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What Is A Drug Test? Definition, Types, and Why They Happen

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You may do all the hard work.

Put in the time to get to where you want to be.

But all that effort can crumble into the dust when you fail a drug test.

As Marijuana becomes legal in many states, there has been a steady rise in Americans failing a drug test, prompting employers to turn to refugees to fill in the void.

We understand you can be reluctant or scared to do a drug test, especially if you’re a felon or this is your first time.

Whether your potential employer requires you to take a drug test or you want to stay informed, this article breaks down all you need to know to have a successful career.


What is a Drug Test?

A drug test is a procedure to check for banned or illegal substances in the body.

The drug testing may target your hair, sweat, blood, urine, saliva, or breath.

Different Types of Drug Tests

There are many drug test types for different parts of the body.

Each of these tests has different accuracy levels.

The accuracy of a drug test depends on the drug type you consume, your body type, and the length of time since the consumption.

 Other factors include your overall health and whether you have other prescription medications in your system.

Let’s look at these drug tests and what they mean for you.

Urine Drug Test

One of the most common drug testing types because of its high accuracy is a urine drug screening.

Besides, this drug test is cheap and noninvasive.

It is suitable for workplace drug testing, particularly for employers looking to hire new workers.

Urine screening is ideal for probation officers conducting random drug testing to ensure the paroled person stays clean.

The urine test looks for metabolites in the urine content.

These metabolites may change if a person takes drugs.

A urine drug test is accurate enough to detect illegal drug use several days away.

This accuracy also depends on the substance and quantity you ingest.

Hair Testing

Hair testing isn’t as standard as urine testing because it’s not as affordable as the latter.

The test requires a single hair strand and is often conducted under the supervision of a medical review officer.

Urine tests can detect drug use after a few days, but hair drug testing is more accurate.

It can detect drug presence, including substance abuse, after 90 days.

Oral Fluid Drug Test

Oral Fluid or saliva drug testing is less common than urine tests but more common than hair testing.

It is not as invasive than a urine drug screen because you only need to spit to carry out this test.

While saliva testing can be accurate, the drawback is it’s only valid for some 6 – 24 hours, which doesn’t make it a suitable choice for most situations.

Breath Test

Breath drug testing uses a breathalyzer to detect the presence of substances like illicit drugs or alcohol in your bloodstream.

For instance, if someone you know is arrested for driving while intoxicated or under the influence, there’s a good chance that person failed a breathalyzer test.

Law enforcement uses Breathalyzers, and they are often accurate enough to detect alcohol or drugs in the system, but it isn’t bulletproof.

The drawback with this test is the 0.1% margin of error.

Moreover, the breathalyzer can only detect alcohol at that moment.

You cannot use this test to determine if someone was drunk last night or high from some other drug.

Sweat Drug Screen

Sweat drug screening or patch drug testing is unique testing and one of the few ways to monitor drug consumption continuously.

An advantage of this drug screening is its ability to deter potential drug abuse.

This factor makes sweat drug screening a suitable option for people prone to drug use.

Some advantages of a sweat drug screen include:

  • Continuous monitoring: You can continue detecting drugs in the person’s bloodstream.
  • Tamper-proof: A certified collector has to remove the patch for the test to be valid.
  • Not easy to adulterate: Unlike other testing types, there isn’t any known way to fake a sweat test which makes it impossible to alter the results
  •  Accurate: Sweat is a highly reliable way to confirm the presence of many controlled substance types and synthetic cannabinoids like methamphetamines, PCP, opiates, heroin, and cocaine.

What Are Drug Tests Used For?

Workplaces and government agencies use drug screening to determine if a person has recently taken an illicit drug.

These drug tests can come in handy in the following situations:

What is a Pre-employment drug test?

Your employer can test you for drugs before taking you on, and they may also continue to test you on the job for controlled substance use.

The Legality of Employee Drug Testing

Although the procedures may vary, state law generally permits employers to conduct a drug test for applicants.

However, there are state rules the employer must follow to prevent cases of discrimination or inaccurate samples.

Some of these guidelines include:

  • The applicant is aware that the drug test is mandatory for new employees as part of the screening process.
  • The applicant has received the job offer on the condition of passing a drug test.
  • All applicants must pass the same test.
  • A national Institute or State-certified lab must conduct the test.

Drug Testing Current Employees

Some legal hurdles prevent employers from conducting drug tests on current workers.

For instance, some states do not allow private companies to carry out random drug tests.

The test must focus on a single person.

Either because there’s reasonable suspicion the individual is on illicit drug use or because there’s a high injury risk or liability if the individual’s job is performed under the influence.

The general view of the Courts is that private workplaces may conduct a drug test on an employee after an accident.

The accident may result from drug abuse or a situation where the employee seems to be under the influence.

For instance, a crane operator who dangerously swings the hook can be a drug testing target.

What Happens During a Drug Test?

Because urine tests are the most common, we are going to use this drug test to provide the steps below:

  • Wish your hands with soap and water to avoid contaminating the batch
  • Use a cleansing towel to wipe your genitalia. If you’re a man, wipe your penis tip and if you’re a woman, wipe your labia from front to back.
  • Aim your urine flow into the toilet bowl
  • Catch the urine with the collection container
  • Collect the required ounces as indicated on the collection container
  • Finish using the toilet
  • Return the sample to the medical review officer

A medical review officer may be on hand as you provide the urine drug test sample.

If you’re undergoing a blood drug test, a healthcare professional will take a blood sample off your arm with a needle.

