Drug testing has become more normalized over the past few years and tests are being conducted in hospitals, rehab facilities, schools and even workplaces. At-home drug tests are even available at local pharmacies for those that need them. No federal law prohibits the practice, so employers take advantage of the opportunity to test and check on their employees and provide a safe work environment. Because drug testing has become so prominent, it is important to understand the different aspects of drug tests such as how drugs tests work, what kind of tests there are, and how long certain drugs stay in your system.
Understanding how these tests work and the underlying nuances in how long drugs stay in the body’s system will help you to be more prepared for the next time you experience a drug test.
How Drug Tests Work
Obviously, each company and organization has their own policy regarding drug tests, some companies don’t drug test at all while others go about it periodically, randomly or during their pre-employment routine. Meanwhile hospitals and health facilities will conduct drug tests at their own discretion when they see fit, the case is similar and more frequent at rehabilitation facilities. Many drug tests aren’t testing for the actual drug in your system but rather the metabolite, or drug residues, the drug creates in your body as it goes through the metabolic process during the breakdown of the drug. How long this metabolite stays in your body depends on a number of things including what kind of drug is being used, how much of the substance was ingested and many other factors.
Types of Drug Tests
There are multiple options that organizations can choose from when deciding how they will go about the testing process. Each option changes how long drugs are able to be detected after substance use and how effective and reliable the results are.
A urine test seems to be the most common form of drug test by employers courts and law enforcement agencies. Over 9 million urine tests were conducted within the country’s workforce in 2015. One reason urine tests are so popular is because it is relatively simple, non-invasive, and quick. During the test, it is likely that you will be asked to use a specific bathroom and leave your belongings outside the restroom. A urine drug tests generally checks for amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, nicotine and alcohol. However, because of how quickly alcohol goes through the body, a urine test would need to be taken quickly after consumption to guarantee any type of accuracy.
Another drug test option your employer has is the saliva test. Similar to a urine test, saliva tests look for the parent compound of the drug you took. However, saliva tests are not as popular as others because it is mostly only good for recent drug use detection, only being able to test drug use over the past few days. Despite this, they are still used due, once again, to the non-invasive and simple method of the test requiring only a quick swab of the inside of the mouth using a pad or foam. It is also a fairly inexpensive test. Saliva tests are used to look for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines.
Although not used commonly in the workplace, blood test are the most effective way to detect concentration levels of drug and alcohol in the body. While it does take longer to develop than urine testing, it can determine how intoxicated the person being tested is. Despite being so effective, they aren’t used often because drugs in the blood have a detection period of less than 48 hours, except for THC and nicotine which can be detected many weeks after ingestion. Also, they are more complex and invasive than a simple urine or saliva test. Because of this, blood tests are commonly only performed in hospitals during toxicology reports.
A hair follicle drug test is one of the most effective for determining drug use over a long period of time. Analyzing hair follicles allows for testing of chemical traces of cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and methamphetamine's. Conducting a hair test for drugs requires a lab to test the newest 1.5 inches of growth in strands of hair. Each half inch of hair represents 30 days, therefore the test looks at the past 90 days. Drugs are first detectable in the hair just 4 to 5 days after ingestion and will remain until the hair is shed from the body. While drugs are able to be found a long time after use, hair tests are somewhat unreliable in the sense that it doesn’t show how much substance was consumed which other tests can show.
Breath Tests are another form of drug tests, however they are not normally used other than in police investigations, generally for roadside alcohol tests. Because, alcohol doesn’t last long in the body and other tests and can take too much time, a breathalyzer test can be used for determining if someone is under the influence of alcohol.
How Long Drugs Stay in Your System
While the type of drug test changes how far your employer can look back at your drug history, how long a drug stays in your body is mostly dependant on the drug being used as each drug has its timetable for how long it can stay in the body depending on half-life
Casual use of cocaine is normally only able to be detected a short time after ingestion, usually only about four days. However, addictive, chronic use of cocaine will increase detection range. Heavy binging can be detected up to 21 days after use in a urine test, while blood tests will only be able to detect the drug 48 hours after last use and it can be found in hair years after use has stopped.
