when we let our son move back home to work on his recovery. We created a structure of boundaries that he had to abide by in order to live in our house: attend an IOP, go to counseling with us (we are a family of adults and we need help with communication), attend group meetings as required by his clinic, submit to random drug testing, etc…

If he could stay within these boundaries he was welcome to stay. If not, we understood, and would support him trying to find somewhere else that would be more suitable to his needs. He chose to come home and so random drug testing was a part of it. And honestly, the random drug testing was for me, not for him, and I made sure he knew that. I was not going to be able to sleep if I was always wondering or guessing if he was using or not. It also relieved me of the cat and mouse game: suspecting he was using and then trying to prove it.

We did however use drug testing strategically. We often made a point to test when we were sure that he was NOT using. I would often preface the process with a comment like, "I am really confident that you are not using, this is just to keep everyone accountable." This gave us the opportunity to show our son we believe in him and it gave our son the opportunity to show he was working on his recovery. Often times he was happy to take the test. Even now he talks about how testing him kept him accountable.

We found this ended up working well. When he was not using, he was very agreeable and wanted to show me he was not using, so testing was a way for him to show his progress. When he was using and we tested, two things came to light: 1) he stalled for hours and came up with all sorts of reasons why he did not have to pee. Very telling. And 2) he started to tell us he slipped up and there was no need to test. In both of these instances we were able to start a conversation about what resource he needed to reach out to and what changes he needed to make to work towards relapse prevention.

I also believe that handling things in this manner helped keep his slips to a day or two, rather than him falling into a full-blown relapse. My husband and I were able to capitalize on all of the efforts our son had been working on day-to-day, month-to-month, on his recovery. When he had a slip, he often became very depressed and felt he had let everyone down, including himself. He expressed that it felt as if he had to go back to square one and start all over. We were able to intervene during these times of defeated thinking and remind him of all he had accomplished (even if it was just a short period of time). We told him that in our minds we were not throwing all of his good work away, and that his slip did not negate all that he had accomplished. When recovering from any illness it is often not a straight line process.

I hope this helps. I know that drug testing at home can become a pretty hairy situation. My husband and I had to ask ourselves questions like: what if he goes into a full relapse? or what if he refuses to test once he moves in? or when is it time to stop testing?

We made it clear with one another and with our son that there would be consequences of continued use. He would have to find an option other than our house; refusal to test was again grounds to find another housing option. We found that delaying or refusing to test was a sign that he was using. It naturally happened that the testing lasted for about 3 years.

We also had to determine when he was in a full blown relapse vs. just a slip.

There is a lot to consider when  drug testing in the home. I hope my family's experience will be of some help. I hope it goes well with your daughter and your family.

Laurie is a former math teacher, residing​ in Dartmouth, MA, and extremely active in the recovery community. She currently devotes most of her energy to REST, a non-traditional support group that offers land and online video meetings, access to training in the CRAFT method, and a crisis toolkit helping families create their own individualized crisis plan. ​Her work is guided by a desire to improve the community’s response and end the​ stigma associated with Substance Use Disorder. Laurie loves skiing and ice hockey, and is at her happiest when spending time with her husband and three children. Read her articles on our blog or tune in to the podcast she co-hosts for Allies in Recovery: Coming Up for Air.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)