Drug testing is a pretty well-known process that can serve a host of different purposes and as such, may be conducted at different times. There are quite a few components to the process, especially considering the different ways the test may be performed, when one may be performed, and why it may be performed.
Today is all about providing you with all the information you need in this regard, after which you should be well-versed in understanding drug testing nuances. In the end, there’s even a look at some of the most commonly known techniques used to pass drug tests.
What Is a Drug Test?
The concept here refers to a test that may be conducted in one of several ways and aims to identify the presence of either prescription or illegal drugs in someone’s system.
While the uses can often differ, typically when a drug test is being conducted, the major concern is the misuse or abuse of the drug in question.
On the side of illegal drugs, realistically, they are not supposed to be in the system at all. Prescription medications should be in the system, but they’re only meant to be used as prescribed.
In this case, taking too much of the prescribed medication is one example of misuse, while taking someone else’s prescription medication, while not thought to be, is also a no-no.
What Can I Expect During a Drug Screening?
First, you’re likely going to be in a hospital or lab. However, depending on the circumstances, you may end up submitting to a drug test at your workplace. A sample of one of your bodily fluids, such as urine tends to be taken.
For some tests, you will be taking your own sample, which means the information will be provided to ensure that it is accurate and the results are not skewed in any way.
In other cases, a healthcare professional takes the test for you, as is the case with a blood test.
The collected sample is then tested for certain identified substances, after which a result is provided either directly to you or to whichever party mandated or required the test in the first place.
Types of Drug Tests
Drug test requirements defer, and depending on the situation and the level of accuracy required, there are different ways in which one may be handled. Here’s a look at some of the different test types in this regard.
Urine testing is one of the most common drug testing types on the market. Typically, whenever your body breaks drugs down, it creates a substance known as a metabolite. The test is aimed at picking these up.
Additionally, your immune system releases antibodies that form antigen-antibody complexes, and the test is also meant to analyze these.
Mild and extenuating circumstances sometimes raise concerns about the potential of urine samples being contaminated, tampered with, or replaced altogether.
Therefore, as reliable as the method is, ensuring an accurate result sometimes requires the entity collecting the sample to monitor it’s being taken.
The process is straightforward and involves the taker expelling a sample into a provided container, which is then taken in for testing.
Read our dedicated page on how to pass a urine drug test using various methods.
A blood test is not necessarily often the go-to method of testing, but it is well-regarded and may be used for pre-employment testing.
More commonly, you find that this testing style is used during emergencies. One of the challenges that people have with blood tests is their invasive nature.
After all, it does require a needle being used to collect a sample of your blood from a vein. Considering the way blood flows around the body and refreshes, it means that the detection window here is quite a bit shorter than that of urine testing.
Sometimes, within a few hours, a blood test becomes way less likely to detect a substance, even if the test taker had indeed used it.
Hair testing is next, and it’s not surprising if you’ve never heard about it. It’s also called a follicle test. The test requires a strand of hair, typically taken from the armpit, head, or face. As this is a common test used by many employers, we have an entire page dedicated on helping you pass a hair follicle drug test.
While some other tests are meant to identify the use of a singular substance, hair testing usually aims to identify cumulative substance use.
It’s often praised for its longer detection window. Consider that scalp hair often offers up to three months of detection, while body air often allows for a detection window of up to 12 months.
This is because starting about a week before drugs are taken, metabolites find their way into the hair. Of course, since the same strand of hair is going to remain present and grow, the sample viability becomes that much longer.
One of the drawbacks, however, is that if the drug use is low enough, it may go undetected.
A saliva test may also be called an oral fluid test. A mouth swab is done, which collects the saliva, after which the sample is analyzed to ascertain drug use.
Of course, that means it is limited to orally consumed substances. Typically, the test aims to detect either residual drugs or same-day use.
The detection window is pretty short and is usually a maximum of 48 hours. Additionally, depending on the drug used, you may find that saliva production becomes inhibited.
Of course, there are ways to pass a mouth swab drug test if you wish to read about them.
As the name implies, at-home drug testing allows you to do the entire test in the comfort of your own home. One of the benefits of doing it is the ability to get quick results.
Typically, provided that the test result is positive, a follow-up test is often done at a lab to verify how accurate the result is.
In most cases, the test taker is provided with a kit meant to collect one of the samples indicated in the other testing types above.
Finally, there is the self-collection test. It differs from home testing in the sense that the quick result element is eliminated.
With the sample collected, the intention is always to send it to a lab for testing and validation.
Like at-home tests, the taker must be incredibly careful to follow all instructions provided for the most accurate results.
