5 Things You Should Know About Urine Drug Testing

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Updated 04/05/2023

Bio sample checklist with a sample cup and pen sitting on top of it

Have you ever been asked to provide a urine sample for drug testing? Urine testing is typically quick and non-invasive, and it can yield accurate results regarding the type and quantity of drugs a person may have taken.

Even so, there are some common questions people ask about urine drug testing.

Question One: Why Are Drug Tests Typically Performed?

There are several circumstances under which a urine drug test may be required.

Employment requirements: Drug use is typically not allowed on the job, regardless of the industry. While some employers do not subject their employees to drug tests, others may require it. Drug testing in the workplace might be warranted at the start of employment, and it may be required on a regular basis to ensure staff is free of drugs while working. These tests are more common in workplaces that require the assurance of safety, such as those that involve the use of heavy machinery. Another occasion for drug testing in the workplace may be in the case of an accident, where an employer or insurer needs to discern if drug use was a contributing factor in the accident.

School requirements. Some school authorities may enforce drug testing to ensure a drug-free environment. Although not as common as drug testing in the workplace, drug testing in school environments can help identify youths who have begun using illicit drugs who would benefit from early treatment intervention.

Sporting requirements. Urine drug testing is common in sporting environments, particularly those at higher levels of competition. More specifically, these tests are conducted to detect the presence of performance-enhancing drugs, the use of which could disqualify an athlete from competition.

Probation requirements. Whether or not a person who has been prosecuted in the courts and served time has completed addiction treatment, a judge may require the person to submit to random drug tests to ensure the person remains sober throughout probation. In this case, urine tests provide a quick and easy way to assess whether or not a person has been following court-mandated requirements to stay free of drugs.

Parental requirements.  When a parent suspects drug misuse on the part of a child, urine drug testing can help alleviate that worry or confirm the suspicion and help the parent get the child into appropriate treatment if needed. Continued testing at random intervals can help parents monitor their child’s recovery progress as well.

Question Two: What Types of Drugs Can a Urine Test Detect?

Urine drug screening can detect a number of different drugs, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Opioids
  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamine
  • Prescription medication
Test tube with a pipette inserted, containing a liquid

The accuracy of urine drug screening is dependent on the professionalism of the testing facility

Question Three: How Accurate Is Urine Drug Screening?

Trained technicians, nurses or physicians will conduct the urine drug test. The more common type of urine drug test — and also the fastest and cheapest — is the immunoassay (IA) test. The other is the gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), which can be used to confirm the results of the IA test.

The IA test is not as accurate as the GC-MS test, as it can give a false-positive result. That means the test results show the presence of a drug even though the person being tested has not ingested that drug. The GC-MS tends to be a more accurate and reliable method and may also be able to detect more types of drugs.

The accuracy of test results depends largely on the standards and professionalism of the drug testing facility. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a comprehensive list of labs that are certified with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Question Four: For How Long Can Drugs Be Detected in Urine?

There are several factors that can influence the length of time that a urine drug test can detect a drug in a person’s system, including:

  • How long ago the drug was taken
  • How frequently the person uses the drug
  • How hydrated the person is
  • Body weight
  • Urine acidity
  • Individual properties of a particular drug

Question Five: How Can Urine Testing Help When an Addiction Is Involved?

Urine tests are often a first step in helping someone get help for a substance use disorder. Randomized followup testing can also help a person maintain sobriety over the long term.

If you or any of your loved ones deal with a substance use disorder, please know that help is available to you. To get answers to your pressing questions about addiction treatment and admissions, contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake today.