When to Undertake Drug and Alcohol Testing

Drug use in American workplaces has been a hot topic for several decades, and a lot of people would like to know how to undertake drug and alcohol tests. Some organizations designate a manager to ensure the quality of collected workplace drug and alcohol policy samples. At the same time, they also monitor if the employees are following the guidelines correctly.

Drug use is changing, and so are testing methods. You’d have to figure out what strategy ensures that you’re looking in the right direction. Also, employers would like to know how they can implement drug and alcohol testing most effectively. This way, they can increase their productivity levels and keep their earning capacity at its optimum.

What drug groups do you test? How do you use the result in the company’s human resources aspect? Let’s talk about the most essential things when undertaking a standard drug and or online alcohol test. Also, the drug testing process is surrounded by a great number of myths. You can read about it at first at FMA Health.

Drug & Alcohol Use in America

You’ll need to understand the numerical realities of drug use in the states to forge your testing strategy. Although the outlook doesn’t look favorable, companies can use the information to optimize their hiring process for better talent discovery.
Substance or drug abuse disorder has been on the rise, with the statistics pegging the number of American adults affected in 2017 at 19.7 million. Furthermore, 74% of that number also struggled with alcohol use disorder in the same period.
Expectedly, drug use and abuse take their toll on the personal front, with about 8.5 million American adults suffering from a mental disorder derived from substance use. Some of them have co-occurring conditions as a result.
The much broader effect begins to unfold when considering the economic impact in numbers. Statistics show that American cities lose $740 billion YoY (Year-on-Year) to high healthcare expenses and low workplace productivity.

Drug Screening Test Occasions: When should You Drug Test?

Workplace drug testing is not as straightforward as it seems, and employers have to contend with either testing before or after a hiring process. Such kinds of tests is often instant. However, identifying the correct times to implement alcohol and drug testing in the workplace has long-term cost-saving implications. Below are some of the circumstances in which companies can require a drug test from their employees:

During a Hiring/Onboarding Process

One of the first points where organizations require a drug test is when it’s hiring new talents. It follows since it’s pertinent that you know about the applicants’ background. In addition, drug tests at the pre-employment stage prevent you from employing individuals who have illicitly used drugs in the past.
Typically, companies include it in their employment conditions, and talents who agree to them would have to provide a negative test result.

At Random Times

Requiring drug tests at random is one way to ensure employees remain clean while at work. It is often unpredictable and unexpected, making it more of a deterrent for the workers. Random drug testing requires a testing pool in which you feed the employees’ details such as SSN (Social Security Number) and Employee number.
Candidates get picked by a computer-generated, scientifically arbitrary process. Each employee in the company maintains an equal chance of getting determined by the process at any given time. It means that the person can get picked, even when they got recently tested.
Realistically, employee evaluation and random drug testing at work are your rights as the company’s manager. However, it is often a final measure to ensure that the workforce maintains sobriety without devising workarounds around the system.

When an Employee Returns to Work

Generally, companies ask for a one-time drug and alcohol test when an employee gets back from a protracted absence. This is to quickly get back to their work sections in the organizations to ensure that they can maintain their sobriety. Also, they require the test from an individual who previously tested positive and has completed the necessary therapy and treatment.

On Grounds for Reasonable Suspicion

If you have cause to believe an individual uses drugs at the workplace, you can request a drug test. Also known as “probable-cause” tests, these tests are often a result of a supervisor’s careful behavioral evaluation over a given period.
This type of drug test is specific. Therefore, it is expedient to have clear definitions of what qualifies as a suspicious drug-related event with the person.
Also, the tests are at the management’s discretion, and the recommendation is for the employee to stay away from work during the test process and associated investigations.

How should you conduct testing?

The suspected substance often determines how you would be conducting the drug test. Generally, most people utilize the urine alcohol test. This is because urine is a medium in which you can find traces of most illicit drugs.
However, you can also collect samples from other areas in the subject’s body. Hair samples are typical since they allow the examiner to detect drug particulates used much later. Alcohol testing can do with breath tests in some cases as well.
Also, the breath test is an excellent place to begin, especially when you’re not sure what type of drug alcohol is on the panel guidelines. The results won’t affect the other sensitive parameters for the test.

What Drug Groups Should You Include in Your Testing?

