Does Alcohol Show Up on a Drug Test?

Does Alcohol Show Up on a Drug Test?


Everybody wants to have a safe and drug-free workplace. Be it government or a private entity, the workplace requires a person to be disciplined and clean enough to do the chores regularly. Thus, they conduct drug tests to determine the cleanliness of the candidate.

Not only employment centers, but also educational centers check for drug consumption in every individual. It is not a wonder that if you are on probation, then you need to pass the drug test to get parole. In short, drug tests have become one of the inevitable things in all important turns of life.

Drugs and alcohol threaten a person’s mental and physical health. It deteriorates a person’s ability to concentrate and makes the person dumb and ill-effective. No company or educational institute or a state will require a dumb and confused human.

Such individuals pose a threat to the society. So organizations consider drug tests as one of the important factors to determine the fate of the candidates. Substance abuse ratio and considerations differ from company to company. Some companies may accept minimal drug intake with written consent from the candidate whereas some of them may be strict enough not to admit such candidates into their team.

Most of the companies check for commonly used illicit drugs as well as alcohol. There are many screening services that help employers to create custom-made testing programs that accommodate to their company’s requirement and goals.

There is always a doubt lurking on among people “whether alcohol is screened during the drug test or does alcohol show up on a drug test? How long does alcohol stay in your system?” In this blog, let us find out the answers to these questions.

Table of Contents

Does Alcohol Show Up on a Drug Test?

Yes, alcohol can show up on a drug test, but only if the test specifically checks for it. Most standard drug tests do not detect alcohol, as it is a legal substance. However, some employers, probation officers, and treatment programs may require alcohol testing as part of their protocol. It's important to read the testing guidelines carefully to understand what substances will be tested for.

There are several machines and devices to precisely find alcohol consumption. The type of drug tests used varies according to location and reason. A policeman uses alcohol screening device on the roadside to check for driving under alcohol influence or in the case of accidents; however, an employer does not do the same. They conduct professional tests to find out the real usage of drugs and alcohol by the employees.

Alcohol is a chemical compound with a hydroxide bond along with 2 carbons and 5 oxygen bonds. With the help of certain testing kits, one can easily find out whether a particular candidate has consumed alcohol or not; though most of the companies test for commonly used illegal drugs compared to alcohol.

The main aim of the drug test is not only to ensure that the person is drug free, but also to ascertain that the person is physically and mentally fit to work for the assigned job. For instance, some liquid medicines do contain a minimal to considerable amount of alcohol in it. So, if a candidate has consumed any of this liquid medication, there can be possibilities that it would show up for alcohol. To prevent such confusions, the screening service providers indicate certain specifications. They set cut-off thresholds for drugs and alcohol to filter out addicts.

Alcohol Test In The Workplace

Normally, the drug test involves testing for five drugs - AMP, THC, COC, OPI and PCP. These five drugs have been inducted as priority drugs as well as alcohol to be tested as per the guidelines of The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA is a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Their mission is to reduce the impact of drug abuse on the US population. Though the standard drug testing panel does not screen for alcohol, certain organizations and companies do add alcohol in their drug testing program. Those companies administer breath or saliva tests to detect the presence of alcohol in their employees’ system.

Alcohol tests are mostly taken uniquely by the Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT based drug testing involves various drugs including alcohol since alcohol-based accidents are more prevalent in the United States. This kind of drug testing method should be followed by employers when they are testing for alcohol. The DOT’s alcohol test is conducted in two parts.

Firstly, the employees are tested for alcohol as a primary test. This test is conducted in the private area and the results are declared to the candidates. This is the breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) result. It should be within 0.02. If the BrAC result is more than 0.02, then the confirmatory test is conducted for the employee again. The confirmatory test may be a breath or saliva test, but most preferably the breath test is utilized. This test is administered within 15 to 20 minutes of the initial screening test result. If the result is again more than 0.02, then the results are immediately reported to the employer.

According to the DOT administration, the alcohol level should be less than 0.02 in the screening test. If the result is between 0.02 and 0.039, then the employee is temporarily put on hold against any safety-sensitive job tasks for a specific period of time. If the level is more than 0.04, then the employee is removed immediately from the responsibilities of any safety-sensitive task and sent to the substance abuse program specified by DOT. Return-to-duty and follow-up processes will be undertaken as well as evaluation by SAP professional. Once the employee gets cleared from the substance abuse program, the employee can return to the safety-sensitive position.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

Normally, a drug stays in the body for a particular amount of time. Alcohol too stays in the body for a quite long amount of time similar to other drugs. According to the alcohol rehabilitation guide, alcohol gets eliminated by the blood every 0.015 mg per hour.