Drugs Commonly Tested for
As indicated before, drug testing tends to be used to identify the presence of a specific substance. Of course, this may differ in the case of hair testing, which is often aimed at ascertaining cumulative substance use.
This section is aimed at giving you a breakdown of the typical set of drugs that testing is used to discover.
Alcohol happens to be a central nervous system depressant, which means that it can alter your behavior, mood, and level of self-control. More importantly, it slows down the rate of brain activity. Additionally, it can negatively impact your organs.
In most cases, drinking occasionally or moderately is not necessarily a problem. Moderate, in this case, means one or two standard alcoholic drinks in a day.
Testing for alcohol is unique in the sense that finding it in the system at all is not necessarily akin to an offense. Instead, the outcome depends on the amount of alcohol in the system.
Typically, a blood alcohol concentration below 0.08% falls in the acceptable range.
Amphetamines, including methamphetamines, speak to a class of psychostimulant drugs. For your body to function effectively, numerous signals are sent between the brain and the various areas via neurons.
With psychostimulants in the mix, the rate and number of these messages become artificially increased.
While there are illegal amphetamines, some of them happen to be prescribed for condition treatment. The disorders covered include Parkinson’s disease, narcolepsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Illegally, crystal methamphetamine or ice is the most popular. Additionally, some amphetamines have also been taken for performance enhancements.
Barbiturates fall under the sedative or depressant category. It’s a pretty old drug class, and its purpose is to help people sleep and provide relaxation. Examples include phenobarbital and secobarbital.
Their development dates back to the 19th century, with recreational use having its roots in the 1960s. More recently, abuse rates have declined, mostly due to safer alternatives being discovered.
The risk profile with barbiturate use is characterized by physical and psychological addiction, with fatal overdose being way more highly likely than other alternatives. That’s because the quantities associated with a deadly dose and a safe one are not that much different.
Benzodiazepines are mainly meant to be used as a method of anxiety treatment. They include drugs such as alprazolam or clonazepam.
These drugs have been largely adopted as the recreational replacement for the much more dangerous barbiturates.
Beyond anxiety treatment, benzodiazepines have been used in treating other conditions. They appear to carry out their function by working on the brain’s neurotransmitters.
Nevertheless, their method of action is still not fully understood. However, since they are believed to reduce nerve activity which is present in spades during conditions such as anxiety, they are deemed appropriate for treating such ailments.
Cocaine is characterized by its incredibly high level of addictive potential. It falls under the stimulant drug class, meaning it artificially boosts energy, attention, and alertness levels.
The cocoa plant, which is native to South America, is where cocaine is made from. Other names you may hear that refer to the drug include crack, coke, blow, rock, and snow.
Most commonly, it’s a fine, white powder, but it can also be made into a crystallized form that is on the more solid side of the spectrum.
It’s taken in numerous ways, including snorting, rubbing into the gums, or even heating the crystal form and breathing in the smoke. Read more about cocaine and how long does cocaine stay in your system on our dedicated page that also talks about cocaine drug tests.
Marijuana is an incredibly popular drug, which you may find being called hash, pot, weed, grass, ganja, or cannabis.
It comes from the marijuana plant and may appear green, brown, or gray. The psychoactive component is known as tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
Its presence acts on the brain, which alters your state of consciousness or your mood.
Typically, its users smoke it in a pipe, mix it in with food and eat it, roll it to be smoked like a cigarette or cigar, or they may even brew it as tea.
Short-term effects such as mood changes and altered senses are not necessarily the biggest problems. Instead, the more significant challenges come in the form of potential breathing problems, brain development challenges, etc.
Opioids and Opiates
These drugs fall under the narcotics class and include heroin, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl.
As you can see from this lineup, strong prescription pain medications form a big part of the category.
While some opioids are natural and come from the opium plant, others fall under the synthetic category, as they are man-made variations.
Typically, doctors prescribe opioids after surgery or major injury for pain reduction. Alternatively, some conditions, such as cancer, present severe pain, and the medications are used for the management of such symptoms.
The biggest problem with opioid use is the sheer level of addiction that can develop. Additionally, unlike some other drug classes that require some level of extensive use for dependence/addiction, it can occur with opioids even in cases of limited use.
Phencyclidine has no prescribed or legal form. Instead, it’s an illegal street drug, which just like cocaine, appears in a white, powdered form. Alternatively, it can also be found as a liquid. Users tend to dissolve it in water or alcohol.
However, PCP is also sometimes smoked, swallowed, injected into a vein, or snorted. It is often called other names in the street context, including embalming fluid, hog, killer weed, ozone, supergrass, walk, and angel dust, among others.