LSD is not a drug that is thought about a lot during drug tests, mostly because the window that it is detectable is so small for most tests. However it can still show up on the results. Because the drug is excreted through urine, it is only detectable in a urine test five days after use. Meanwhile, a hair follicle test remains consistent as it can test up to 90 days. There are certain tests that can look at someone’s blood, urine and stomach content for LSD and its metabolites, however this would generally only be used in specific circumstances that call for it.
Urine tests are normally very accurate for looking at meth use, but with only a short window for detection, about five days. Methamphetamine metabolites stay in the body for up to four days and can be detected in saliva and blood for three days after use.
The length of time opiates stay in your body is entirely dependent on which opiate is being used. For instance, heroin can be detected by a urine test for up to seven days after use but a saliva test is only able to detect it for 5 hours after it has been taken. Morphine can be detected in blood tests only 12 hours after the last dose but is works for 3 days after for a urine test. Fentanyl, a newer, deadly opioid is starting to be tested for more often due to the harmful effects it has had on the country over the past few years. Urine tests can still spot fentanyl in the system three days after use while it is detectable in a blood test for two days. All opioids are detectable by hair follicle samples for up to 90 days.
Similar to cocaine, the amount of time marijuana is detectable in the body depends on if marijuana is being used chronically or casually. Casual cannabis use can be detected in the urine for up to five days while it can extend to several weeks for chronic use. Because the body stores THC in fat cells and releases them into your bloodstream slowly a blood test can detect marijuana in your system for up to 2 weeks.
Benzodiazepines are used as sedatives, some commonly used examples are xanax and valium. Benzodiazepines vary on how long they can show up in a drug test depending on which kind is taken. For example, xanax, a drug that has become more popular for recreational use over the past few years, may not show up in a blood, urine or hair test but if it does, the normal detection time is up to seven days after use. Meanwhile valium can show up in urine test up to six weeks after the last use, but remains in the blood for only a few days.
Used as a depressant for muscle relaxation, barbiturates, like Amytal and Butisol, are commonly prescribed for sleep and anxiety problems. While, like other drugs on this list, they are prescription drug, they are often abused and can lead to death. Barbiturate detection, like benzodiazepines, depends on the specific drug that is being used. Short-acting barbiturates are able to be detected up to six weeks after use while long-lasting drugs are able to be found three weeks after use.
Other Contributing Factors
The timeline that a drug stays in your body is not completely concrete as there are many other factors that can affect metabolism. One of the biggest influencers on the detection window of drugs is chronic use and addiction. People who suffer from addiction are likely to deal with a longer window in which they can test positive.
Physical shape also has an effect on how long drugs stay in your system due to the changes in the speed of metabolism. A fast metabolic rate, which is more common in those in better physical shape will decrease the detection time of drugs in your system, the opposite is true for those in worse physical condition and a slower metabolism rate. Age is another contributing factor. It is known that age can help to determine the speed of your metabolism.
Addiction and Drug Tests
As mentioned earlier, drug addiction can have a huge effect on how long drugs are able to be found in the body. Also, if someone who has or is suffering from substance abuse problems are going through the treatment process, they should be prepared to go through periodic drug tests to ensure that they are staying on the track to recovery.
While drug tests in rehabilitation centers are normal, so are relapses. According to the National Institutes of Health, between 40 to 60 percent of people who are seeking or have been through treatment experience relapse, which is comparable to the relapse rates of chronic illnesses such as asthma.
Periodic drug tests for those receiving treatment and those who have already gone through treatment may be effective in preventing a relapse as it holds patients accountable. The NIH, says that one of the principles for an effective treatment is monitoring drug use during the recovery process. Knowing that drug use is being monitored can be a powerful incentive for those in recovery and may help them withstand urges that they will go through. Drug testing provides early indication of drug use and potential full-blown relapses, it can also lead to an adjustment in an individual’s personal recovery plan.
Continuing drug testing after going through the initial recovery process may be beneficial for family members or friends who want to continue to care for their loved one’s well being.
Knowledge of drug tests come in handy for those seeking treatment from a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and for people on the path to recovery as they find a job. If you or a loved one is experiencing issues with drug/alcohol abuse it is important to reach out to someone to learn more about alcohol treatment or drug treatment options. If you would like more information about addiction counseling, rehab facilities, and information about treatment such as detoxes or inpatient and outpatient care, visit the Landmark Recovery website or give our staff a call.