Cite this article

NIDA. (2020, September 28). Drug Screening for Teens—When and Why?. Retrieved from

press ctrl+c to copy
The NIDA Blog Team
October 28 2019
A health care provider talks with a teen.
©Shutterstock/Iakov Filimonov

“Drug screening” can mean different things. One kind of drug screening is a chemical test to see if there are leftover traces of drugs in a person’s body. This is sometimes called a “chemical screen.” There are several types of chemical screening methods.

Another kind of screening is a simple series of questions asking if a person has used various types of drugs, and, if they have been using them, how often they’ve done so. This is sometimes called a “verbal screen.”

In certain situations, teens may be screened by one or both methods for possible drug use. You might wonder: When could that happen, why does it happen, and who will know the results?


  • A chemical screen might happen when you try out for a sports team or when you apply for a job. Some schools also randomly screen students using a chemical screen.
  • A doctor might use verbal screening tools with questions like, “In the past year, on how many days did you smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products?”


Teens may be screened for different reasons:

  • A school might hope that random screening will discourage students’ use of illicit (illegal) drugs and give students a reason to resist peer pressure to use drugs. Schools may also be concerned because using drugs can affect a student’s ability to learn.
  • An employer wants to be sure a job applicant is in good shape to handle the job. Employees who use drugs are more likely than others to be late or absent from work. They also can be less productive or be involved in an accident on the job.
  • A doctor wants to help their patients stay healthy. Pediatricians might screen their patients because:
    • Using drugs can cause many health problems. Plus, some prescription medications can be very dangerous if combined with certain illicit drugs.
    • If the doctor knows that a patient is using drugs, they can help the patient find the information or treatment they need as early as possible.

Who will know the test results? 

  • If a school conducts a random drug test and a student gets a positive result, the school may or may not contact the parent or guardian. For example, a student might be expelled from sports or other afterschool activities. If a school conducts a drug test on a student that the school suspects is using drugs, they might suspend the student. You can ask a school about its screening policies.
  • Employers cannot reveal the results of an employee’s drug test unless a judge orders them to do that. It’s considered confidential medical information. The employer might fire the employee, though, or might recommend a treatment program. You can ask an employer about their policies.
  • Confidentiality laws vary from state to state about what a doctor can tell your school or parents about test results. You can ask your doctor what their policy is.