Dear Roadie: Should I Drug-Test My Son to Ensure He’s Not Wasting His College Tuition?

The hand of a person in blue lab gloves holding a vial that says, "Drug Test"

Dear Roadie: Should I Drug-Test My Son to Ensure He’s Not Wasting His College Tuition?

Published April 12, 2024

The hand of a person in blue lab gloves holding a vial that says, "Drug Test"

Dear Roadie,

My son will be attending a school that costs $80,000 per year. Am I crazy for wanting him to take a drug test a couple of times per year? We’re investing a lot of money and I want to ensure he doesn’t get off track and party too much. He’s always been a good student but he’s also the life of the party, if you know what I mean. I worry he’s an easy target for the college party lifestyle.

— Wanna-Be Drug Tester

Dear Wanna-Be Drug Tester, 

I understand your concern. We live in a world where simply “experimenting” with drugs has never been more dangerous. 

But let’s start with your son. Has he ever proven not to be trustworthy? Have you suspected that he’s taking drugs or drinking already? If the answer is no, then perhaps wanting to schedule drug tests before we know if there’s a need to might be a little too preemptive. 

Whether we like it or not, alcohol and drug use in college is fairly common. At some so-called “party” schools, it’s almost ritualistic, as if experimenting with one or both is simply part of the experience. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost 53 percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and research shows that marijuana is the drug most often used in college.

Drugs like ecstasy and other psychedelic or hallucinogenic drugs are also gaining popularity. The practice of taking small doses to achieve a slight effect, often called microdosing, has also increased among college students in recent years. Then there are so-called “study drugs” like Adderall that promise to help kids stay up all night and cram for exams. 

Thanks to the rise of fentanyl and other deadly substances that can be mixed in with recreational drugs like marijuana, even just experimenting with drugs can prove deadly. Kids today truly have no idea what they’re ingesting when and if they choose to partake.

Knowing all this, it’s hard not to worry. Rest assured, the vast majority of college students graduate without addictions and lifelong consequences, and a great many of them never drink, smoke, or snort anything the whole time they’re there.

How to Protect Your Investment Without Resorting to Drug Tests

I understand your concern about your $80,000-per-year investment. But drug use isn’t the only thing to consider when looking at protecting that investment. Your child’s grades, activities, and behavior patterns are all going to play a key role in helping you determine if your son is partying too much. 

Technology can be your best friend in these instances. Try keeping an eye on his whereabouts with GPS tracking to see when he’s in class or at the library, and make sure you keep an open line of communication with daily texts and regular phone calls. It’s not an invasion of privacy if your son knows you have access to his whereabouts. 

I’d also advise you to set ground rules regarding grades at the start of each semester. Together, decide what grades are considered acceptable and agree on check-in points, such as when grades are distributed, as well as the consequences should they start going down. Make sure he agrees, so there are no surprises later.

Let The Pros Handle The Drug Testing (If It Comes to That)

If you’re still considering testing him for drug use, keep in mind that while there are at-home drug tests, none is 100 percent reliable. It’s also pertinent to mention that the American Academy of Pediatrics frowns upon drug tests without a teen’s knowledge and consent. 

Instead, I suggest scheduling a visit to your doctor for a more formal assessment. This allows a trained physician to examine him and ask key questions. If your doctor suspects that your son may be taking drugs, they can perform an in-office drug test, which will likely prove to be more reliable than anything you can buy at the drugstore. It may also give you peace of mind that he’s been screened by a professional. 

Don’t listen to anyone who says, “No one knows your son better than you.” There are simply too many heartbreaking stories about parents who were blindsided to learn their children were heavily involved with drugs or alcohol, even when they barely showed signs before. 

You’re right to keep your eyes and ears open, but keep your heart and mind open, too. Your son is an adult and he should be treated as one, so be transparent with your concerns and make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to monitoring his success at college. Chances are he will be just fine.

Have a perplexing college question? Email Dear Roadie for advice at


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