What are the Different Types of Drug Tests?

Sadie . March 2, 2024

Drug testing is a crucial component of many industries, including healthcare, transportation, and law enforcement. It is used to detect the presence of drugs or their metabolites in a person’s system. Employers and authorities can ensure safety, maintain productivity, and prevent drug-related incidents by conducting drug tests. There are various types of drug tests available, each with its own advantages and limitations. This article will explore the different types of drug tests, the substances they can identify, and their accuracy.

Types of Drug Tests and Typical Screened Drugs

Drug tests detect particular substances and ascertain their existence in an individual’s body. The primary types of drug tests are urine, hair, and oral fluid.

Urine Testing

Urine testing, also refer as urinalysis, is the most common and least invasive type of drug test. It is widely used for federally mandated drug screening. Urine tests detect the presence of metabolites, which are trace residues left in the body even after the effects of drug use have worn off. It’s important to note that a positive result does not necessarily indicate current intoxication but suggests previous drug use.

Hair Testing

Hair testing is renowned for its high reliability among drug tests, primarily due to its cheat-proof nature. It has a longer detection window compared to other tests, as it can identify substances up to 90 days after use. Hair tests can detect repeat drug use and provide detailed information about the types of drugs used, duration of use, and the timeline of drug cessation. Hair tests are unable to be influenced by bleaches or dyes, making them difficult to manipulate.

Oral Fluid Testing

Oral fluid testing, also known as saliva testing or mouth swab testing, is a cost-effective and convenient drug testing method. It can be collected on-site and provides a shorter detection window than urine or hair tests. Oral fluid tests can detect drug usage within minutes to 48 hours before collection. They are particularly efficient in identifying recent drug use.

The most commonly screened drugs in these tests include marijuana/THC, cocaine, amphetamines (including MDMA and methamphetamine), opiates (including heroin and prescription opioids), and phencyclidine (PCP).

Other Types of Drug Tests

Apart from the commonly used tests mentioned above, employers may consider a few other types of drug tests, depending on their specific needs.

Breath Alcohol Testing

Breath alcohol testing is primarily used to measure an individual’s level of intoxication at the time of testing. It is commonly used in workplaces where employees operate vehicles or machinery. Breathalyzers can detect alcohol consumption up to twelve hours after the consumption of a single drink.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can be capable of testing for both alcohol and illicit drugs. However, they are more invasive and expensive compared to other drug tests, making them less commonly used. Blood tests can only detect substances that are present in the bloodstream at the time of testing.

Why Employers Conduct Drug Tests

Employers have several reasons for implementing drug testing policies in their organizations. Alcohol and drug abuse can pose significant health and safety hazards, leading to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and potential workplace accidents. Some common reasons for conducting drug tests include:

  • Limiting the employment of individuals with alcohol or drug dependencies
  • Ensuring a secure working environment for every employee
  • Reducing absenteeism and lateness
  • Lowering the risk of workplace accidents
  • Protecting business partners and the general public
  • Identifying employees who need assistance with drug/alcohol problems
  • Maintaining high productivity and employee morale
  • Reducing healthcare expenses and short-term disability filings
  • Adhering to local, state, and federal laws and regulations
  • Benefiting from Workers’ Compensation Premium Discount programs

Drug testing helps organizations meet their business objectives, mitigate risks, and create a safe workplace for their employees.

How Drug Tests are Conducted and Their Reliability

Different drug tests demand specific collection methods and protocols to guarantee the accuracy and dependability of the outcomes. Preserving the samples’ integrity and averting tampering or substitution is vital in drug testing.

Urine samples are commonly collected in bathroom stalls, with various measures taken to prevent tampering. These measures may include using specific stalls, adding dye to the toilet water, or turning off the water supply. Test administrators may also provide special instructions to the tested individuals, such as avoiding excessive water intake or urinating for a specific period before the test.

Other types of drug tests, like hair testing and oral fluid testing, require smaller samples and can be collected under direct supervision. Strict protocols are followed to maintain the chain of custody and prevent any interference with the samples. Splitting the samples and performing multiple tests, including confirmation tests, are common practices to ensure the accuracy of the results.

While drug tests are generally reliable, no test is 100% foolproof. False positives and false negatives are potential occurrences, with false negatives being more prevalent. Factors like the timing of sample collection and individual differences can affect the accuracy of the results.

In the case of a positive result, a licensed physician specializing in substance abuse will review the results to ensure adherence to proper procedures. If the positive result is due to a prescribed medication taken at the recommended dosage and under the supervision of a licensed physician, the test is considered negative.

When Drug Tests are Conducted

Employers may conduct drug tests in various scenarios, depending on their policies and specific needs. The types of drug tests used may vary based on the purpose of the test.

Pre-Employment Drug Testing

Pre-employment drug testing is often conducted to meet business objectives, mitigate risks, and ensure safety in the workplace. In some sectors, such as transportation, pre-employment drug testing is mandatory. Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations mandate that all newly hired employees must receive a negative drug test result prior to beginning their job responsibilities.

Post-Accident Drug Testing

If an employee is involved in or is the cause of an accident, employers may need a drug and alcohol test for the involved employee. This is particularly common in industries where safety is a significant concern or when injuries or fatalities occur.

Random Drug Testing

Some companies implement random drug testing programs to ensure a drug-free workplace. The selection process for random testing must be free from bias or discrimination. Managers can request a test following observed behavior, but there must be justifiable cause. Testing employees based on protected characteristics like age, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation could result in discrimination allegations.

Periodic Drug Testing

Periodic drug testing is scheduled and conducted regularly throughout the year. It can be part of an employee’s annual physical examination or may be required when an employee transfers to a different department or assumes a new role.

Return-to-Duty Drug Testing

After a previous violation, employees may be required to undergo drug testing until they are deemed fit to return to their duties.

Reasonable Suspicion Drug Testing

Employers have the authority to ask for drug testing if an employee exhibits noticeable signs of intoxication or initial indications of substance misuse. Such indicators could encompass speech impairment, lack of coordination, profuse sweating, alcohol odor, visible needle marks, alterations in demeanor, mood fluctuations, erratic conduct, withdrawal from social interactions, complaints from coworkers or clients, frequent lateness, or reduced productivity.

Is Drug Testing Legal?

There is no federal ban on employer drug testing. However, states and localities may govern the types of drug tests employers can mandate and limit the positions subject to testing. It’s the employer’s duty, with legal counsel’s guidance, to establish a drug testing policy adhering to relevant federal, state, and local laws.

Who Pays for Drug Testing?

Employers typically cover the cost of drug testing. According to the (FLSA) federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employees’ time to undergo drug testing is classified as compensable working hours.

Who Can See the Results of a Drug Test?

Drug and alcohol testing results are subject to privacy protections. Employers might ask employees to sign a release permitting them to access the results. Employers should seek guidance from legal experts to ensure their drug testing policies align with relevant privacy laws.

Looking for Reliable Drug Testing Solutions?

Ensure a safe and productive work environment with our comprehensive drug testing solutions at Vertical Identity. Whether you need pre-employment screenings, post-accident tests, random testing programs, or reasonable suspicion testing, we’ve got you covered.

Our state-of-the-art drug testing methods, including urine, hair, oral fluid, breath alcohol, and blood tests, offer accurate and timely results. With our cheat-proof testing procedures and adherence to strict protocols, you can trust the integrity of our testing process.

Protect your business, employees, and customers from the risks associated with substance abuse. Partner with Vertical Identity for reliable drug testing services tailored to your organization’s needs.


With our simple 3-step process, you’ll be quickly and affordably screening in minutes!