Alcohol Test Information

There is more substantial evidence that conditions such as fetal alcohol syndrome are preventable.  

Increasing pressure is being exerted on drunk driving legislators by organizations such as MADD.  More confirmation exists that most, if not all, alcohol-related highway fatalities can be prevented.

Moreover, junior high, high school, and college administrators are cracking down harder on student alcohol abuse.  And finally, there are increasing efforts to reduce preventable alcohol-related accidents and injuries in the workplace.  Due to all of these influences, alcohol test information will certainly become even more important and implemented in our society.

The Four Different Kinds of Alcohol Assessment Tests

Statistics reveal that for employers, alcohol abuse accounts for approximately 67% of total number of substance abuse complaints.

In the United States, the use or abuse of alcohol is associated with half the automobile fatalities and almost half of all industrial accidents. Consequently, there is a growing demand for more effective alcohol detection and testing methods.

Indeed, more and more companies are employing alcoholism screening tests and random alcohol testing as part of their workplace drug and alcohol testing program or alcohol testing policy.

Testing For Alcohol.  There are basically four different types of alcohol tests:  urine tests for alcohol, blood alcohol tests, alcohol breathalyzer tests (also called alcohol breath tests), and saliva alcohol tests.  Hair drug tests will also be discussed, even though they cannot detect alcohol.

Urine Alcohol Tests (also called alcohol urine tests) have the following characteristics: 

  • They are the least expensive of the alcohol testing methods.
  • They can be used at home, for instance, by parents, though lab verification is required for accurate results.
  • They are considered an intrusive method of testing.
  • They can be affected by abstaining from drinking for a period of time before the test.
  • They detect alcohol ingestion mainly within the past week, or longer with regular drinking.
  • They are often temperature tested to assure sample integrity.
  • They indicate the presence of alcohol in a person's system, but it takes up to 2 hours for the alcohol to show up in urine.

Urine Alcohol Tests Pros

  • They have a high assurance of reliable results.
  • They are relatively inexpensive.
  • They provide the most flexibility in testing different drugs, including alcohol and nicotine.
  • They are the most likely of all drug-testing methods to withstand legal challenge.

Urine Alcohol Tests Cons

  • The specimen can be adulterated, substituted, or diluted.
  • They have a limited window of detection (typically 1 to 5 days).
  • They are considered as invasive or embarrassing form of testing.
  • They present a biological hazard when the specimens are handled and shipped to the lab.
  • They indicate the presence of alcohol in a person's system, but it takes up to 2 hours for the alcohol to show up in urine.  A positive urine test does not necessarily mean the person was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the test. Rather, it detects and measures the use of alcohol within the previous day or so.

Blood Alcohol Testing

Blood Alcohol Tests (also called blood tests for alcohol) have the following characteristics: 

  • They are the most accurate method for testing a person's blood alcohol content (BAC).
  • They are the most expensive method to testing a person's blood alcohol content.
  • They are the most intrusive method for testing BAC.
  • Due mainly to their high cost and to their intrusiveness, blood tests are the least common method for testing a person's BAC.  

Saliva Alcohol Tests

Saliva alcohol tests detect the presence of alcohol in the saliva, and are a relatively good approximation of blood alcohol content (BAC).  Due to the fact that the concentration of alcohol in saliva is very likely to be similar to the BAC that is in the blood, saliva is the preferred alcohol testing method. 

Saliva Tests have the following characteristics:

  • They are slightly more expensive than urine testing, but less than hair or blood testing.
  • They are a relatively non-intrusive method of drug testing.
  • They are becoming more common compared to the other methods of testing.
  • They are easy to administer but require lab processing for accuracy.
  • They detect use primarily within the past day or so.
    They can detect more recent drug use than other testing methods.
  • They have no nationally accepted cutoff concentrations or standards for detection.  This makes the results more dependent on the specific product employed and could make results less-reliable and/or acceptable for legal considerations.
  • They are more reliable for the detection of methamphetamine and opiates and less reliable for THC or cannabinoids.  

Saliva Drug Tests Pros

  • They provide samples that are acquired under direct observation.
  • They present a minimal risk of tampering.
  • They spare patients the discomfort of repeated vein punctures.
  • They are non-invasive.
  • They present no risk of infection, thrombosis, or anemia.
  • They present lower total testing costs since no special staff training is required for collection.
  • They provide for samples that can be collected easily in almost any environment.
  • They can detect alcohol use.
  • They reflect recent drug use.
  • They provide a relatively short window of detection, approximately 10 to 24 hours.  

Saliva Drug Tests Cons

  • They present some detection limitation since drugs and drug metabolites do not remain in the saliva as long as they do in the urine.
  • They are less efficient than other testing methods in detecting marijuana use. 

An analysis of a person's hair can result in a significantly longer testing window for the detection of drugs and drug metabolites.  This provides a more complete drug-use history that can go back in time as far as 90 days. Similar to urine testing, hair testing does not reveal evidence of current impairment, only past use of a specific drug.  And of special note, hair testing cannot be used to detect alcohol.

Breath Alcohol Testing

Breathalyzer tests are the most common form of breath alcohol testing and have the following characteristics:

  • They do not directly measure blood alcohol concentration or content.
  • They estimate blood alcohol concentration or content indirectly by measuring the amount of alcohol in one's breath.
  • They not only detect the ethyl alcohol found in alcohol beverages, but also in other substances that have a similar molecular structure.
  • They can result in false BAC readings caused from cell phones, police radios, electrical interference, moisture, dirt, and tobacco smoke.  They can result in false BAC readings from substances or compounds found in gasoline, paint removers, cleaning fluids, celluloid, and lacquers.
  • They can lead to false BAC results from blood, vomit, or alcohol present in the person's mouth.
  • They can result in false BAC readings due to a person's breathing rate caused by vigorous exercise, hyperventilation, or a person holding one's breath. They can result in false BAC readings if law enforcement personnel fail to use the breathalyzers properly or fail to properly maintain and re-calibrate the units when necessary.  

Hair Drug Tests

Hair Drug Tests have the following characteristics:

  • They are currently many times more costly than urine tests.
  • They are a relatively non-intrusive method of drug testing.
  • They detect substance use over a longer period of time.
  • They do not usually detect drug use within the past seven days.
  • They require a sample of hair approximately the diameter of a pencil and about 1.5 inches long.
  • They cannot be done with a single hair.
  • They reveal positive test results more than twice as often as urine tests.
  • They are not significantly affected by brief periods of abstinence from drugs.
  • They can sometimes be used to determine when drug use started and if it has been discontinued.

Can hair testing be defeated or beaten?  No adulterants have been found that can beat hair tests for drugs. Plus, the risk is minimized due to the fact that every collection is directly and easily observed. 

Hair Tests Pros

  • They have a longer window of detection.
  • They offer greater stability (i.e, they do not deteriorate).
  • They can detect chronic drug use.
  • They provide convenient shipping and storage, since they do not require refrigeration.
  • They off a collection procedure that is not invasive or embarrassing.
  • They are more difficult to adulterate than urine.
  • They detect the combined use of alcohol AND cocaine.
  • They can provide a 3-month drug usage history.  

Hair Tests Cons

  • They are relatively expensive.
  • They are usually limited to basic 5-drug panel.
  • They cannot detect alcohol use.
  • They can not detect very recent drug use (i.e., usage from 1 to 7 days before the test).

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