Drug Testing: Different Types Of Drug Tests

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on October 26, 2020

Drug tests can be used for a variety of different reasons such as starting a new job or athletic organizations checking players for illegal substances. While many may feel that drug tests are inconvenient, they can help promote a safe and productive environment.

Drug Testing - Different Types Of Drug Tests

Addiction can affect anyone. It doesn’t care if you’re a doctor, a teacher, a construction worker, or a receptionist; no one is immune. That being said, addiction is treatable, and it can be managed.

While drug tests can seem like a pain, they do help give a frame of reference regarding your usage. Knowing that you have a test to pass, you are driven to better hold yourself accountable.
When you consistently hold yourself accountable by sticking to the goal of passing the test, you’ll wake up one day to realize that you’ve gone a long time without substance use. It is possible to break the cycle.

Every day, thousands of people take the first step to recovery. You can too, and drug tests may be able to help you stay on the path of addiction recovery. There are many types of drug tests, so here’s an overview of the most common drug tests and the purposes for which they’re used.

What Is The Purpose Of Drug Testing?

So what are drug tests used for? Businesses, governments, and organizations use drug tests for a variety of purposes. Jobs related to machinery or vehicle operation almost universally require drug tests.

The intent of drug testing is to ensure a safe working environment while also protecting capital. Parolees are almost always drug tested for a certain amount of time upon release from jail or prison.

Drug tests can come at any time (randomized drug testing), and failure of a drug test could warrant immediate incarceration. Athletic organizations make competitors submit to tests in an effort to deter the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Many government jobs and private jobs give drug tests under the notion that spending their time and resources in this manner will ultimately increase workplace productivity.

The effectiveness of this practice is dubious at best, but it does work to marginalize a significant segment of the population. Sadly, addicted individuals are still demonized by a society that considers addiction a repeated poor choice, not a mental health disorder.

The morality and efficacy of drug testing aside, workplace testing is very commonplace. In fact, 36 percent of U.S. workplaces tested their employees as of 2011. It is very likely that any given person will be subject to a workplace drug test at some point in their life.

Further, many drug rehab centers use drug testing to help recovering individuals stay sober. Submitting to both regular and randomized drug testing helps ensure recovering individuals remain true to recovery goals, ultimately aiding in a substance-free life.

Different Types Of Drug Tests

There are many different types of drug tests. Some are more efficient and effective than others, but all can produce an overview of the substances within a person’s body.

Mouth-Swab/Saliva-Analysis Drug Testing

Saliva drug testing works by swabbing the mouth with a cotton or foam pad. Saliva tests have their limitations. In order for a substance to be detected by a mouth swab, the substance must have been ingested very recently, usually within a few hours of the test.

Saliva testing is most often used on parolees to test for alcohol and marijuana use, although it can be used to detect other substances. Different brands of saliva test kits detect certain substances with varying degrees of accuracy.

Mouth swab tests have a couple of advantages; they’re quick, easy, and non-invasive. The drawbacks include a limited window of detection time and questionable accuracy.

Urinalysis Drug Testing

Urinalysis is by far one of the most common drug tests. Also known as “pee tests,” these tests work by measuring the presence of by-products that are produced when a drug is metabolized. Urinalysis is often used by drug rehab centers as a quick way to indicate substance use.

Substances are metabolized at different rates, so they release by-products at different rates. While the high may be over quickly with THC, its metabolites are stored in body fat so they release much more slowly than other substances.

It can take up to a month after use for THC to no longer be traceable via urine testing. Most stimulants and opiates take no more than five days to become untraceable by this test. Barbiturates and benzodiazepines have a window of detection of up to a week.

“System-flush kits” are marketed as a method to hasten the expulsion of drug by-products from the body, but these claims are not scientifically unsubstantiated.

Don’t rely on a flush kit to pass a urine test. Some tests are supervised, so it is not advised to try to use someone else’s urine for the test. Using someone else’s urine could be considered fraud when testing for a job or when on parole and warrant strict penalties.

Hair Follicle Drug Testing

Trace elements of most substances can be found in human hair. Habits of use can be determined by analyzing concentrations of substances and their by-products on different parts of a strand of hair.

These tests can better determine long-term drug use than other kinds of tests. False positives are more common with hair follicle testing than they are with others. Likewise, hair tests are much less effective at detecting recent use.

Any kind of smoke can easily stick to hair. If you happen to walk through a place where someone just smoked crystal meth, then it could very well show up on a hair test even if you’ve never used that substance in your life!

They’ll usually pluck more than one hair in an effort to avoid this, but even that’s not fool-proof. It may seem like a good idea to shave all your hair to avoid detection. This won’t work. Hair from places other than the head can be used.

Blood Testing For Drugs And Alcohol

Blood tests are most useful for medical responders or after accidents in general. Results can be assessed very quickly, and they can be done even if an individual is unconscious or deceased.

As these tests have a very narrow detection window, they are not often used in circumstances other than those already mentioned.

Sweat Drug Testing

The sweat test is a rather new for drug testing. A patch is placed on the arm for a period of up to two weeks. During this time, the patch accumulates sweat.

Substances and their by-products can be detected upon removal and lab analysis. Some courts and outpatient facilities may order sweat patch testing as a means to more accurately test for substance use over a longer period of time.

The sweat test is also intended as a constant deterrent, as it is harder to “cheat” on a sweat test than a urine test, and labs can detect if the patch has been removed or adulterated.

Do At-Home Kits Work For Drug Testing?

It’s hard to say. There are many at-home test kits out there, all of which have their own features, methods, and quality. They may help give an idea of an individual’s substance use, but you may not pass a professional drug test just because you passed an at-home test.

It is almost certain that the at-home drug test kit is less accurate than a legitimate medical-grade drug test kit. Professional drug testing is done in a controlled environment, and the people who analyze the results are professionals in their field.

A typical individual with an at-home drug test kit does not have the proper credentials or equipment to accurately judge a home-based test.

How To Get Help If You’re Struggling With Addiction

Addiction isn’t easy. You’re not a bad person for struggling with addiction. Millions of people suffer from addiction at any given time. You are not alone, not by a long shot.

Like any disease, addiction should be treated. Addiction can have an array of negative consequences. Your job, your health, your happiness, your family, your wellbeing — addiction can take it all away at any time.

There are plenty of treatment options. Inpatient rehab programs, drug counseling, support groups, and medical intervention are all great ways to treat and manage addiction.

If you are struggling to pass drug tests and continue to relapse, our treatment specialists can help you find the right rehab program and enter recovery. Overcoming addiction is not easy, but you can do it if you find the help you need.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on October 26, 2020

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