Being a mind-altering substance in the hallucinogen class, it affects your behavior and mood. The current scientific belief is that it blocks the standard function of some brain chemicals.
Some of the serious concerns surrounding PCP include the potential to not feel pain in the case of serious injury, consistent mood problems such as anxiety or depression, as well as physical issues such as kidney failure, seizures, or death. Read more about PCP, including how long PCP stays in your system ahead of a drug test.
The final class of drugs to be covered here is steroids. Naturally, the body produces hormones, which are chemicals that can serve a variety of purposes.
For example, the body produces cortisol as a stress response. Man-made versions of the said hormones are known as steroids.
There are two classes, known as corticosteroids and anabolic steroids. The former is used in the medicinal world for managing symptoms such as stiffness, pain, and swelling.
The latter tends to be used by athletes and bodybuilders for aesthetic and performance enhancements.
Misuse of corticosteroids is where the question of legalities comes into the matter. On the side of anabolic steroids, depending on your location, they may be completely outlawed, legal, or legal with conditions.
What Are Drug Tests Used for?
Drug testing has a variety of applications. At its core, it aims to find out if you have been using or abusing single or multiple drugs. However, there tends to be a bigger picture play.
In other words, the testing mechanisms are not used to find out if you’re on drugs for knowing’s sake. Instead, there tends to be an underlying reason why you or other parties would need to know your drug use status.
These are covered below.
Workplace-based drug use tends to be a no-no, with the exception being the taking of legal medications in a prescribed or medically directed manner.
Outside of this, drug testing may be a part of a screening process that a potential employer may carry out before hiring you.
Depending on the compliance requirements of a company, it may test its workers during employment too.
Additionally, if there should be certain incidents, testing may occur to ascertain if drug use was a contributing factor.
While there are exceptions to the rule such as certain classes of bodybuilding, professional sports tend to outlaw the use of drugs for performance enhancements.
Doping bodies and policies are set up to enforce such standards, which leads to testing requirements.
Athletes must submit to the said tests, or they can face disqualification from competitions. Furthermore, if the tests deem that an athlete has been using a banned substance, banning from the sport temporarily or permanently may take place.
Often, after a problem with drug use has been identified, the user may go through a rehabilitation program, which intends to achieve a state of permanent sobriety.
The expectation, therefore, is that there would be no illegal drug use during the said treatment program.
This is often confirmed with the use of drug testing. Most notably, are alcohol disorder recovery programs, which test recoverees periodically to ascertain their blood alcohol concentration.
The results of drug testing can sometimes become the subject of a legal matter. For example, a motor vehicle accident may have occurred that may have resulted in a series of mild to severe problems.
As part of the investigation, the responsible driver may be required to submit to some form of drug testing. In fact, if police officers have reasonable suspicion that a driver may be driving under the influence, you often find that a breathalyzer is administered.
In some cases, a blood or urine test may be used instead of the breathalyzer.
Nevertheless, the outcome is often a determinant of the fate of the test taker. If the matter is before the courts, attorneys use the negative results of their own clients or positive results of the other side as a part of their respective case arguments.
Monitoring Misuse of Prescription Drugs
Those in the medical field are well aware of the extent to which some drugs, such as opioids come on can present a risk for addiction. Therefore, when people are prescribed these drugs, it may become necessary to monitor usage to ensure misuse is not taking place.
In such cases, the medical provider may order the drug test to verify that a patient remains aligned with the prescribed schedule.
After an Accident
This was slightly highlighted before and does not necessarily refer to a car accident. Instead, it speaks to a situation where there is an accident on the job, especially one with machinery at play.
In such cases, legal concerns may come into play, which can include workers’ compensation claims.
It’s essential to understand the extent to which the lines of responsibility for an accident, especially one involving an injury, lie with the employer.
Doing so means establishing that the employee was not to blame, which may require the administration of a drug test.
The context of safety-related training is not too far removed from that of the accident test requirement, but while the latter is reactive, the former is proactive.
Decades ago, drug testing in the workplace became affiliated with occupational safety. As a part of a prescribed training program, it’s not uncommon for drug testing to take place.
When Would I Need a Drug Test?
Now that you understand why you would need a drug test, the next question is at what time would such tests happen?
That’s the question that this section aims to answer. Realistically, many periods could be put forward as answers to this question. Instead, the coverage here extends to five of the most likely.
This is the period when someone tries to land employment but has not yet been successful in doing so, as the organization does its screening.
Depending on the company, requirements for entry as an employee can differ greatly. For example, one company may not require much more than an interview and a display of qualifications. Another may require the submission of a police record.
Additionally, based on the job to be undertaken, it may be essential to know that employees are in a state of sobriety and remain as such.
