Menu Close

Our Programs & Activities Will Guide Your Teen Through Rehab

A Parent’s Guide to Routine Drug Screenings at General Medical Appointments

Adolescents remain at high risk of developing problems with alcohol or drug use, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimating that 23.5% of 10th graders used alcohol in the past month and 16.6% used marijuana. Despite this, screening and treatment of adolescent drug use remains relatively low. Routine medical appointments with your child’s physician provide an excellent opportunity to identify potential drug or alcohol use.

Do: Ask If Your Child’s Pediatrician Performs Drug Screenings

A mother explains how parents guide routine drug screenings general medical appointmentsA 2012 study of over 400 pediatricians found that just 5% used an evidence-based tool to screen adolescents for drug or alcohol abuse, with 56% saying that they felt less prepared to screen for drug abuse than depression. When making an appointment with your child’s pediatrician, ask about his or her policy toward drug screenings. If your pediatrician does not routinely perform drug screenings, ask if she would feel comfortable asking your child about drug and alcohol use. If not, it may be worth considering switching medical providers.

Don’t: Assume That the Physician Will Tell You about Any Drug or Alcohol Use

Physicians are bound by confidentiality laws to keep your child’s medical information private. The exception to this is that a physician may reveal information if your teen’s health or safety are in danger. Problematic drug or alcohol use certainly fall into this category, as they have significant ramifications for physical and mental health. However, your child’s doctor is not ethically required to reveal information that does not endanger your child’s safety. For example, maybe your teen went to a party and had a few drinks of alcohol but hasn’t drank since. The doctor may feel that, while unwise, this behavior was not dangerous. Thus, the doctor is not obligated to share that information with you. Having a conversation with your kid and the doctor before the private portion of the appointment is a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page about confidentiality and its limits.

Do: Consider Your Child’s Age

As soon as your child is old enough to have a medical appointment without you present (often around age 10 to 12), annual drug screenings are a good idea. By 8th grade, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 9% of students say they had an alcoholic beverage in the past month. Thus, it is not unreasonable to begin annual drug screenings in middle school and continue until your child is 18.

Do: Remain Calm and Nonjudgmental about Results

Adolescents know that their parents will be upset if they find out about drug or alcohol use. Many teens avoid discussing alcohol or drugs for fear that they will be punished. Thus, they may reveal information to a doctor that they would not feel comfortable telling you directly. If the doctor discusses concerns about drug or alcohol use with you, it is important to positively reinforce your child’s honesty. Tell your teen that you appreciate her talking to the doctor about drug use and that you realize it may have been difficult for her. Do your best to remain calm and non-judgmental about your teen’s behaviors. Then, work with the physician and your teen to make a plan of action. Often, primary care doctors are not equipped to provide treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. Finding a treatment facility that specializes adolescent addiction issues ensures that your teen will receive the best possible care. To learn more about our addiction treatment services, give us a call at 877-466-0620.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drug facts: high school and youth trends. The Science of Drug Use and Addiction.
  2. Sterling, S., Kline-Simon, A.H., Wibbelsman, C., Wong, A., & Weisner, C. (2012). Screening for adolescent alcohol and drug use in pediatric health-care settings: predictors and implications for practice and policy. Addiction Science and Clinical Practice, 7(1): 13.