Alcohol Drug Screening: Definition, Types of Testing, And Results
10 November, 2023
Alcohol and drug screening refers to detecting the presence of alcohol and illegal substances in a person. It involves the collection of a biological specimen to analyse its components. Moreover, the process utilises several types of methods, such as urine, oral fluid, and breath testing. Thus, the results of this test can determine if a person has consumed a prohibited substance within the period of detection. A positive result can have serious implications.
Screening for drugs and alcohol is helpful in various settings. This can help workplaces, probation programs, and treatment centres enforce sobriety and uphold safety. However, each test method varies in accuracy, limit, and detection windows. Therefore, understanding the nature of each test can help apply the right method in a particular situation. In this article, we will delve into the concept of drug and alcohol screening, the different types available, and an understanding of the results.
What is Alcohol Drug Screening
Alcohol and drug screening is the examination of biological samples to detect the presence of ethanol and illegal medications. This method helps various organisations and individuals assess and monitor people for substance abuse or impairment. Each method may use different techniques to analyse and identify drugs or alcohol within a specific time frame.
When a person consumes alcohol or drugs, the liver metabolises them and breaks them down into small molecules or byproducts. These metabolites enter the bloodstream and are absorbed in different vital organs. Therefore, they can be detected in body fluids and systems, where they can be excreted. Moreover, the metabolites stay in the system for certain periods before they are eliminated. This detection window helps monitor the presence of substances in the body.
Furthermore, the screening process typically uses immunoassays to detect drugs and alcohol. The turnaround time may also vary with the type of sample. Most rapid testing kits may return the results within 5 to 10 minutes. On the other hand, laboratory testing may take longer, ranging from one to two days, due to the complexity of the procedure.
Purpose of Conducting the Testing
- The test is useful in roadside screening to monitor or identify drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Police officers can charge impaired drivers and reduce risk factors on the road, helping to prevent accidents.
- Deter individuals from engaging in drink or drug driving.
- In workplace settings, it can monitor employees under impairment and identify drug and alcohol misuse.
- It helps remove impaired individuals in a high-risk environment.
- Determine the most suitable candidate for a safety-sensitive position, such as mining, transportation, construction, and manufacturing.
- Employers to comply with regulatory requirements.
- Monitor patients in treatment centres to ensure sobriety and prevent relapse
Types of Alcohol Drug Screening
There are several types of alcohol and drug screening to detect substances in different circumstances. One of the most widely used methods is breath alcohol testing. A breathalyser device captures the exhaled breath and measures the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). A breath test is a quick and non-invasive method, making it a convenient testing option for alcohol detection.
The second method is the urine test. It is a cost-efficient option for detecting drugs in the system because it is easy to administer. In addition, most workplaces and rehabilitation facilities use urine testing because it can provide quick results. This method can detect substances for 48 to 72 hours from the last consumption.
Furthermore, oral fluid or saliva testing can detect alcohol and drugs within 5 to 24 hours from the last use. This technique is non-invasive, as it collects saliva samples from the oral cavity. Lastly, the blood test is the most accurate method to measure the amount of drugs or alcohol in the body. However, it is also the most intrusive procedure and is often used for confirmatory testing rather than screening.
Substances that Can Be Detected
Alcohol screening focuses on detecting ethyl alcohol (ethanol) in the body. Alcohol can show up in the breath within 15 minutes after alcohol intake. Additionally, urine and oral fluids can trace the presence of ethanol metabolites, such as ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and ethyl sulphate (EtS).
On the other hand, drug screening looks for illegal drugs, including marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and opioids. Moreover, urine can also trace prescription drugs or their potential abuse. The test relies on antibodies to give a reaction when it detects the presence of drugs. The identifiable substances depend on the type of screening test used.
Understanding the Results of Alcohol Drug Screening
The correct understanding and interpretation of alcohol and drug screening results is vital towards making informed decisions. Primarily, preliminary testing through saliva and urine samples provides negative and non-negative results. A non-negative outcome is when a certain drug reaches the predetermined cut-off level. However, these results are not conclusive and are not admissible in court.
Furthermore, a non-negative result indicates a person has taken drugs or alcohol within a specific timeframe. For instance, the result of a saliva test means recent consumption due to its shorter detection window than urine. If the result is non-negative, a follow-up laboratory test can validate the result. Confirmatory testing uses GC/MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry) to identify and measure the exact amount of drug in the sample.
Meanwhile, a breathalyser can measure the BAC or the alcohol concentration levels in the breath. The BAC is expressed in percentage, which is calculated as the alcohol in grams per 100ml of blood. Consuming more alcoholic beverages causes the BAC level to increase rapidly. Accordingly, the higher the BAC, the more severe the impairment.
Factors that Can Affect the Results
Several elements can influence the screening test results. Firstly, the type of method and the timing of the test determine the accuracy of the results. For instance, a breath test may show zero BAC after 12 hours, while a urine test may return a positive test due to the differences in the detection window.
Secondly, the intake of prescription medications may lead to a false positive. A person taking a cold medicine may receive a positive result for amphetamine due to their chemical structures. Lastly, body mass, fat percentage, and body weight can affect the rate of metabolism of drugs and alcohol.
Alcohol and drug screening methods serve as valuable tools in various settings to detect the presence of alcohol and specific substances in the system of an individual. Breath, urine, blood, and saliva tests are the most common types of testing. However, It is important to note that the choice of screening method depends on various factors, including the purpose of testing, the target substances, the detection window, and the availability of resources and expertise.
Each method has advantages and limitations, and the appropriate way is selected based on the specific needs of the screening program or situation. Moreover, it is essential to understand the results to have a correct interpretation of its implications. It is best to consult a medical professional to ensure an accurate and safe assessment. Finally, always use reliable testing devices and follow the testing guidelines to minimise potential contamination and false positives.