The hardest thing in the world for any parent is to discover that their child, even their adult child, had a drug problem. As older adults, we know how devastating the consequences of substance abuse can be. To see these consequences destroy the lives of a young person, especially one whom we love and have watched grow up, is heartbreaking. To us, as outsiders looking in, it is obvious that drug use leads to interpersonal problems with friends, family members, and other loved ones. We know that not only does it wreck relationships, but it destroys careers, limits academic success, causes legal and financial problems. Ultimately it can not only destroy a person’s health, but it can sometimes take their lives. Heroin, in particular, is a major cause of fatal overdose in the United States. In 2018 alone, 14,996 people in the United States died of a heroin overdose. However, even before the most severe consequences set in, it is often possible to see the effects of addiction in our adult children manifest as severe mental health problems. Seeing an otherwise healthy young person wracked by depression, anxiety, and experiencing suicidal ideation can make us feel helpless, especially when we know these problems are directly caused by heroin abuse. Drug use is preventable and treatable, but what can we do as parents?
Sometimes a parent suspects that their adult child is using heroin, but they do not know with 100% accuracy. One would assume that the best course of action is to approach the drug user directly to discuss the issue. Unfortunately, this is rarely possible when someone is addicted to heroin. First of all, substance abuse and addiction often have such a deleterious effect on relationships, to the point where an otherwise intimate and open relationship will feel tragically closed off. Parents and their children simply may not feel comfortable discussing the sensitive issue of addiction in a productive manner. It is also a fact that young people who suffer from addiction are notoriously secretive about their condition. This is due to a number of factors, including shame, the belief that it’s better to manage it on their own, and a desire to keep on using heroin without (well-meaning) outside interference. For this reason, even a young person who is struggling to stop using heroin may be reluctant to open up about their difficulties with their parents. They may even go to great lengths to disguise the effects of a heroin addiction. In more severe cases, it is common for heroin addicts to even deny to themselves that they have a problem.
It is impossible for a parent to help their adult child with their heroin addiction unless they are positive that their child is indeed using heroin. Administering a home drug test can provide the answers parents need. While home drug tests are generally accurate, however, individuals who are determined to deceive their loved ones and hide their problem have a variety of ways of cheating on home drug tests. It is important to understand the various methods used for cheating on these tests. It may come as a surprise to learn that your adult child has done extensive research and is likely more knowledgeable about the ins and outs of these home drug tests than you are, since the prospect of losing access to heroin is a powerful motivator for an addicted person. By learning how addicts cheat, you can learn how to prevent it and ensure an accurate result.
Before administering a home drug test for heroin, it is generally a good idea to have a solid reason for doing so. Most parents do not immediately suspect heroin abuse when they see their adult child is struggling. Parents may sometimes find themselves in denial just as much as their addicted adult child is. Given the secrecy exhibited by many addicted people, it may also be quite difficult to recognize a heroin problem. However, heroin is such a destructive drug, and heroin addiction tends to progressively get worse, so it is rare for a young person to be able to hide every single one of their symptoms. If you suspect something is wrong, it is often prudent to trust your intuition.
Heroin abuse leads to a wide range of behavioral, psychological, and physical symptoms. Some of the most common signs of heroin abuse include:
Not every person using heroin will exhibit all of these symptoms. The severity of their heroin abuse problem will determine to what extent these symptoms show up. However, if your child is showing several of these signs and you are concerned, it is often a good idea to administer a home drug test.
While many types of drug tests exist, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, the most common type of home drug test is the urine test, or UA. Urine drug test kits are easy to use and affordable. They detect evidence of drug metabolites in the urine. Administering a UA involves several steps. First, the person being tested needs to provide a sample of their urine. Afterwards, the test administrator applies this sample to the collection site and waits for it to develop. Different types of urine tests use different methods of evaluating the sample, including chromatography, gas spectrometry, and immunoassays. It doesn’t take long for the results to be known: either a negative test result (meaning the person is not using heroin) or a positive test result (meaning they are).
Urine tests, however, are the easiest type of drug test for people to cheat on. In part, this is due to the nature of the sample collection process. Most parents have a reasonable tendency to offer their children privacy when they are urinating. Unfortunately, as a consequence their children are often able to use this privacy to cheat on their urine tests. There are a number of ways commonly utilized for cheating on these drug tests, and sometimes combinations of these methods are used as well.
Most people using heroin are aware that their own urine sample has heroin metabolites, so the most obvious and most common method of cheating on urine tests is simply to swap out their urine sample with someone else’s. Your child may have sober friends who they feel comfortable asking, or they may ask a complete stranger, which is even more dangerous. There are also a number of products available that advertise themselves as artificial pee. It is common for young people who are expecting to be tested to carry their urine substitute on their person at all times, just in case a test is sprung on them.
Another strategy is to use their own pee, but to dilute it to prevent the test ket from detecting heroin metabolites. The most common approach is simply to drink high quantities of water before being tested. By increasing the proportion of water to drug traces in the pee, they increase the likelihood that the test will come out negative. Again, there are also a wide variety of products available that claim to dilute urine samples. These products sometimes advertise themselves as “detox” drinks, but in reality they merely dilute urine in a similar manner to water.
It is also possible for young people to alter their urine sample by adding contaminants. A wide variety of household substances are often added that are designed to confuse heroin drug tests. Household substances that young people often add to their pee include bleach, vinegar, detergent, iodine, eye drops, lemon juice, isopropyl alcohol, and sometimes soda. They may also purchase commercial chemicals online such as nitrite, glutaraldehyde, and pyridinium chlorochromate. Some of these substances nullify the detectability of heroin metabolites in the sample, and others merely end up diluting the sample. In either case, parents will fail to get an accurate test result.
Given that most heroin users are eager to cheat, it is important to administer a home drug test in a way that is both safe and accurate. It may be painful to demonstrate a lack of trust, and your child may be upset with you, but to ensure accurate results it is important to carefully monitor your child’s behavior. Ultimately, the most important aspect of avoiding cheating involves choosing the right time to administer the test. Individuals who are informed well in advance of their test date have plenty of time to prepare a cheating strategy, such as finding fake pee or buying chemical adulterants. Instead, it is generally prudent to select a time at random and tell your child that you were testing them before they have a chance to prepare.
To further decrease the likelihood of cheating, it is a good idea to monitor their urination. This may be uncomfortable for them, and it is likely going to be uncomfortable for parents as well. Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil, since peeing in private offers test-takers a chance to alter their sample or switch it out for a fake one. While supervising your child’s urination may be painful, your child will likely understand that this is merely one of the unfortunate side effects of their heroin abuse. When they stop abusing heroin and earn your trust back, they won’t have to repeat the arduous scenario.
If your child tests positive for heroin, it is a good idea to enroll them in a sober living home. Any child using heroin, whether they’re just beginning to experiment or have developed a debilitating addiction, needs a great deal of support, more support than even the most well-meaning parents can provide. Sober living homes are residences that offer a strong sober social support system, a strong program for sobriety maintenance, and dedicated staff. Moreover, sober living homes work daily with residents to ensure that they get back on their feet — not just in terms of substance abuse, but in terms of their work, academics, and interpersonal lives. Parents should understand that their child is using heroin not because they’ve “chosen” to be addicted, but because they suffer from a legitimate disorder. Fortunately, this disorder can be treated. It’s just a matter of reaching out for help.
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