To this end, a short-term test may be administered to ascertain recent activity. Alternatively or additionally, a long-term cumulative method such as follicle testing may be used to understand the presence or lack of a substance abuse problem.
We have an entire page dedicated to passing an employment drug test in case you have this on your radar.
Annual Workplace Drug Test
Some workplaces have programs associated with occupational safety that mandate annual drug testing for their employees. As is the case with the pre-employment screening process, this can include one or a combination of long and short-term testing methods.
Employees tend to have a bit of an advantage here, as the tests are done annually at an established time of year. Therefore, in the absence of long-term testing, preparation becomes possible.
Random Workplace Drug test
Again, this is an occupational safety mechanism to confirm the sobriety of employees. Of course, it removes the advantage of prep time that tends to be associated with the annual testing method.
That’s because there is no longer an established timeline for employees to work with. They may be aware that tests can be executed at random, but that’s all they would know.
Not only does this ad hoc timeline increase the potential of getting an accurate depiction of substance use patterns, but it also discourages employees who potentially would have otherwise been misusing drugs to avoid doing so.
The timelines here can vary, but the police’s intention is to have the testing done at a time most conducive to identifying drug use during the period being investigated.
Reference can be made to the breathalyzer example provided above. In this case, since blood alcohol content can normalize in a relatively short time, the police want to have the test done as soon as possible while allowing enough time to pass for the alcohol to permeate through the suspected person’s system.
Therefore, you may find that during a traffic stop involving a breathalyzer, there is a short wait period before the test is administered.
The timelines for a court case drug test can vary greatly, as it highly depends on the requirements established.
Matters do not go before the court immediately. Therefore, if a court is mandating a drug test, it’s usually done as soon as possible, using an appropriate method that would still be able to detect the misuse.
Alternatively, your attorney or the police may require that a drug test be done before the court case so the results can be used when required.
How Long Do Drugs Stay in My System?
There isn’t a universal answer to this question. For example, as indicated before, during single-use cases or those where a small number of drugs have been taken a couple of times, the follicle test would likely miss that activity altogether.
The point being made here is that the frequency and level of the misuse are big factors to consider. Additionally, the drug in question also matters since some, such as cannabis stick around longer, while codeine is in the system for a much shorter period.
For simplicity, the timelines given below are going to be based on blood and urine content only.
Cocaine will remain in the blood for up to two days, while it will stay in urine for three or four days.
Heroin only stays in the blood for around 12 hours but can remain in urine for three or four days.
Marijuana stays in the blood for a staggering two weeks and can linger in urine anywhere between seven and 30 days.
PCP can be detected in the blood for only one to four hours. In urine, it can stick around for between seven and 14 days.
Tricyclic antidepressants can remain in your blood for up to four days, while they can be found in your urine for up to seven days.
Benzodiazepines only stay in the blood for two or three days, while they can be detected in your urine for between three and six weeks.
Depending on the opiate, the time in the blood can be anywhere from six hours to three days. Urine presence can be from 24 hours to two weeks.
Barbiturates have a one to two-day blood presence and a two to four-day urine presence.
Methadone lingers in the blood for 24 to 36 hours and in the urine for three to four days.
Finally, methamphetamines stay for one to three days in the blood and three to six days in your urine. Make sure to read our page on passing a test for meth.
Common Method for Passing a Drug Test
The following is a look at some of the known methods people use to help them pass their drug tests.
The natural cleanse is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the process of allowing your body to naturally filter out whatever drug contents may have been present. The idea is to adjust your lifestyle and eating habits to facilitate the expulsion process.
To support and boost your body’s natural detoxification ability, you may be interested in using same-day detox drinks.
Apart from flushing things out, they can also give you a window where testing clean is more likely.
You should, however, be aware of the fact that detox drinks can also get rid of indicators in urine that are responsible for tests being considered genuine.
Detox kits are a better version of detox drinks in the sense that they purge the substance you want to get rid of without eliminating indicators that would constitute a genuine sample.
Additionally, they tremendously shorten the time it takes to adequately flush the system.
This is an incredibly delicate process, and as lab sophistication continues to improve, the sleight of hand necessary becomes that much harder to pull off.
As the name implies, the intention is to provide a non-human source of urine or at least one that’s not yours.
Home remedies are also often used, and include drinking apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, cranberry juice, etc.
Technically speaking, going this route doesn’t provide detoxification in the traditional sense. Instead, it hides or masks the actual amount of drug content in your system.
Now, you should be acutely aware of all the relevant drug testing principles from the information above. This includes what drug testing is, how it’s done when it’s done, why it’s done, and what people may do to try to guarantee clean results.