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Many companies typically test potential and existing employees for drug use but a growing number are also testing intoxication with an alcohol swab test. And wisely so. Being intoxicated can be just as destructive as being high on drugs. It can impair your ability to speak, walk, or think clearly. Your reaction time slows and your judgment could be compromised. In many cases, intoxication can even result in aggressive or violent behavior.

Clearly, a person who abuses alcohol or is intoxicated on the job can be a liability in the workplace. To discourage alcohol abuse, alcohol testing as part of a drug-free workplace program is allowed by the government under certain rules. While the guidelines for testing may vary by state, in general, employers may conduct random testing on a sample group of employees or subject an employee to a test if they are showing signs of intoxication.

Urine testing is the most commonly used drug testing method. In testing for alcohol, however, an alcohol swab test is generally more preferred.

What is an Alcohol Swab Test?

Also known as a saliva test, mouth swab test or oral fluids test, among other names, an alcohol swab test is easy to perform and can show results in just around ten minutes. Collecting a saliva sample is also quick, simple, and non-invasive. A saliva test may cost more than a urine test but less than blood, hair, or other testing methods.

Saliva is a viable sample in testing for alcohol and drugs because it retains the same substances as those found in the blood. A saliva test is also more effective in detecting recent substance use — in fact, it can detect alcohol almost immediately after ingestion, and drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates within five minutes to one hour.  Alcohol may only be detected in urine after around two hours, and drugs, even longer.

The disadvantage of saliva, however, is that it does not retain substances for a long time. It can only detect alcohol for 24 to 48 hours. On the other hand, alcohol can be detected in urine for 3 to 5 days.  It can show in blood for around 12 hours and in breath for 24 hours.

How Is It Done?

A “swab” may refer to a cotton bud, or it can also be a stick with a sponge. The swab is used to collect saliva samples by running it along the gum line or under the tongue where alcohol or drug metabolites are likely to remain.

Traditionally, the swab is sent to a lab where the sample is extracted and analyzed under a microscope. But newer swab tests can immediately test the sample and show the results in about 10 minutes. Saliva drug testing cups may also include a panel to test for alcohol in addition to drugs.

Can It Be Cheated?

The short answer is, it depends. There are ways that could, in theory, make alcohol undetectable in saliva. These include using a detox mouthwash that could remove traces of toxins in saliva. However, this is said to be effective only after one to ten minutes of use and only in the first 60 seconds. This means you have to wash your mouth right before you’re given the test.

There are also detox gum or capsules that are touted to have the same effect as a detox mouthwash. It’s potentially a more effective cheat because you can pop one in your mouth unnoticed even in the presence of the test administrator.

The downside to these detox hacks is that saliva naturally removes residual substances every 10 minutes, so drug test administrators make sure the donor’s mouth is empty 10 minutes before the test.

Additionally, if you get caught cheating on a drug test, you could be charged with a misdemeanor and get fined or jailed, or both.

What could work, however, is abstaining from alcohol at least a day before a swab test if you knew beforehand that a test is coming up. Because saliva can retain traces of alcohol for only a few hours, staying clear of alcohol for at least 24 hours can help you avoid a positive result.

If you’re an employer or drug test administrator, consider mixing up your testing methods to avoid cheats. In addition to an alcohol swab test, use a urine drug testing cup as well. Check out Ovus Medical’s  CLIA-waived FDA approved 13 Panel Urine Drug Test Cups.

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