Most Teenagers Deny Their Drug Use, Even When Undergoing Drug Testing

Most Teenagers Deny Their Drug Use, Even When Undergoing Drug Testing

Most national reports on teenage drug use are based on data gathered from either self-reports or confidential reports conducted on high school students. Even though the latest studies on at-risk youth from urban areas have indicated a rise in substance abuse, teenagers still may not be admitting to the whole truth. A new study by researchers at the Wayne State University (WSU) in Detroit and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that teens grossly underreport their actual drug use in confidential self-reports, even when they are aware that they will undergo a subsequent drug test.

Lead researcher Dr. Virginia Delaney-Black of WSU’s Carman and Ann Adams Department of Pediatrics and her colleagues investigated the correspondence between teenage self-reports on illicit drug use with actual biological testing since this type of collective data is rather sparse, especially in large-scale studies. In comparison, previous studies involving adults who self-report their drug use and then undergo drug testing have demonstrated a significant degree of underreporting. The researchers sought to discover if teenagers also underreport their illicit drug use activity, and to what degree.

The researchers conducted the first non-clinical biological testing for drug-use by adolescents by surveying more than 400 high-risk urban teenagers and their parents. Teenagers were asked to confidentially report on their own drug use in a questionnaire, while parents underwent a similar questionnaire regarding their child’s drug use as well as their own. Then, the researchers tested all the participants for cocaine, opiates, and marijuana use by collecting hair samples.

As a result, both teenagers and their parents had substantially underreported on the teenagers’ current illicit drug use, but teenagers were much more likely than parents to deny cocaine use on their questionnaires even though they were undergoing biological testing. In comparison to their self-reports, teenagers’ biological tests were 52 times more likely to identify illicit use of cocaine by the teenager. In parental self-reports, parents were not likely to recognize illicit drug use by their child. Moreover, parents were also guilty of denying the truth about their own drug use. Biological tests on parents’ hair samples were 6.5 times more likely to test positive for cocaine, and 5.5 times more likely to test positive for opiates than what parents had admitted to on their self-reports.

The predominance of underreporting by both parents and their children led the researchers to the conclusion that the standard form of epidemiological studies on teenage drug use is rather unreliable, at least when concerning those from high-risk urban areas. Even though all the participants were aware that their confidential self-reporting on their own drug use would remain protected, and that they would also be tested for drug use biologically, they were still likely to deny their actual drug use. The researchers suggest that other methods of testing for drug use—aside from data gathered from self-reports and parental reports—should be included in studies that measure the prevalence of teen drug use.

Based on their findings, the researchers recommend that members of the health care industry involved in the lives of at-risk youth and their families should consider other methods of detection when it comes to testing teenagers for drug use in order to more accurately gather statistics and treat their drug-related conditions. The researchers’ latest study is available online and in the November issue of the scientific journal Pediatrics.

Source: Medical News Today, Do Teens Tell the Truth About Drug Use? October 26, 2010

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