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What is an Alcohol Drug Test?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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An alcohol drug test is a test performed on saliva, blood, or urine in order to detect levels of alcohol in the system. It may be performed by law enforcement to catch drunk drivers or potential employers in order to ensure a clean workplace. Other reasons to perform an alcohol test are for schools to know the drinking status of students, doctors to confirm whether patients with certain conditions are drinking alcohol, and courts to know whether a defendant is drinking regularly.

There are several main ways in which authority figures can test for alcohol. These include urine tests, blood testing, and testing the saliva. Each of these has pros and cons that should be taken into account. Various methods may used in conjunction with one another if results are questioned.

The first type of alcohol drug test is a urine test. It is performed by having the person in question urinate into a cup, or less commonly, urine may be extracted through a catheter in a hospital setting. This is the most inexpensive type of alcohol test and results are generally accurate if taken within a few days of the person’s last drink. Issues with the test do arise however, such as patients who drink high levels of fluids before a test in order to dilute the level of alcohol present.

Another common problem with a urine alcohol drug test is that the person taking the test may need to be watched during urination to ensure a donor specimen is not being used. This can be invasive and embarrassing for some people. These tests are also not always accurate in determining how often or how much a person drinks.

A saliva alcohol drug test is often the preferred choice because taking a sample of saliva is less invasive and can be performed by anyone. It is also as effective as a blood or urine test at detecting alcohol levels in the blood. Although specimens could still be traded or swapped as with urine samples, this becomes far less likely if swabbing takes place on site by a test administrator.

Hair testing may also be a means for testing blood alcohol levels, as well as the use of a breathalyzer. Using hair for testing is very accurate, although more expensive than a saliva test, and can detect alcohol use over time. The breathalyzer is most commonly used by law enforcement and requires the person to blow into a device which then gives a blood alcohol reading. This is relatively effective but can only give details about a person’s alcohol levels at a given moment in time.

Blood tests, while accurate, are the priciest way of determining a person’s alcohol levels. They are used to determine the amount of alcohol present in someone’s blood, and can often detect very small traces of alcohol to show that the person was drinking at a given time. This is not always the case though, especially in someone who does not drink often or in high quantities.

The downsides of a blood alcohol drug test are that there are factors which may skew the results. Certain medications may increase blood alcohol levels artificially. Blood alcohol testing is also the most invasive form of testing and can only be conducted by a trained medical professional.

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