Testing for abuse - which test should you request?

If there are allegations of drug or alcohol abuse, when determining parenting arrangements, the Court can order tests to determine the validity of such allegations and the extent of the abuse.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are concerned about possible drug or alcohol abuse by your child’s other parent, it is important for you and the Court to understand which tests are available for different substances and when to request which test.

There are a number of different tests, but they all have limitations. Knowing what you are looking for, and understanding the limitations, is key in deciding which test should be performed. This knowledge might be equally important to prove your own “innocence” should you be at the receiving end of allegations of drug or alcohol abuse.

Tests for Illegal Substances

When testing for illicit substance consumption you have two options: a urine sample test or a hair follicle test. Both tests have limitations.

A urine test will only show recent use of an illegal drug, but only if such a substance remains in the body. Urine tests are cost-effective and the results can come back quickly, but the results are not always conclusive.

A hair follicle test is more appropriate to test long term, or chronic, substance use. This test can determine the use of illegal substances over a period of time, but the accuracy of the result will depend on the length of the hair sample.

Hair follicle tests have several limitations.

  • The test is expensive
  • The substance needs time to reach the root of the hair follicle. This can take 3 to 4 weeks. Consumption within the last 3 to 4 weeks will therefore not show in test results.
  • It could be difficult to determine the period of use if the person being tested shaved his/her head, or has minimal hair to test.
  • The use of this test is limited to long term illegal substance abuse. It will not show if the person used drugs once, or was just “experimenting”.

Tests for Alcohol Abuse

Blood tests are the most reliable tests for alcohol consumption, but again each test has its own limitations.

For complete abstinence, an Ethyl Glucuronide test may be the most appropriate. This test can determine if a person has consumed alcohol within the past 90 hours. The limitation is that the “accused” person must submit to testing every 3 to 4 days in order to prove complete abstinence. This might be impractical and expensive.

Other blood test can show chronic alcohol consumption.

Chronic alcohol usage or binge drinking can cause a change in protein levels. The Carbohydrate-deficient Transferrin Test (CDT) can determine altered protein levels, which could be indicative of chronic alcohol consumption.

The Gamma Glutamyl Transferase Test (GGT) tests liver function. Chronic alcohol consumption may cause liver disease. The problem is that people who don’t abuse alcohol might also develop liver disease, therefore the test may show impaired liver function, but it is not necessarily conclusive in determining chronic alcohol abuse.

Neither the CDT nor the GGT tests are useful in determining complete abstinence, but as shown above, it can be useful in determining chronic alcohol consumption.

Ask your lawyer for advice

If you need advice on which test to request, discuss the options with a lawyer who has experience in this field. A family lawyer who often deals with parenting matters will know what to do in circumstances where there are allegations and fear of alcohol or substance abuse. He/she will know which are appropriate orders to ask for.

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