Frequent Urine Testing Helps Maintain Recovery

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  • As many as half of teens with addiction will return to using alcohol or other drugs at some point during their recovery process.
  • People with addiction need to return to treatment immediately if they relapse.
  • Urine testing provides a useful way of detecting relapse so that a family can arrange for speedy resumption of treatment.

For many reasons, people who are addicted frequently fail to tell the truth about their using habits, even when they are in a recovery effort. They may have never stopped using or they may have relapsed-as many as half of adolescents in treatment will return to using alcohol or other drugs. To provide an objective measure of treatment adherence, thereby not relying solely on the word of the teen, drug treatment programs and even the parents of teens, often conduct urine tests, or urinalysis, to determine if a teen is using and if so, how heavily.

"One of the things we try to encourage for continuing care, particularly in the first 90 days after treatment, is to keep up on the urine monitoring," says Dr. Michael Dennis of the Chestnut Health Systems in Illinois, an expert in adolescent addiction. "Now as a parent, there are kits you can buy in the local pharmacy where you can do urine tests at home. They're very simple."

Dennis recommends that parents let their child know from the outset that they will be tested, and that if they test positive, they will return immediately to treatment.

"By doing those a couple of times a week, you will know the minute they relapse," he says. "So that pressure, from knowing that they're being monitored, and knowing what the consequences are, helps them not use."

Urinalysis has become both more sophisticated and easier to conduct in recent years. It has also become less expensive. Parents should realize, however, that kids can find information online about how to cheat on drug tests, or they may learn these tricks from other teens in their treatment program. Vigilance about the authenticity of urine tests is important; parents should speak with the treatment program's staff about how to monitor urine tests.