If the safety of children is on the line, then parents, lawyers, and courts need to be on their toes and up to speed about how to detect and deal with drug or alcohol abuse.
Identify how you know there is a problem.
First, you must be able to articulate why there might be a problem. Saying “He’s been acting weird” generally is not enough. However, a history of drug or alcohol abuse should be enough.
Consider testing, and know your options.
Next you should know what you’re looking for. “Testing” for alcohol is hard to do. Unless someone shows up for the test drunk, it’s almost impossible to test for alcohol abuse in a traditional sense. However, “alcohol assessments” administered by a qualified mental health professional can help identify if a person abuses or has a likelihood to abuse alcohol. You have to be careful, though; many of these “assessments” rely on a self-answered questionnaire, so they are rarely useful.
Drug testing is another matter entirely. There are many different types of drug tests (blood, urine, hair, and nail just to name a few). Each has its pros and cons.
- Blood tests are extremely accurate and nearly impossible to “beat”. Unfortunately, most drugs metabolize out of the blood very quickly, and the test can only cover around a week at most.
- Urine tests are common, cheap, widely available, and can test for much smaller amounts of a particular drug. They are also much easier to alter the results or outright “beat,” and they do not test for long periods of time as most drugs flush from the kidneys within 30 days. Hair tests typically involve the collection of a length of hair and testing its various layers for drugs that have metabolized into the hair. In a way, it’s like studying tree rings.
- Hair tests typically test for 90 days, but can test for more time if enough hair is available. While these tests go back for longer periods, they also are less likely to catch light drug usage over time. These tests also tend to be more expensive than blood or urine tests.
- Finally there are nail tests. Like hair tests, nail tests remove a portion of finger or toenail to examine the kinds of drugs that have been metabolized into the nails. Nail tests can reliably go back 8-9 months, and some scientists believe they can even pinpoint levels of each drug, frequency of use, and/or dates of use. That science is still in dispute however. Nail tests also tend to not catch light or casual usage. These tests also are the most expensive.
As you can see, there’s a wide range between a $50 urine test for marijuana used in the last week and a $700, 9-month nail test searching for any possible illegal drug. That’s why it’s important to hire a child custody attorney who is familiar with the various types of tests, the scientific standards, and local drug testing labs. This knowledge is crucial, not only for the sake of your case, but perhaps the safety of your children.