Drug and Alcohol Screening

How to test for drugs and alcohol

Below is our quick guide to the different ways to perform drug and alcohol screening using single use disposable drug and alcohol test kits, breathalyser kits and alcohol test strips.

Breath alcohol testing kits (single use breathalysers)

  • Breath alcohol test kits make the measurement of alcohol levels instant, easy and affordable.
  • Alcohol breathalyser kits are available in a variety of cut off level indicators for screening to 0.02%BAC, 0.05% BAC and 0.08%BAC.
  • BAC stands for Blood Alcohol Concentration, while the tests true cut off is the breath alcohol equivalents (sometimes a little confusing but blood alcohol levels are what are universally quoted in law and legislation, so having a test which references these levels is helpful)
  • Breathalyser kits are single use and disposable

Alcohol test strips

  • Single use alcohol test strips can be used to detect alcohol in any liquid, but are designed to be used in saliva and when dipped in saliva will give a semi-quantitative BAC blood alcohol concentration equivalent.
  • Alcohol testing strips dipped in any other liquid will react to the alcohol but the result is non-quantitative, ie the level of alcohol is not detected, just its presence.
  • Breast milk alcohol test strips are also available

Drug testing using urine

  • Urine drug testing is the longest established and some say still the best method of drug screening available.
  • The collection of a fresh, unadulterated urine sample is not without its challenges but when completed the drug screen will detect most drug groups for longer than comparable saliva drug tests
  • Urine drug testing also offers the widest range of drug groups to choose from, with some drug test membranes only being available in urine formats and not currently in saliva options.
  • Urine drug screening does not allow alcohol to be tested for 

Advantages of urine drug testing

  • For the reasons above we still would recommend that the initial screening drug test should be undertaken on urine.
  • Urine drug screening is cost-effective, reliable with high levels of specificity and selectivity
  • Urine drug test collection methods are designed into many of the cup drug test products to enable tamper proof and secure collection and testing without urine sample spillage or contact.
  • Its also worth remembering, urine is normally a sterile liquid, saliva is teaming with bacteria and viruses

Types of urine drug tests

Saliva drug screening-drug and alcohol testing using saliva

  • Since NIDA gave the thumbs up to saliva drug screening in the US, this method of drug screening is growing internationally and is increasingly the method of choice in the UK.
  • Saliva testing for drugs and alcohol is becoming increasingly popular as the first screen in the workplace, healthcare and correctional facilities.
  • The development of a reliable set of saliva drug testing kits to cover most of the common drugs of abuse including alcohol has certainly helped.
  • The clearest advantage to saliva drug testing is the immediate chain of custody control in obtaining a directly observed sample for testing. (not always feasible with urine collection)
  • However, care must be taken to ensure that an adequate volume saliva sample is collected. Too dry oral drug test membranes are the commonest procedural failure cause in saliva drug testing.
  • Saliva drug testing enables near patient initial screening to be completed in 5-10 minutes.
  • A good range of combination saliva drug test kits are now available for saliva drug testing (up to 13 drugs in 1 test), and the oral drug tests are as easy to complete as equivalent urine drug testing kits, with clear result windows.
  • Many oral fluid saliva drug tests now also include an alcohol screen as part of the test
  • Oral fluid saliva drug testing kits

Some important points to remember about saliva drug screening

  • The window after a drug has been used that it will be detectable is considerably shorter for saliva drug tests than it is for the equivalent urine drug test.
  • This is notably the case when testing for Cannabis, where urine drug test kits will be positive for days after, while saliva drug test kits can be negative within a few hours. 
  • Also if the mouth has been cleaned or food has been consumed before the oral drug test, the Cannabis residue may have been removed and be undetectable. This is only true in the case of Cannabis as the drug test detects the parent drug and not the metabolites.

Drug & alcohol testing for parents

  • Drug testing kits have been available for self or home drug screening for many years and are increasingly used for self-testing purposes and to exclude and prevent drug misuse within families.
  • Alcohol screening as a routine part of teenagers use of the family car, and the morning after the night before is now easily and reliably completed with simple breath alcohol or saliva drug and alcohol test kits.
  • For parents we recommend the multi-panel drug test kits  as they are easy to use, reliable, accurate and they are excellent value for money and they can also screen for a broad range of drugs.
  • Another good option for parents is the 13 panel drug test cup

Drug & alcohol testing abroad

While not a legal requirement. (The French never legislated) motoring agencies still recommend travellers to Europe carry 2 breath alcohol test kits when driving in France. The legislation was supposed to come into force in summer 2012 but never did.

The legislation for workplace drug and alcohol testing is different in many EU countries and depends on the location of the base employment contract or company base, not the citizenship of the EU national being tested. 

Drug Driving Tests

Drug driving is now a criminal offence in the UK in the same way that driving under the influence of alcohol is. New drug driving legislation and roadside drug tests came into effect in the UK in 2015 which made it easier for the police to catch and prosecute offenders. 

Page last review and revision date 18/04/23

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