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When Should you Drug Test a Loved One?

Trust is a big issue in families that are healing from a loved one’s substance abuse. It is one of the first things to be compromised when addiction has entered the picture, and by the time someone is in rehab for addiction recovery, it may have disappeared altogether.

It can be a slow process to rebuild trust, but honesty goes a long way toward repairing relationships that are broken.

For this reason, some families opt to drug test a loved one who is in addiction recovery to ensure the person is staying on track with their plan to abstain from drugs and alcohol while forging a new path ahead. This can give the family a peace of mind and help them move forward with trusting their loved one again.

Some recovering substance users are OK with submitting samples for such tests because they want to prove that they are sticking to what they said they would do. A random drug test also motivates some to stay on the right path and avoid engaging in practices that will lead to disappointment, frustration, and the road back to active addiction. However, other people may resist taking a drug test or comply reluctantly. This can further drive a wedge through an already fragile relationship. The person in recovery may not feel trusted and they may lose the motivation to stay abstinent.

So is there a right time to test a loved one for drugs and alcohol? That depends on your family and what your needs are. Each family has to decide what is right for them. However, they can weigh their options and then decide on whether this is the right move to make.

There generally are two scenarios in which drug testing is used when it comes to the family relationship. One is when a loved one may be suspected of having a substance use problem or addiction. The other is when families want to make sure the person in recovery has not returned to using.

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Scenario 1 – Drug testing a loved one to confirm whether someone is using

Sometimes drug tests are used to confirm your suspicions of substance use. Compulsive use of addictive substances can be a clear sign that a person is in active addiction. Behavior is a key indicator of whether substance abuse is an issue.

If you know a loved one uses substances but aren’t sure if the use has developed into a problem with drugs and/or alcohol, look for these red flags. If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then it’s possible that a person is dealing with a substance use disorder (SUD). Questions to ask yourself include:

  • Does the person continue to use despite the negative effects on their daily routines, health, work, and personal/professional relationships?
  • Are there intense, frequent drug or alcohol cravings?
  • Are there changes in spending habits to support buying addictive substance, even to the point of not being able to afford it?
  • Is the substance used longer or more frequently than intended?
  • Is there an inability to stop using the substance despite wanting to?
  • Has a high tolerance to the substance developed with regular, prolonged use of the substance? Is more of the substance needed to achieve a high?
  • Are more attempts being made to obtain the substance? Have these attempts become illegal or reckless?
  • Do withdrawal symptoms emerge when substance use suddenly stops or is reduced?

Other signs that substance abuse or addiction could be present include:


Weight loss, weight gain, puncture marks, skin infections; red or bloodshot eyes; poor grooming


Mood swings, which are noticeable abnormal changes in a person’s emotional state, are common. A lack of energy that results in sleeping more than usual or a sudden burst of energy that seems to last longer than usual could be signs of substance abuse.


Substance abusers may become more isolated and withdrawn as they use. They may also change the circle of people they hang out with and spend less time with close relatives and friends.

There also are signs of addiction that are more specific to the drug(s) of choice. If you see any of these signs, you may want to consider an intervention, which can include testing for substance use. If you can convince the person of concern to submit to a drug test and the results come back positive, this is the time to start talking about future treatment. Consider talking with the person about entering a professional treatment center so they can get help with their substance abuse problem.

Scenario 2 – Drug testing a loved one to see if they’ve returned to using

People who are early in their recovery also may be asked or expected to take a drug test to prove to their family or recovery program adviser that they have not returned to abusing substances. If it turns out that they have, it’s important to first note that relapse is a normal, almost expected, part of addiction recovery. It is not a moral failing or an indication that addiction treatment is not effective, though it often is treated like this.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) cites data that say 40 to 60 percent of people who are recovering from addiction will relapse. The rates are on par with those of other chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, etc.

Relapse is not a sign that treatment has failed.

For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug use indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried,” NIDA writes.

It helps to have a plan of action in place in the case that a person in recovery is back to using. This is a time to be decisive about what should happen next, but it’s also a time to be supportive and understanding of where the person is at this point in their recovery. Intervention, done right, can save your loved one’s life.

Other Things to Keep in Mind


If you are considering whether to drug test a loved one, here are a few things you may want to consider.

Drug Tests are not Foolproof

Many people who are in active addiction know how to beat a drug test by tampering with the sample they submit. They may add water to it, eat certain foods, or use certain at-home detoxes to clean out their systems just so they appear to have passed. Some may even use someone else’s urine sample to pass off as their own. To ensure this doesn’t happen, consider having the person tested by medical lab professionals.

Consider What Kind of Drug Test to Use

Not all drug test options are designed to find the same kinds of drugs. Also, different methods of drug testing have different time lengths in which they can detect substance use. Urine tests are the most popular way to detect substance use, but blood, saliva, and hair samples all can be submitted for testing, and all of these have different windows of detection. Hair follicle drug tests can detect the longest window of substance use, which is three months.

Are You Mentally and Emotionally Prepared If a Drug Test Comes Back Positive?

It’s understandable to hope for the best outcome and that your loved one either isn’t using or didn’t relapse. However, sometimes a hunch turns out to be correct and families may be disappointed or frustrated. Understand that this a process and have a plan in place to combat addiction in a healthy and effective manner.

Families should also consider family therapy to address their own thoughts and experiences as they reach out to help their loved one.

Find a Quality Addiction Treatment Program

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease, NIDA writes. It changes the brain’s structure and functioning to the point where a user likely will have to manage it for the rest of their lives. This is why many people in active addiction struggle to stop.

However, the NIDA also says that addiction is treatable and can be managed successfully. It’s going to take a great deal of patience for families and the loved one in recovery to work toward overcoming addiction. Addiction is often called a family disease, but no one involved has to go through it alone.

If your loved one is considering entering an addiction treatment program, you want to get the best care you can to ensure your specific needs are met. Treatment programs at Delphi Behavioral Health Group’s facilities provide unique therapy and counseling methods for certain addictions. Our treatment centers create an oasis for the community, counseling, and support for our clients in recovery and their families. Give us a call to discuss you or your loved one’s options today at 844-899-5777.

How can you end addiction? Contact Us Today!