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A drug abuse screening test, also commonly known as a drug test or a drug screen, is a test done to detect the presence of one or more illegal, prescribed, or over-the-counter drugs in the body by analyzing urine, blood, hair, sweat, or saliva samples. The most commonly tested drugs include:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin, codeine, morphine, and other opiates
  • Methadone
  • Amphetamine and methamphetamine
  • Barbiturates
  • Steroids
  • PCP

Drug Abuse Screening Test Methods

A drug test may be done through any of the following methods:

Urine test

A urine test is by far the most widely used method in a variety of settings and is typically preferred for employment screening purposes, testing during sporting events, medical purposes, and other legal usage requirements. Urine tests are generally favored over blood tests because urine samples can be collected quickly in a non-invasive manner. Furthermore, urine is more concentrated compared with blood and other body fluids, and will more likely retain higher amounts of both the drugs being tested as well as the drugs’ by-products or metabolites.

One disadvantage of having a urine test done is that urine has a short retrospective period, meaning it may not retain traces of certain drugs after 48 hours.

In a typical urine test, the subject is required to submit their urine sample to a lab. A “clean-catch” sample is required –this means obtaining a ‘non-contaminated’ mid-stream urine sample in a clean and unused urine cup to more accurately diagnose suspected drug use.  About an ounce or two is collected into the cup, then turned over to the lab technician.

Urine drug tests may also be performed using CLIA-waived drug testing cups. These are available from various sources, including drug stores and online retailers. The urine sample is collected in a urine cup, then cooled to room temperature. The test card from the kit is immersed in the urine for around five minutes, after which it can be expected to display the results.

While home test kits are quite accurate, the FDA advises that in case of a positive result, the urine sample should be sent to a laboratory for confirmation.

Blood test

In a blood drug test, a healthcare practitioner uses a needle to take a blood sample from a vein in the subject’s arm and places the collected sample into a vial or test tube. Blood tests are less preferable to urine tests because they are more invasive. The use of needles also exposes the subject to a greater risk of infections from communicable diseases or from the puncture wound. Moreover, blood specimens are quite unstable and may break down after some time. As with urine, blood also has a short retrospective period.

Saliva and sweat

A saliva test is also known as a mouth swab drug test. As the name suggests, a saliva sample is taken from inside the person’s mouth using a mouth swab. The sample is then squeezed out of the swab and examined in a lab. As this is the cheapest and one of the least invasive of all drug tests, it is preferred by many employers. However, as it may only detect the drugs in the mouth area and not in the blood, it may be effective only in detecting recent drug use.

Sweat, on the other hand, retains drug indicators longer than other body fluids. A sweat sample is collected using a sweat patch, then squeezed out and tested by a lab. At present, however, the results of sweat tests still need to be confirmed by a urine test.


Hair follicles contain blood vessels that feed their growth cells, making them viable samples for drug testing. For the test, a few hair samples are taken, usually with the roots intact, and analyzed for drug use in the past 90 days. If a person is bald, the samples can be taken from other parts of the body. A positive result is confirmed by a second test called chromatography/mass spectrometry.

The advantages of drug testing during rehab

Constantly updated research often brings about new learnings that can change the manner in which we can better approach drug rehabilitation. A philosophy or concept can sometimes be subject to heated debate until a consensus – or something close to it – is eventually arrived at.

A drug abuse screening test during rehabilitation is one of the more contentious issues in treating drug addiction. Many treatment professionals believe this is a punitive approach that can only be detrimental to an addicted person’s journey toward rehabilitation. However, it has been proven through research and practice that, overall, drug tests while on rehab are not only helpful, but also necessary.

Below, we discuss some of the benefits of drug tests during rehab.

1. Testing is essential in creating a recovery program for the addicted person

Drug tests are typically done at the start of a rehabilitation program to determine the amount and type of drugs in the patient’s system. Whether they come to your center willingly or because of pressure from family and friends, a patient will often find it difficult to be forthcoming about the extent of their drug use.

Drug tests provide a comprehensive picture of the person’s addiction. This information can then be used in creating a tailored program, including the methods, therapies, and any medication that may be beneficial to the person. It is important to keep in mind that a combination of drugs in a person’s system may have serious and even fatal side effects, so knowing what drugs they have been taking is critical before treatment can even begin.

2. Drug tests help keep track of a person’s progress

A relapse can be very dangerous, not only to the patient but also to those around him. It also makes treatment doubly difficult. When a person has abstained from using drugs for a long time, even a lower dosage can trigger an overdose. Many addicted persons are unaware of this and may continue taking the same dosage they were consuming before their abstinence.

Even when you take great pains to eliminate a patient’s access to drugs, they might still find a way to get their hands on them. Outpatients, in particular, are highly vulnerable to temptation. And in many cases, patients hesitate to willingly disclose a relapse. Random drug tests will determine if a patient has indeed been staying clean or if a relapse has occurred. In the latter case, the patient can immediately be given the help they need.

3. Drug tests can serve as positive reinforcement

It is important to make it clear to the patient from the start that drug testing will be randomly conducted. The patient must also know the consequences of taking drugs while in the facility or during rehabilitation. By knowing a relapse can be exposed through random testing, the patient may be better motivated to steer clear of drug use even in the face of temptation. It can develop in them a sense of responsibility and accountability.

4. Drug test results can be used to redirect a person’s recovery program

If a patient is found positive for drug use, this can be used as a springboard for a more meaningful discussion to examine the patient’s relapse triggers. Determining which drug the patient has used can also reveal the kind of treatment they need more of. By delving deeper into the reasons for the relapse, the therapist or clinician has the opportunity to help the patient address his triggers more intensively, and to adjust their recovery program to better suit the patient’s needs and circumstances.

5. Drug tests can protect other patients

Knowing that the facility is not drug-free and someone has been taking drugs while in it can also trigger a relapse and lead to lowered inhibitions in other patients. Random drug tests can help nip the situation in the bud and stop it from becoming a widespread problem.

6. Drug tests can weed out those who are not serious about recovery

While the true purpose of a drug test is not to punish someone who has relapsed, it is the responsibility of a treatment center to protect all their patients from the triggers and temptations that can hinder their progress. As earlier mentioned, a patient who secretly continues to take drugs during rehabilitation can affect the behavior of other patients. If through consultation and other processes, a person is found to be less than serious about rehabilitation, then perhaps the best option is to expel him. This is a decision the center has to make based on their findings and philosophy.

7. Drug tests may be necessary for reporting

There are cases when an addicted person needs to report on his progress to his family or to persons of authority, such as his employer, or the courts. This has to be made known to the patient right from the start and should follow the guidelines from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act. The patient should be aware that there are serious consequences to face if found to be in violation of his rehab program.

Perform drug testing the right way

Drug testing is shaping to be a necessary practice in the treatment of addicted individuals. Done with wisdom and empathy, it can serve as a valuable tool in helping a patient recover from addiction. It may also lead to consequences with far-reaching effects on a person’s life.

With this in mind, make sure you employ the drug testing method that is best for you and your patients. Safeguard the accuracy of your tests by using only trusted laboratories and the highest quality materials, including FDA approved home drug test kits and CLIA waived drug test cups.


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