Many addiction treatment programs require regular drug testing or require clients to submit to random drug tests. This practice is somewhat controversial, but it’s often used as a way to protect other clients from temptation and being triggered.

Drug testing policies differ from program to program and often depend on whether or not clients have access to substances. For example, residential or inpatient programs in which clients are required to stay in the facility 24 hours per day (with some exceptions) don’t typically need to do drug tests unless they have reason to suspect that drug use has occurred. On the other hand, outpatient programs that let clients stay at home and come in to the treatment program a couple times per week often perform regular drug tests.

Drug Testing in Recovery

In recent years, newer programs have begun to question this model and experiment with alternative philosophies surrounding abstinence. They may focus on treating underlying physical and mental health issues that may be leading to substance abuse and consider drug use in moderation to be acceptable. However, there are additional reasons for treatment programs to require clients to abstain from drug use entirely.

Benefits of Drug Tests

Whether or not a program focuses on abstinence, any addiction treatment program is going to have a goal of elimination of drug abuse. Bingeing, taking a high enough dose to risk overdose, and mixing dangerous substances all heighten the risk of overdose and lead to physical dependence. Engaging in these behaviors during treatment not only threatens progress for the individual, it can have dire consequences for other clients. Around 2.5 million people sought treatment for a substance abuse problem in the year 2013 alone, and programs need to be able to help as many of these people as possible.

Benefits of drug testing in treatment programs include:

  • Keeping track of client progress
  • Keeping other clients safe
  • Preventing relapse triggers
  • Rooting out those who are not serious about the program
  • Adjusting treatment as needed if relapse has occurred

If someone brings drugs into an inpatient facility that focuses on abstinence, that exposes all clients to temptation even if they don’t want to take drugs. This can damage a person’s progress and derail the entire treatment program for that individual, which can be especially unfortunate as these programs can be expensive.

At the same time, relapse after a period of abstinence can be very dangerous. Abstinence causes a person’s tolerance to decline, so a lower dose can cause a high or trigger an overdose. Many people are unaware of this and will end up taking the same high dose they were taking before they became abstinent. This tends to result in serious overdose that can be deadly.

In more flexible programs, seeing someone act high or knowing that another client has relapsed can be relapse triggers. In situations like halfway houses where recovering individuals live together, taking drugs can also lead to dangerous behavior, especially if it continues, due to lowered inhibitions and an increase in impulsive actions.

For all these reasons, drug tests can be very beneficial. In the end, programs are responsible for the health of multiple people, and they need to do what’s best for the group.