So you have an upcoming drug test for work (or some other purpose, and that’s your business). Can you drink the night before? Does alcohol show up on a drug test? Are employers even checking for alcohol?
We’ll dive into all the nuances of whether or not alcohol shows up on a drug test, so you can plan accordingly.
- Does Alcohol Show Up in a Drug Test?
- How Long Does Alcohol Stay Detectable in the Body?
- What Factors Affect How Long Alcohol is Detectable in Your Body?
- Types of Drug Tests for Alcohol
Does Alcohol Show Up in a Drug Test?
In short, yes, alcohol can show up on a drug test. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that around 71 percent of large employers require drug testing in the workplace. Of those employers who test, about 42 percent also look for alcohol. Most drug tests are sensitive to both.
However, some are more sensitive than others. A urine test, for example, is less sensitive than a blood test. It may not detect a beer or two from the night before, but it will show if you drank in large quantities. A blood test, however, will show the alcohol, even in small amounts, much longer than a urine test.
Much of this depends on the type of test and how much notice you have before taking it.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay Detectable in the Body?
Each person metabolizes alcohol at a different rate. It will also depend on how much you drink and the test they use. Some standards fit most people, though, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
- Urine – 12 to 130 hours for the standard test
- Breath – 12 to 24 hours
- Saliva – 12 to 24 hours
- Blood – 12 hours
- Hair – Up to 90 days
For most, a drug test means urine, so you should be clear in 130 hours for excessive drinking and less for moderate.
What Is the Half-Life of Alcohol?
The half-life for alcohol is usually four to five hours. Half-life refers to the time it takes for your body to eliminate half of the alcohol.
That doesn’t mean it takes just 10 hours to metabolize fully, though. The metabolism slows down over time, and the rate varies for each person. With each half-life, less alcohol is eliminated. So, it could take five half-lives for it to be gone.
The initial half-life is constant, though. So the time it takes to reduce the concentration of any drug, including alcohol, by half is the same for everyone. Therefore, drugs with longer half-lives are detectable longer in a drug screening test. Alcohol has a relatively short half-life, though.
What Factors Affect How Long Alcohol is Detectable in Your Body?
Detection is affected by how fast the body processes or metabolizes the alcohol. Some of the factors that might affect how long alcohol stays in the body include:
- Gender – Women get intoxicated on less alcohol than men, so their body processes it faster.
- Age – The older you are, the slower your body metabolizes alcohol
- Type of alcohol – The higher the alcohol content, the faster the body absorbs it.
- Stomach content – If you drink on an empty stomach, your body will metabolize the alcohol faster.
- Health – Everything from mood to medication can impact alcohol tolerance and metabolism
In addition, each person has an individual tolerance level. Some people’s bodies will naturally not process alcohol as fast as others.
Do They Test for Alcohol in Routine Drug Tests?
Alcohol will show up on a drug test if they test for it. Drug tests are sensitive to different chemicals based on their design. But it depends on what your employer is testing for.
Many routine drug tests for employers don’t check for alcohol, but you would have to confirm that with whoever is administering your test.
If you are not sure if your drug test looks for alcohol, there are things you can do to lower the risk. For example, drink one glass of water with each alcoholic drink and make sure to eat. Food will reduce the absorption rate of alcohol, and water will help you stay hydrated.
Types of Drug Tests for Alcohol
Four types of drug tests typically detect alcohol:
Of the four, a urine test is the least sensitive.
Are False Positives Possible?
It is possible to have a false positive for alcohol, mainly if you use another product that contains ethanol.
Other reasons for false positives are rare, though. Typically, it would involve the test, not the person. For example, a test stored incorrectly may have a false positive due to bacteria growth.
Some studies suggest diabetes can trigger false positives, although this claim is not widely accepted. This occurred in the case of a diabetic patient having a urinary tract infection with high bacteria growth and sample fermentation.
There is also a theory that diabetics may have higher levels of acetone on their breath. Again, take that claim with a grain of salt.
Here are things that could trigger a false positive on a urine, blood, or breath test for alcohol:
- Vanilla extract
- Cold and cough medications (liquid)
Can You Drink the Night Before a Drug Test?
Maybe, but why risk it?
The best way to ensure you don’t fail your drug test is to take the night off and stay away from alcohol (and other drugs, for obvious reasons).
Whether or not alcohol shows up on your test if you do decide to drink depends on a number of factors, like:
- How much you drink (Is it one drink or a full-on binge drinking session?)
- When are they doing the test?
- Are they testing for alcohol specifically?
- Did you drink water and eat food while drinking?
If you have a glass of wine with dinner, you’ll probably be fine. If you have a bottle of wine with dinner, maybe not.
Are There Ways to Get Alcohol Out of Your System Quickly?
No, there really isn’t.
Coffee, cold showers, and exercise will not help you sweat out alcohol or sober up more quickly. They might help you feel more alert, which gives the illusion of sobering up, but you’ll find the alcohol is still very much in your body and will appear on a test.
If you feel like taking a night off of drinking is too much and causing you anxiety, it might be worth examining your relationship with alcohol.
If you’re curious about your drinking habits, the following quiz can help you gauge your risk level: