Getting tested for drugs by your own parents isn’t exactly the bedrock of a home life built on trust and healthy relationships; we all know this from watching American Beauty. For starters, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against the involuntary drug testing of adolescents. Besides, some say that cheating the tests is easy, while false false positives are an obvious problem.
But that sure doesn’t stop people from doing this to their “loved ones.” And since at-home drug testing kits hit the market in the late ’90s, no longer is a trip to the doctor’s office required to get a sense for what your kid might be taking. At-home kits for checking urine, saliva, and hair—testing for anything from cannabis and cocaine to opiates and PCP—are available within hours at your local drug store or online marketplace.
So what’s it like to be on the peeing end of these tests? We asked people whose parents tested them to tell us about how they coped with a regime mainly associated with prisons.
Sarah Lee*, 24, Salt Lake City, Utah
My mom started drug testing me Sundays before church using at-home kits she’d buy in bulk at Walgreens. This pre-worship shakedown routine began junior year of high-school, after my Volkswagen Cabrio and I misjudged the height of a snowdrift late one night and thought we could clear it. Then the drug dogs came to school and succeeded in what they were trained to do.
The drug tests cost $15 apiece. The contents of the kit—a plastic cup, pH strip, and hilariously dense instruction manual full of lots of fun rave terminology—were packaged in a green box that looked exactly—mockingly—like an unopened box of thin mint Girl Scout cookies. I’d pee in a cup, submerge the pH strip and then watch my mom struggle to identify the drug correlative to whatever ambiguous color was developing on the indicator. I was only smoking a little pot at the time, but my god, I’ll never forget my mom yelling "YOU’RE DOING BARBITURATES?!?" at 8 o’clock in the morning on the lord’s day.
Kelli Wheat, 32, Minneapolis, Minnesota
I was 14 when my parents caught me sneaking back in my bedroom window at 2 am on a school night. To say I was in deep shit is an understatement. My mom kept me home from school the next day and took me to a local hospital to get drug tested. I was freaking the fuck out even though I’d never done drugs at that point. I was so ignorant I thought the two swallows of grape Mad Dog I took the night before would test me positive so I spent the whole morning gulping water. Needless to say that shit came back clean and I was vindicated.
Becca Berry*, 19, St. Louis, Missouri
At 17, I had been dating someone who smoked weed and all of my friends were smoking weed. I wasn't showing any signs of my grades dropping or bad behavior. My mom started drug testing me against my will. My initial reaction was fear because I had tried smoking for the first time a week prior. Getting to my senior year without partying or trying any drugs was pretty impressive to me, so when my mom made me pee in a cup I was offended—I felt like that wasn't something that I felt she even needed to know at that age.
The first time she let me sit on the toilet, but I scooped up water to ruin the test and basically say “fuck you.” Then the tub rule came into effect: I had to squat over a tiny cup in front of my mom. I did not smoke weed again until I was 18. Even then she tried drug testing me, but it occurred to me I didn't have to submit to that because I was officially an adult. It was never meant for my well-being, it was used as a control weapon so my mom could make me feel worse about myself even though everything was quite alright.”
Bob, 32, St. Paul, Minnesota
When I was 17, I was grounded for two months and given a full library of drug abuse books because my friend and I were going to smoke weed. We didn’t even smoke weed, mind you, we were going to and discussed this on AIM, which one of our parents had installed spyware on. They grounded me, but it began a long and complicated conversation with my parents about drugs. After, I was open about what I used and how.
So it was a shock when my parents informed me I was going to be drug tested on the way to the doctor one day. I was open with them that I had smoked, I suppose they were testing how much and how recently I smoked. I’m nearly twice that age now, I can’t necessarily say I wouldn’t do the same. I don’t have children, but if I did, I’d like to think they could be open with me and trust me so I could trust them in return.
Owen Leahy, 23, Lowell, Massachusetts
My parents started drug testing me when I was about 14, maybe 15, the first time. I had started experimenting with drugs and smoking weed. I think they’d started to figure out that it was going to be more of a problem than I thought it would. By 15 I was doing over the counter drugs like cough syrup, along with coke and prescription pills like Xanax, Percocet and Vicodin. By 16 I had an opiate problem, and by 17 I was addicted to injecting heroin.
As a teenage drug addict [my parents] drug testing me definitely helped further a divide between us. I remember getting in fights built on the basis that they didn’t trust me – rightfully so. At the time it felt degrading and violating and I hated it. My school also drug tested my urine once every week or so (it was a sober school). I will say that it absolutely did not stop me or my addiction from progressing, but it may have slowed it down in the sense that I needed to find more creative ways to get around getting drug tested or passing a drug test.
Personally, it would be a last resort for me to drug test children if I ever have them. I think that building a relationship built on trust and education and honesty is a much more viable solution—to be at a point with your children where you don’t have to pry information out of them or try and catch them in the act.
Kate Douglas, 25, Somerville, Massachusetts
During our freshman year of high school, my friend’s mom and stepdad suddenly got the notion in their minds that she was doing drugs. We had been friends since sixth grade and she was a good student and didn’t give her parents grief. But they were convinced she was a druggie and cited perceived changes in appearance and behavior as their evidence. And they weren’t just accusing her of trying weed like a lot of high schoolers, they said she was growing out the nail of her pinky finger to snort cocaine.
We would sit in gym class and she would tell me about how they were buying drug testing kits from CVS to randomly test her. The tests came back negative, but they persisted. I remember telling my mom what was happening, and she was appalled. Unfortunately, around two years later my friend was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer which she lost her battle with very soon after we graduated high school. I still wonder if the weight loss they were using as evidence for her drug use was actually early signs of the cancer. I’ve never been able to reconcile what happened or forgive her mother for putting her through the unfounded accusations and the drug testing.
Jim Clifton, 31, Columbia Heights, Minnesota
When I was 16 years old, I went out with some friends to a bowling alley on mushrooms (my second time taking them). I also took two bong hits before taking the mushrooms, as it tended to ease the transition from being sober to being in a state of pure euphoria and confusion. It was all in all a really fun night. But when I got home my parents knew something was up, even though I was no longer that high.
The next day, my mom and stepdad took me to Fairview clinic to get a drug test (my mom wanted to check me into the psych ward for admitting that I took mushrooms and smoked weed). I was given a cup by a nurse to urinate in and was left alone in a private restroom with running water. I diluted my sample with warm water and returned it to them. The results came back that I was totally clean. Then my mom to take me to a youth center in uptown Minneapolis where I stayed for a whole week with true drug addicts and victims of abuse because she thought I was ‘insane.’ After being at the youth rehab center for a week, there were no further tests I was asked to take. I continued to use marijuana and mushrooms on a recreational level and still do to this day.
*These names have been changed to protect the privacy of people whose privacy has already been pretty invaded.