  • It means that alcohol can stay up in the blood for nearly 12 hours.
  • When it comes to urine, alcohol can remain in the bladder for 3 to 5 days based on the frequency and intensity of the user.
  • In hair, like all other drugs, alcohol too can stay for 90 days or more.

The storage capacity varies from one specimen to another due to the metabolism of alcohol in the body. Once consumed, 20% of alcohol gets absorbed by the stomach itself. Only 80% of alcohol enters the small intestine. Later after digestion, it enters into the bloodstream. Only then, the alcohol spread becomes more rapid and intense. It is because the blood travels through all parts of the body.

The blood reaches the liver where alcohol actively spreads to all the other parts. It is the liver where active metabolism takes place. The body has a saturation limit over drugs. In the case of alcohol, the liver can manage to metabolize one ounce of liquor per day. If any particular individual takes more than this, the entire body gets saturated and the remaining alcohol gets away from metabolism. It gets stored in the tissue and the fat cells of the body. This will deteriorate the person’s health. Also, if huge amounts of liquor are taken in the long run, then it can create damage to the brain and the liver.

Alcohol Testing Methods

Alcohol testing is done in three methods by the companies and the departments. The most common alcohol testing methods are through blood, urine and breath tests. The tester will determine the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in the sample. They will analyze and produce results on the amounts of alcohol substances present.

Before getting into the alcohol drug testing methods, let us learn about BAC and its significance in the alcohol drug test.

Blood Alcohol Concentration is the percentage of alcohol present in the individual’s blood at a particular point. BAC mostly searches for the presence of ethanol in the blood. If you have little of an ounce of alcohol, then there will be nearly 0.015% of alcohol present in your blood, which is considered as the admissible level of alcohol in the blood. But the fact is, the more alcohol you consume, the more it will stay in your body.

According to many medical sources, the percentage of alcohol above 0.055% will start to create negative effects on the body. It may even lead to brain damage and cause some chronic diseases like heart failure, liver failure, stroke, tremors, etc. At 0.08% to 0.09%, an individual has chances of getting motor skills impaired, and develop severe liver and brain damage. If a person is tested to have 0.08% of alcohol in the drug test, then that person is prohibited to drive any vehicle in the United States of America.

The testers will determine the usage of alcohol by employing two prime tests - Breath and Saliva tests.

1. Breath Test

Breath test is the most prominent test conducted worldwide to determine the usage of drugs, especially alcohol. Most probably, the breath test is conducted for drivers to detect whether they are intoxicated during their travel. Previously, breath alcohol tests were conducted using various methods, but with the advent of breath alcohol detector machines, i.e., Breathalyzer machines, detection becomes easier.

Many government organizations and private companies use this machine to determine the drug consumption by their employees. The Department of Transportation (DOT) approved the device to test for alcohol in the workplace. Private companies should use breathalyzer devices that follow established rigid requirements and approved by DOT for accurate results.

DOT establishes certain regulations for the companies to use the device. One such requirement is that the device should be operated by a person who is well versed and certified BAC tester. In short, any workplace can administer breath test for its employees, but they should fulfill the requirements of DOT before initiating it.

2. Saliva Test

This is one of the most effective tests for alcohol consumption. The saliva test is also identified by the term “Mouth Swab” test. It is mainly used to detect the presence of ethanol, an important element in alcoholic beverages, especially beer, wine and spirits. This saliva test is slightly expensive compared to other drug tests like urine tests. They predict the exact amounts of alcohol consumed by a person within a day or two. This test is usually processed in the lab, but can also be administered in the office setting.

Other specimens like hair and urine are also used for alcohol drug testing. Due to certain discrepancies, workplaces do not prefer taking hair and urine samples. With regards to the hair follicle drug testing, this is the most expensive drug testing method compared to others and for alcohol; no employer would like to spend that much to determine the drug history. Also, hair samples are mostly preferred for legal and forensic testing, especially as evidence to crack the crime.

Urine testing is not preferred as they have more chances of getting tampered with. Candidates may tamper either internally by drinking more water before the test leading to dilution or they may try some external tampering methods like replacing a healthy person’s urine with theirs and so on. Also, urine drug testing involves several instrumentation processes like testing in HRMS and liquid chromatography which attracts more time, energy and investment. Diluted results or workplace results is a pretty huge investment from the company side for checking the cleanliness of the employee.

Final Words

According to the Health and Safety Act, 1974, it is the duty of the employer to ensure the health, safety and well-being of the employee at the workplace. So, it is more vital for the company to conduct drug tests at particular intervals to protect their workforce. So, it should be understood that the workplaces do not conduct alcohol tests only on suspicion over employees. For employees in certain sectors like transportation and other high-risk sectors like construction, the workplace should be more aware of alcohol consumption by the employees. With the above information, we can come to the conclusion that alcohol does surface in a drug test and it is more vital to be clean if you are serving in a workplace.

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