Wooton: Is there value to drug testing?
By Will Wooton
Drug testing has become a strong topic of discussion among many families. Should parents, coaches or even doctors require it? Does it stop drug abuse or violate trust?
Given I am asked about this without fail every week, I’ll express my thoughts publicly. I know this is a heated topic and will draw a strong reaction from both sides of the debate.
As a treatment professional, my experience has shown that drug tests have very little effect on an addict. By the very nature of addiction, drug tests alone will not keep someone clean. For an addict, a drug test is a notch on a string of failed consequences that others impose. Drugs tests are not treatment but rather one of the tools utilized in a well-rounded treatment plan. If drug tests kept addicts sober, relapse rates would drop and I wouldn’t have a job! This clearly is not the case.
This is where I part ways with the anti-drug test movement — I do very strongly believe, and have seen, where drug tests can prevent abuse and give non-addict adolescents a reason not to use. Therein lies the difference. Non-addicts don’t allow their choices to be dictated by drugs. They may be at a party and say “Sure, I’ll try it” because there may be no consequences. Now, with the possibility of a test in the future, we’ve created a reason for them to pass. We’ve built in a preemptive consequence allowing them to think about their choice. We’ve given them an opportunity to think and reason as adults do daily. As anyone who’s dealt with an alcoholic or addict can tell you, their consequential thinking goes right out the window.
With the issue of breaking trust, I can’t think of a better way to rebuild it then, as a parent, to set a standard and follow through with verifying that it’s being upheld. To openly trust your teen about drugs may work out but does carry a risk for your entire family. Should it backfire, be prepared for sleepless nights and lots of tears. When most teens use drugs, honesty goes right out the window.
I hear constantly “I don’t want my kid to think I don’t trust them” or “I want my kids to see that I trust their choices and respect them.” My response to this is to focus on what’s right and safe but, if you must parent based off your child’s feelings, give them the ability to prove their trustworthiness. Let them show you they are making the right choices, and will continue to make the right choices, when it comes to drugs. It’s very easy to fall victim to and begin relating to a child as an adult. Being a mature, fully brain-developed adult we forget and interact with teens like they are ready for that level of interpersonal relationship. I know at 15 years old I wasn’t ready for it despite thinking I was. I’m thankful that I had the strong guidance of adults who cared enough to help me make good choices.
Teens are hearing about drugs every day. I believe they should be given the opportunity to earn trust — not be given it.
I’d like to commend the Rancho Bernardo High School football team for initiating drug testing for their teams. I feel this is a great opportunity to allow kids to make the right choice and perhaps prevent another tragedy. I hope other teams and schools will follow their lead.
Wooton is director of Pacific Treatment Services and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.” PTS is a substance abuse company working with teens and young adults. Website: www.PacificTreatmentServices.com.
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