When discussing best practices in helping people with substance use disorders, the subject of drug testing is seldom discussed beyond noting its importance. However, managing drug testing within a clinical environment can be tricky. A thoughtful approach to managing drug testing is crucial because if it is handled well, it can enhance treatment process and outcomes, but if it is handled poorly, it can get in the way of effective interventions. In this article I will discuss the pros and cons of drug testing and detail some local resources useful for integrating drug testing into your clinical practice.
The primary barrier to the effective use of drug testing in counseling is the perception that it is punitive. Indeed, in many environments the person being testing has nothing to gain and everything to lose. In the criminal justice system, workplaces, and even some treatment programs a positive result on a drug test can mean incarceration, a lost job, or an unsuccessful discharge from treatment. Chief concerns in these situations are that the person being tested has a loss of privacy and loss of control over the use of the test results. Furthermore, these uses color people’s ideas of the purpose of drug testing. Therefore, clinicians using drug testing need to specifically address this perception and correct any misunderstandings about the use of test results.