Drug And Alcohol Test For Job Applicants And Employees

Pre-employment drug and alcohol testing is a mandatory formality for most job applicants. A positive test result could lead to the job offer being withdrawn.

Surprisingly, job consultancies and specialized clinics do good business with screening tests for alcohol and drugs.

Occasionally, employees have to undergo an alcohol or drug test in the workplace, following state laws and company policies.

You can find several types of employment drug tests conducted by employers for applicants and employees. These tests aim to verify the possible presence of drugs or alcohol in your system. Common tests include urine, blood, hair, breath, saliva, nails, or sweat.

Necessary Situations for Drug or Alcohol Screening

When do companies conduct drug or alcohol screenings?

  • Pre-Employment (prevent hiring individuals who illegally use drugs/alcohol)
  • Reasonable suspicion (when observable signs and symptoms of drug use are noticed)
  • Post-accident testing (determine the cause of the accident)
  • Random (an unannounced, unpredictable basis for treating employees)
  • Periodic (scheduled in advance and uniformly administered)
  • Return to duty (after a long leave or rehabilitation treatment)
  • Safety-sensitive workers must have the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) drug and alcohol tests,
  • Follow-up testing or post-rehabilitation testing
  • Other types of testing (including voluntary, probationary, pre-promotional, and return-after-illness testing)

Let us look at the key occasions employers use drug tests to screen employees and applicants.

1. Alcohol and drug screening during recruitment

You may have to undergo a drug test during the pre-employment selection process.

Most companies have a mandatory drug screening process in compliance with existing state laws. Please note that employee drug testing laws differ from state to state.

With growing incidences of workplace violence, companies have strict laws on drug and alcohol use by employees.

Established companies have well-established drug testing policies for job applicants.  They do not differentiate the applicants; they screen all or none.

2. Company policy on screening for drugs and alcohol

Companies do not want to have drug abusers on their payroll.

For this reason, most companies have framed policies that necessitate screening job applicants for drug abuse. Importantly, the company policy of testing for drug or alcohol use follows state laws.

3. State laws regarding workplace substance abuse

Companies have set policies for dealing with substance abuse by employees in the workplace. These policies follow the norms enshrined in federal and state laws.

The employer has the right to ban alcohol and drugs in the workplace. The employees may have to undergo drug tests when demanded by the company. Employees engaging in illegal drug abuse may get warned or sacked by the organization.

However, federal and state laws may protect dismissed employees for reasons such as discrimination and disabilities.

Types Of Alcohol And Drug Tests For Employment

Alcohol tests are a type of screening test used to measure how much alcohol is in your body.

The amount of alcohol and drugs can be detected in your system by testing different specimens from your body.  You may lose the offer of employment with a positive test. These specimens are breath, urine, saliva, blood, nails, and hair.

  • Blood drug and alcohol tests
  • Breath alcohol tests
  • Mouth swabs for drug and alcohol tests
  • Hair drug tests
  • Urine drug and alcohol tests

Blood test

A blood drug test is a commonly used drug screening method for new job applicants or employees. The blood test can detect blood alcohol content. This works best within 36 hours of the use of alcohol use.

A blood test can detect the illegal use of amphetamines, cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana, nicotine, opiates, and alcohol.

Urine test

Urine tests are the most common type of pre-employment drug test used by employers in the U.S.

Testing a urine sample for illegal use of alcohol or drugs is a usual screening test for job applicants or employees. EtG test is the most common alcohol urine test.

Urine analysis can detect the presence of metabolites of drugs and alcohol in the body. This test can identify drugs in the body for 3 to 6 days.

Usually, abused substances like methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, nicotine, opiates, and alcohol can be screened in a urine test.

Most organizations require a urine test as part of the pre-employment selection process. Companies may also randomly conduct a urine test for drugs on regular employees.

Hair test

Hair tests give the longest window for drug use. Depending on hair length, it can detect a history of drug abuse for up to 90 days.

It identifies past use rather than current impairment. Besides drugs, alcohol can also be detected in a hair follicle drug test.

A hair test can easily detect the person’s chronic substance abuse history for the past three months. This test can detect the presence of opiates, methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and phencyclidine.

Breath test

Mostly, the breath test is used to detect alcohol abuse. A breathalyzer, a type of breath testing device, measures the alcohol content in the breath and indicates blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

It is useful for measuring the current levels of impairment or intoxication. Generally, one ounce of alcohol stays in a person’s system for one hour. This testing method works 24 hours after the last drink, depending on the alcohol consumed. It usually works for less than 10 hours after the person has had the last drink.

Mouth swab test

A saliva or mouth swab test involves the collection of oral fluid and detecting alcohol or drug metabolites present in it.

The saliva test can indicate substance or alcohol abuse for up to one or two days.

Saliva is easy to collect and test, so it is one of the least invasive types of drug testing. It is widely utilized in job applicant screening or random drug tests for employees.

What Is Wrong With Drug Testing?

The practice of workplace drug testing has been in existence for many decades. Unfortunately, it remains a controversial issue for many businesses and organizations.

There is no doubt that drug testing for employees has advantages and disadvantages. Let us look at some of the disadvantages of such tests.

Privacy violations

Urine tests for drug screening can intrude on intimate bodily privacy.

Most employees in an organization are right-minded people with healthy lifestyle habits. Mass drug screening violates the privacy of the majority of responsible employees.


Drug tests may not give accurate results every time.

Past surveys of testing labs have shown substantial error rates due to poor quality control. Mass drug screening tests are prone to errors because of the hectic workload of testing professionals.

‘False positives’ from drug tests mean that many workers will be falsely accused of drug abuse.

Poor efficacy of tests

Some drug tests are ineffective and unsafe at improving workplace safety and productivity through drug screening. Studies suggest that drug-positive workers are just as reliable as others.

Medical experts opine that drug tests are inherently unreliable indicators of drug impairment.

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