Drug and Alcohol Test: Overview, Types & Application
19 July, 2023
Drug and alcohol abuse is a significant concern, both in personal and professional settings. To ensure a safe and healthy environment, many companies require potential and current employees to undergo a drug and alcohol test. This procedure detects prohibited substances in the system. It can be done through urine, oral fluid, breath, and blood analysis. Moreover, the workplace process involves collecting samples, sending them to a certified lab, and confirming the results.
Substance impairment is a major hazard in the workplace. It affects a person’s mental and physical abilities, especially when performing duties that require attention and a steady hand. Hence, it is important to detect the presence of alcohol or drugs before employees start working. There are various methods and protocols to conduct these tests. The following sections will give an overview of workplace testing, types of test methods, and procedures for implementation.
Definition of Drug and Alcohol Tests
A drug and alcohol test is a screening process to determine the presence of alcohol or illicit drugs. These substances interact with the functions of the nervous system and can cause impairment. When taken long-term and in immoderate amounts, they may lead to addiction and other health problems. In addition, it takes a certain amount of time before the body can eliminate them.
When the body processes drugs or alcohol, it produces byproducts called metabolites. They absorb in the bloodstream and enter vital organs. Moreover, they have varying detection windows or the period they stay in the body or remain detectable. Hence, testing is done to look for indicators of drug or alcohol use.
The tests use immunoassays to screen prohibited substances in the sample. When a certain drug reaches a cut-off point, the test is considered positive. Then, a confirmatory test is conducted in a laboratory to ensure accuracy. Advanced methods like GC-MS (Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry) quantify the concentration in the specimen. This eliminates the possibility of false positives.
- Testing ensures a person is not under the influence of drugs and alcohol while driving or working.
- Mitigates safety hazards. It helps protect the welfare of the public and prevents accidents.
- Helps identify individuals with addiction problems. Employers can offer support through rehabilitation assistance.
- Regular testing helps deter substance abuse.
- Promotes a healthy and safe environment. It also helps maintain a productive workforce.
- Confirms if an individual uses illegal drugs or alcohol after showing signs of intoxication or impairment.
- Assesses the level of drug or alcohol use. This allows employers to measure the extent of dependence and identify areas for improvement.
Different Types of Drug and Alcohol Tests
There are various types of drug and alcohol tests. Each type may be suitable for specific circumstances. The common types are urine, oral fluid, and blood sampling. The first type is the urine test. It can detect a wide range of illegal substances or drug metabolites. It can trace usage for 48 to 72 hours from the time of the test.
The second type is oral fluid testing. It collects saliva specimens through a mouth swab. This method has a shorter detection window than urine testing, usually lasting 24 to 48 hours. Thus, it is suitable for determining recent consumption. It is an increasing option for drug screening since it is less invasive.
The third type is the blood test. It has a detection window of 6 to 12 hours from the last use. It is the most accurate yet intrusive method. The last type is a breath test. This is specific to alcohol testing. Ethanol molecules vaporise with deep lung air and exit the system through exhalation. Thus, a breathalyser can detect and measure alcohol levels in a breath sample.
What Type to Choose?
The type of test method to choose depends on the purpose of the test, speed and accuracy level. In workplaces, employers consider the convenience for the tester and the employees. Urine analysis is efficient for large-scale testing. Oral fluid has the benefit of providing rapid results with less intrusive collection.
On the other hand, blood sampling is the most accurate type and offers legal evidence. Lastly, a breath test is suitable for onsite alcohol testing. It is also convenient since there are no sample collection processes involved. A breathalyser can measure Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in seconds.
The Process of Drug and Alcohol Tests
There are several steps involved in implementing drug and alcohol tests in the workplace. Firstly, an organisation must establish a comprehensive policy to administer testing. This guides employees on the conditions and consequences of testing. It also includes when to conduct these tests and the substances being tested for. Secondly, employers secure the employees’ consent through a signed agreement form.
Thirdly, companies set up a collection centre to obtain specimens. An accredited testing provider does this. After the collection, the sample may be analysed on-site using rapid screening tools or transported to a laboratory for analysis. Lastly, the collector reports the results to the employer. Hence, they are able to make decisions based on the findings.
The test may be done on-site or in a clinic. Most companies choose onsite testing since it is faster and more convenient. Additionally, employers must ensure that the test follows the standard protocols to avoid inconsistencies that may lead to false results or legal issues.
Screening vs Confirmatory Testing
Initial tests identify the presence of common drugs of abuse. Testing kits can give rapid results within minutes. Moreover, screening tests give negative or non-negative results regardless of the amount. Thus, they help determine a larger pool of individuals who may require further testing. This process is quick and less expensive. However, it is prone to false positives.
If the initial screening detects drugs or alcohol, a follow-up test is necessary. Confirmatory testing can identify the specific drug molecules and their concentration levels in the sample. This method can rule out whether the presence of substances is through consumption or incidental exposure.
Drug and alcohol tests are essential in settings that require safety. It is a standard procedure in high-risk industries. Workplace drug testing helps manage risks and promote a safety culture. Drug testing employees also aim to deter substance abuse. The common methods are urine, oral fluid, breath, and blood testing. Each type has its advantages and limitation. Thus, choosing a suitable method depends on various factors. These include accuracy and purpose.
Furthermore, there are two stages of testing – screening and confirmatory. Screening gives a quick qualitative output of whether a person has consumed drugs or alcohol. This is suitable for random testing. If it detects substances, it goes through laboratory testing for confirmation. The results of the tests help employers make appropriate decisions. In conclusion, it is essential to choose the right type of test that suits the purpose of testing.