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Urine Drug Tests for Illicit Drug Use

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum on June 22, 2021

‌A urine drug test, or urinalysis, is a common way to find out if someone has recently used illegal drugs. You may need to take a urine test for an employer, sports team, or other reasons.

What Is a Urine Drug Test?

After you take drugs, your body gets rid of the chemicals in those drugs. One way your body flushes out these chemicals is through urine. Traces of drugs appear in your urine anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after you take them.

Lab tests can detect these traces of drugs in your urine. The most common substances urine tests target are:

When Would You Take a Urine Drug Test?

‌You may need to take a urine test for illegal drugs in many different situations.

Applying for a job. A potential employer might require a urine test before they hire you. Companies use urine tests to avoid hiring people who use illegal substances. Drug use can link to lower productivity and employee morale. It may pose a higher risk of accidents or conflicts on the job.

At your workplace. Some companies require workers to take regular or random urine tests throughout their employment. This is to make sure that employees don’t take illegal drugs after they’re hired. Industries that often test regularly include:

  • Healthcare
  • Transportation
  • Government
  • Automotive
  • Manufacturing
  • Information technology‌

Employers may also ask for a urine test if an employee behaves in a way suggesting they’re using illegal substances. This behavior can include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Paranoia (feeling constantly threatened or watched)
  • Anger or irritability  

If an accident happens at your workplace, your employer may order a drug test for those who were involved. This helps determine whether the accident may have happened because of how drugs affected someone’s behavior.

Sports teams. Many school-affiliated and professional sports teams test players for illegal drugs. These tests often look for steroids and other substances that artificially improve athletic performance. They also test for mind-altering substances like marijuana and cocaine. Like employers, coaches and team managers want to identify players who have substance abuse issues.

Medical treatment. A doctor might order a urine test if it can help with your treatment, such as mental health care or addiction recovery. You can legally refuse a doctor’s request for a drug test if you’re not posing harm to yourself or others, or if you’re capable of clear thinking and judgment.

Legal reasons. A judge may order a drug test as part of a legal case. Court-ordered drug tests are most often for drug-related charges and probation. Child custody and accident cases may also involve drug testing, but this varies between states and regions.

What Happens During a Urine Drug Test?

‌You can take a urine drug test at your workplace, a medical clinic, or any other site that can properly collect your urine sample. You may also take a urine test in a public restroom if you’re with a qualified collector, like a police officer.

You’ll urinate into a plastic cup or another sterile container in private. Many testing locations provide a bathroom without a working toilet or sink. This prevents people from filling the cup with water instead of urine. If there’s no sink, the testing site should provide hand sanitizer or washcloths.

After giving your sample to the collector, a lab tests it. Results are usually available within a few days.

Limits of Urine Drug Tests

‌Urine tests tell you if someone has been using illegal drugs within a few days before testing. They don’t tell the whole story of a situation. Some drawbacks of urine drug testing include:

False positives. Urine tests aren’t 100% accurate. Rarely, test results incorrectly show traces of drugs you didn't take. This can be due to foods you’ve eaten, lab errors, or over-the-counter medications. If you have a prescription for any medications, make sure you tell the collector and the lab.

Limited time frame. Urine tests only show drug use within several days before collection. If you take a urine test too long after an accident or other event, then evidence of drug use is lost.

Workplace culture. Some people choose not to work for employers that test for illegal drugs. They see it as an invasion of privacy. A positive drug test doesn’t necessarily mean drug use is affecting someone’s productivity.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Addiction Centers: “An Analysis of Employer Drug Testing IN THE UNITED STATES.”

Australian Government Department of Health: “Eliminate drugs from the body and drug half-life.”

Department of Health and Human Services: “Urine Specimen Collection Handbook for 

Ethics Journal of the American Medical Association: “Drug Testing in Adolescents.

Federal Agency Workplace Drug Testing Programs.”

Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association: “Workplace Drug Testing.”

Halt.org: “How Do Court Ordered Drug Tests Work? A Guide on What You Should Know.”

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics: “This Is A Test: The dilemmas of drug testing.”

Mayo Clinic Proceedings: “Urine Drug Screening: Practical Guide for Clinicians.”

NCAA: “Frequently Asked Questions about Drug Testing.”

SHRM: “Workplace Testing: Weighing the Pros and Cons.”

‌Winchester Hospital: “Drug Tests: Don’t Fall Victim to a ‘False-Positive.’”

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