Drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and drugs . . . Both substances can impair a person’s mental and physical abilities, cause long-term health issues, and create unsafe situations. For these and many other reasons, it is common for employers to establish a drug-free workplace testing program that includes both drug and alcohol testing. Concerns regarding substance abuse vary from company to company, so many of these screening services are quite flexible and allow the employer to create a customized testing program that fits the company’s goals and the industry’s requirements. One common question many employers and employees have regarding workplace alcohol and drug tests is, “Does alcohol show up in a drug test?” Let’s find out . . .
Does Alcohol Show Up in a Drug Test?
Does alcohol show up in a drug test? Although alcohol does not appear in standard drug tests, it can be included in a drug test if specifically requested. So if you’re interested in testing employees for both drugs and alcohol, simply consult with your screening service to determine what type of program best meets your needs.
How Can an Employer Test for Alcohol in the Workplace?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends testing for at least five drugs (amphetamines, THC, cocaine, opiates, and phencyclidine) as well as alcohol. Although a standard drug test does not evaluate the presence of alcohol in a person’s system, many companies do include alcohol in their testing policy, using a breath or saliva test. In addition, with the growing use and misuse of prescription medications, many companies are requesting their drug test include additional drugs beyond the standard five mentioned above (e.g., adding synthetic opiates and ecstasy).
The Department of Transportation (DOT) alcohol testing program, which must be followed by employers with employees in DOT-covered safety-sensitive positions, is unique. The DOT drug program tests for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, and phencyclidine (PCP) only, and the alcohol test is conducted separately in two parts.
First, a screening test is performed in a private area and the employee is shown the results. Then, if the screening test provides a BRAC result of 0.02 or greater, a confirmation breath alcohol test is conducted within 15-30 minutes of the screening. Any result of 0.02 or greater must be immediately reported to the employer. If the result is 0.02-0.039, the employee must be removed from safety-sensitive positions for a set period of time (determined by each DOT administration). Finally, if the employee’s BAC is 0.04 or greater, they must be immediately removed from safety-sensitive duties and go through a DOT-specified substance abuse program in order to return to safety-sensitive positions.
As an employee, if you aren’t sure whether or not your company tests for alcohol as part of its Substance Abuse Program, consult your employee handbook or ask an HR representative.
Let’s dig a little deeper now that you can answer the titular question: does alcohol show up in a drug test? If you plan to test for alcohol, it is important to note the amount of time that alcohol is detectable in the human body. In hair, alcohol is present for up to 90 days. In blood or oral fluid, it is present for 12-24 hours. Finally, in urine alcohol can be present for 6-80 hours (depending on the method used for testing).
The two most common ways an employer can test for the presence of alcohol are through breath and saliva tests:
- Breath: Although breath alcohol tests can be given in various ways, the most common method employs a Breathalyzer device. Breathalyzer is the brand name of the original device, but many other companies make similar products and the machine itself is typically known as a “breathalyzer.” DOT has established rigid requirements for the devices used to perform breath alcohol tests. Devices must be on the Conforming Products List of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and meet well-established criteria for both precision and accuracy. Only devices that meet these high standards should be used for workplace alcohol testing.
- Saliva: Saliva alcohol tests detect the presence of ethanol, a byproduct of beer, wine, and spirits. Although slightly more expensive than urine tests, saliva tests are easy to perform and can also detect alcohol ingested within the past day or two. The test should be processed in a lab, but sometimes HR representatives can administer the test at the office.
Blood, hair and urine tests are most often used in forensic, legal and civil testing but infrequently in the workplace. Urine tests, in particular, can create an inaccurate read due to its ability to cross-react with a number of products.
To learn more about the various types of alcohol tests, please review this previous blog post.
If you’re hoping to create a safer and more efficient workplace through pre-employment or random drug and alcohol testing, contact Employee Screening Services. With offices in Springfield, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Missouri, and Indianapolis, Indiana, we offer customized solutions to make drug testing simple, and our nationwide network of clinics and onsite providers allows ESS to be available anytime, anywhere. We also provide education sessions for DOT employers and employees. For a free needs analysis or more information, give us a call today at 1-888-379-7697 or contact us online. We would be happy to help!