Is a Hair Strand Test for Alcohol and Drugs Accurate? What are the Other Options?
08 April, 2022
Many companies conduct alcohol and drug tests to ensure that the workplace is free from harm. This is because many accidents happen due to substance impairments and use. Likewise, the misuse of alcohol and drugs can negatively impact work performance. It causes low productivity, increased absenteeism, and high turnover. A method that employers use is a hair strand test for alcohol and drugs. It is one of the most accurate ways to identify alcohol and drug use over a long period. Moreover, a hair stand test has longer detection periods, giving employers an insight into the employees’ consumption history.
Workplaces perform alcohol and drug screening on various occasions. For example, a hair strand test for alcohol and drugs is an essential requirement in pre-employment. The employer would test for alcohol and drugs to determine if the applicant has risky behaviour that may put the workplace at risk. However, for alcohol screening, a breathalyser can be more cost-efficient. Devices like the workplace breathalysers from Breathalysers New Zealand can measure the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) through the breath.
What is a Hair Strand Test for Alcohol and Drugs
A hair strand test for alcohol and drugs involves taking a hair sample to detect ethanol, drugs, or metabolites. Hair sample tests can identify various illicit substances, including common drugs like cocaine, opioids, amphetamines, marijuana, and phencyclidine (PCP). When a person consumes alcohol or drugs, they enter the bloodstream and into different vital organs, including lungs, kidneys, and hair. The substances enter the hair strands by passive diffusion through the hair follicle and remain there as the hair grows. It takes 7 to 10 days for alcohol or drugs to enter the hair strands. Moreover, a hair strand test provides a longer detection period of up to 90 days. Thus, it is a suitable method if you want to confirm a person’s long-term use or pattern.
How Accurate is a Hair Strand Test for Alcohol and Drugs?
Alcohol or drugs that enter the hair stays there as the hair grows. The average hair growth is 3.5cm per month. Testing for alcohol and drugs in the hair shaft core can construct a record of past substance usage. Additionally, external contaminants like shampoo will not affect the test since they stay within the hair shaft. They cannot be externally washed, bleached, or flushed out of the hair structure. Furthermore, the hair follicle laboratories should follow a strict collection and testing procedure to ensure valid and accurate results. A two-step process helps avoid false-positives, namely ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) and GC MS test (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry). A hair strand test for alcohol and drugs observes these guidelines:
- Only a certified collector can procure the hair sample from the subject.
- The collector takes a hair sample from an unnoticeable part such as the back of the head. If head hair is insufficient, hair from other body parts can be used.
- The hair strand test uses the 1.5-inch hair from the base with approximately 120 strands.
- The sample is sealed in an envelope for laboratory examination.
Hair Strand Test for Alcohol and Drugs: Uses
Many workplaces use a hair strand test for alcohol and drugs to determine past substance use. High-risk industries like mining, aviation, and transportation include a hair strand test as part of pre-employment requirements. Because of its long detection window, applicants will find it hard to trick the test. Employers also can also use them during a random on-site test or post-incident/accident test. Likewise, a hair strand test is valuable in child custody cases and other legal battles. Because of their accuracy, their results can be used as evidence in court. Furthermore, a hair strand test for alcohol and drugs has the following advantages:
- Difficult to cheat. The hair samples cannot be switched or adulterated.
- Longer detection window
- Easy to collect, store, and transport
- Can identify between one-time and recreational use. Recreational use may indicate addictive behaviour.
- Less invasive than a urine or blood test
More Testing Options
Regular screening of the workplace for alcohol and drug use is important in keeping the working environment safe and healthy. The employer may use a hair strand test for alcohol and drugs to determine substance abuse. Through a workplace policy, the employer can assist rehabilitation of affected employees. Although hair strand tests are accurate, it takes 3 to 5 days to get the results. For fast results, other methods can effectively identify alcohol and drug use. Workplaces also use the following methods:
- Breath test – A breathalyser device detects alcohol for 12 to 24 hours, depending on the consumed amount. The workplace breathalysers from Breathalysers New Zealand have enlarged fuel cell sensors for precise estimation of the BAC.
- Urine analysis – The standard urine test can determine alcohol and drug use within 24 to 48 hours.
- Mouth swab – A test can trace drugs and alcohol within 24 hours. It is less invasive and suitable when a urine sample test is unavailable. A qualified technician performs mouth swabs to ensure accurate results.
- Blood test – A blood test can detect alcohol and other substances for 6 hours. It is the most accurate of all tests. However, it is the least used due to its invasive nature. The workplace performs a blood test if the preliminary screening is positive.
- Fingernail test – Like hair testing, a fingernail test has a long detection window of 6 to 12 months. A fingernail test can also determine past substance use.
Why use a Breathalyser for Alcohol
A hair strand test for alcohol and drugs is reliable in determining past usage. However, for rapid BAC checking, a breathalyser device is more cost-effective. The workplace breathalysers from Breathalysers New Zealand can process the breath sample within 10 to 15 seconds, making them efficient in BAC monitoring. Businesses use a portable breathalyser like BACtrack to check the employees’ sobriety or impairment. If an employee shows symptoms of impairment, a breathalyser can confirm if alcohol is present. Thus, the employer can make appropriate safety decisions depending on the test results. Moreover, workplaces that want to maintain a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol and drugs need frequent tests. Therefore, quick testing methods like breathalyser tests and urine/saliva drug test kits can drastically benefit workplaces.
The employer can also request a testing agency to facilitate a hair strand test for alcohol and drugs. Most laboratories offer mobile or on-site services for workplace testing. Likewise, collecting a hair sample is quick and simple. Storing and transporting the hair is also easy. Meanwhile, you can perform a breath test with a breathalyser and get the results on the spot. Breathalysers New Zealand offers accurate and reliable breath testers to many industries and individuals. The BACtrack breathalysers have pro-grade accuracy, similar to the technology used by testing centres and police officers. Breathalysers New Zealand has a wide range of BACtrack alcohol testers suiting different needs to help make responsible decisions.