Urine Drug Test Limits

While urine testing can detect illegal drug use, the test does have some limitations that include:

  • False Positives: The urine test is not 100% accurate. Sometimes urine drug testing can detect drugs you did not take. The error can be from prescription drugs or foods you have eaten.
  • Short Window: Urine tests are not as practical when you take them more than 21 days after the incident.
  • Workplace culture: Sometimes, people prefer not to work for employees who conduct random drug tests or drug test screenings. An employee with a positive result may still perform just as well or even better than another employee with a negative test.

What to do Before a Drug Test

We recommend that you take more water to provide a sufficient urine test sample.

However, taking too many fluids can cause a false positive or inaccurate result.

Will I Need to Do Anything to Prepare for the Test?

Ensure you inform the drug test collector of any prescription medication you are taking before submitting your drug test sample.

If you are testing for opioids, avoid eating poppy seed foods to prevent a positive result.

Are there any risks to Drug Tests?

No matter how accurate they may be, drug testing can turn out a false-positive result.

This result can make you lose your job, cut short your sporting career, or lose a court case.

Make sure you know the purpose of the test, the reason, and how they plan to use your result.

Factors That Determine How Long Drugs Stay in Your System

Many factors determine how long a drug can stay in your system, as seen below:

  • Drug Type: Different drugs have various metabolic rates. While some are absorbed quickly, others take the body a long time to get rid of.
  • Drug Amount: The quantity also plays a role. If you take a drug in large doses, it will take longer for the body to absorb the substance.
  • Half-life: A drug’s half-life is the time length for the drug’s active ingredients to reduce by half in your system. Some drugs stay in the body for days, while others present weeks later.
  • Body Mass: People with a higher body mass tend to retain drugs longer in their bodies because the fatty tissues in the body absorb some drugs.
  • Metabolic Rate: Some people have a higher metabolic rate than others, depending on their overall health and age. The higher the metabolic rate, the quicker your system gets rid of the drugs.

How Long Does Marijuana Stay in Your System?

Any drug screening can confirm the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the blood, hair, and urine between a few hours up to several days.

THC binds to body fat which also increases the time length to rid the body of the compound.

The marijuana detection window is as follows:

  • Urine test – 3 to 30 days
  • Saliva test – 24 to 72 hours
  • Hair test – 90 days
  • Blood – 3 to 72 hours

How Long Does Synthetic Marijuana Stay in Your System?

Synthetic Marijuana or fake weedis an artificial chemical added to grounded plant material for use with an e-cigarette.

There isn’t any regulation for these products, making them dangerous to your health.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse classifies synthetic cannabinoids as a new psychoactive substance (NPS) because they have similar effects on the brain like THC.

The synthetic marijuana detection window is as follows:

  • Urine Test: 72 hours
  • Hair Test: 90 days
  • Blood Test: 48 hours
  • Saliva Test: 48 hours

How Long Do Hallucinogens Stay in Your System?

Illegal drugs like hallucinogens can mess with your senses and make you hear, feel or see things that aren’t present.

These drugs can affect your mood and thoughts and be plant-based or synthetic.

The detection window of some common hallucinogens includes:

Magic Mushrooms

  • Urine Test: 24 hours
  • Hair Test: 90 days
  • Blood Test: 24 hours


  • Urine Test: 4 days
  • Hair Test: 90 days
  •  Blood Test: 12 hours

How Long Do Benzodiazepines Stay in Your System?

Benzodiazepines are used for anxiety relief and insomnia.

However, it also works well for other medical conditions.

They interact with the brain’s neurotransmitters to suppress excessive nerve activity.

Valium, Klonopin, and Xanax are common benzodiazepines.

 It isn’t uncommon for this sedative to stay in your body for a long while.

Benzodiazepines have the following detection window:


  • Urine Test: 6 weeks
  • Hair Test: 6 weeks
  • Blood Test: 48 hours
  •  Saliva Test: 10 days


  • Urine Test: 4 days
  • Hair Test: 90 days
  • Blood Test: 24 hours
  • Saliva Test: 2 days

How Long Do Opioid Drugs Stay in Your System?

Opioids belong under a drug class that provides pain.

These drugs interact with the central nervous system and can have severe side effects when you abuse them.

They include heroin, codeine, fentanyl, and morphine.

Illegal drugs like Heroin have the following detection window:

  • Urine Test: 3 days
  • Hair Test: 90 days
  • Blood Test: 6 hours
  •  Saliva Test: 1 hour

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have further questions, here are the answers to some FAQs.

Can you still get hired if you fail a drug test?

In many instances, if you don’t pass your pre-employment drug screening, you won’t be considered for the job.

If you fail a drug test as a current employee, your employer may refer you for treatment and suspend or fire you.

How do I know if I passed my drug test?

If you take a 10-panel drug test, you can expect your result to arrive by mail.

This test detects five common prescription medications in the US and five common illicit drugs.

Some of these drugs include:

  • PCP
  • Amphetamines
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Barbiturates
  • Methadone
  • Propoxyphene
  • Quaaludes
  • Opiates
  •  Benzodiazepines

What Drugs Cannot be Tested for?

Psychedelic drugs are challenging to detect on a 10-panel drug test, and you would hardly find them in a urine drug screening.

These drugs include:

  • LSD
  • DMT
  • Mescaline
  • Peyote

Although the process to test these drugs may be time-consuming and expensive, it is easy to know if an individual is abusing these illicit drugs.

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Wrapping Up

It’s essential to know the options available to you if you’re given a job on the condition of passing a drug test.

Different drug types stay in your system for different durations.

Before submitting your sample, you should let the sample collector know what prescription drugs you’re taking.

It’s not the end of the road if you fail your workplace drug test, and you can count on us to get you employed again.

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