Implementing a drug screening test often contributes to the checks and balances you have in place for individuals at work. However, what drug types do you check in each process? Several substances constitute illegal drug use, and thankfully, they exist in their respective groups. Below are some of the popular drug groups you should consider:

  1. Amphetamines
    Amphetamines are one of the most common illicit drug groups. They are synthetic, and individuals use them as a stimulant. Another amphetamine’s main feature is that it alters the mood, giving you a feeling of “high.”
    Some of the drugs under the group include Meth, Speed, and Ecstasy. Recently, people also illicitly use Crank.
  2. Opiates
    This is another drug group with substances that people abuse. It works oppositely as Amphetamines by being a depressant. Opiates induce sleep and relieve pain by binding to the opioid receptors in the central nervous system in the body.
    Medically, opiates also work as an analgesic agent. Some of the most common opiates are morphine, opium, and heroin.
  3. THC
    THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is a drug group derived from the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Expectedly, all substances classified under THC are derivatives of cannabis. Individuals take THC due to its cheap psychological effects. Some notable examples under the drug group include hash, cannabis, and marijuana.

Overall, the management gets to decide what drugs they’d test in their workforce. The testing range is much more extensive for higher positions in the company and sometimes includes prescribed therapeutic drugs.
You can test for the drug group intersections using the “panel” methods such as the 10-panel and 8-panel testing.

Alcohol Testing: Urine Alcohol Test

Before getting into the more extensive drug tests, organizations can ask for an alcohol test. This is because it is a cheaper test, and drunk driving cases are more common. One standard alcohol test method is using the Breathalyzer, which is used to check for alcohol use in a suspected person.
This shows accurate results for more extended periods as well. However, Breathalyzer isn’t very precise, even when it gives a much faster result. You’ll need to carry out a blood alcohol test to measure the alcohol levels in the subject’s blood accurately.

What Can You Use Different Drug and Alcohol Test Results for?

Given that drug and substance abuse has been at the forefront of negative economic impact, companies and the government often use drug test results in various sectors to improve the workplace and economic efficiency. Some of the primary uses for the different drug testing methods include:

State and Federal Regulations

Inferences and results from most drug tests would serve to show compliance with existing state laws and federal regulations. Generally, these regulations aim to ensure that an individual can maintain personal and public safety.

Benefits and Compensation Calculation

You can also use drug tests to calculate the benefits and discounts accrued to a worker. For example, the WCPD (Workers’ Compensation Premium Discount) programs require a drug test result to apply the benefits to the workers’ compensation insurance.

Companies have a role to play in tackling the rising issues with drug-related diseases and addictions. Therefore, you can use drug tests to identify, evaluate, refer and treat drug use cases within the workforce and the hiring process.

Choosing a Place for your Drug Testing

Organizations conveniently carry out most drug tests at the workplace or a health unit within the company. However, there are other places you can use, depending on the tested employee and the collected samples’ safety.
It’s best to send the samples to a certified lab under the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) guidelines. This is because the test’s accuracy is higher at the lab due to the 4-step testing process they use.
If you would be carrying out a workplace drug test, you can put some measures in place so that individuals don’t tamper with the samples. For example, adding blue dye to the toilet’s water supply and turning off the water mains are some of the common steps to deter people from figuring out how to pass a urine drug test in 24 hours by diluting their urine samples.

Guidance on Current Lead Times for Standard Drug Testing

You must understand that drugs have different variables that affect their concentration in the body and their traceability. Some of the factors include:

  • Use Frequency
  • Administration Route
  • Hydration and Fluid Balance
  • Drug Half-Life

These factors also affect how long the drug stays in the system. Typically, drugs remain for about 2 to 4 days before they become undetectable in the body. However, they may last up to a month if the person is a chronic user. Drugs such as Diazepam may stay in the body for much longer, as they have a longer half-life than most other substances.

Below is a table by FMAHealth showing the lead times you can expect with the different drug groups that you can test:

SubstanceDetection Window
Opiates1 to 3 Days
Amphetamines2 Days
CannabisOne week to 30 Days
Barbiturates2 to 15 Days
Methaqualone10 to 15 Days
Phencyclidine8 Days
Methadone2 to 7 Days

The detection window only shows the average time for each of the drugs. However, detection time could be longer – notably for cannabis – as they can build up in the fatty cells in the body.


  • Carolyn Gaughan

    Carolyn Gaughan is an ex-executive vice president of the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians and represents the state associations of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians.