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How Long Does It Take to Get Results From a Drug Test?

Close-up of a person’s hand holding a small plastic fluid sample container.

Results for pre-employment screening and random drug testing can take anywhere from a few days to a matter of weeks. While employers may anticipate hiring a great candidate, they’ll need to be patient and understand that the timeframe for results from a drug test will vary depending on:

  • What substances are being tested for;
  • The type of test the employee takes;
  • What substances are being tested for;
  • The testing lab the employer has chosen;
  • Logistical delays.

Employers should understand what goes into the drug testing process to better forecast the results — focusing on getting things ready for new hires instead of waiting for results. Many factors are involved in the drug testing process, but it is important neither to rush the process or waste time waiting.

The Drug Testing Process

Drug testing is a multi-staged process in which results will be delivered at different time frames depending on several contingencies. First, an employer will need to choose which specimen they will test. Lab specialists can test urine, oral fluids such as saliva, and hair follicles. Each specimen type can detect drugs for a longer window of time. For instance, a hair test can see drugs in an employee’s system if ingested as far back as 90 days, while urine testing will detect new drug use — typically from the previous one to three days.

Additionally, employers will need to determine what substances they want to test for — which may determine the type of test. For instance, cocaine can be detected in an oral fluid test if ingested two days prior and caught in a urine test if done three days earlier. Each substance has its different window for detection, and the test for that substance will need to coincide for an accurate result. If a drug test is conducted for multiple substances, the process will take longer. 

Next, the test will need to be sent to and analyzed by a lab before results are shared. Depending on the lab, test, and substances tested for, the results will be delivered at different periods.

Factors That Influence Testing Timelines

While trying to forecast results, it will help to understand the factors that can influence testing timelines and get an estimate for how long you may see results.

Type of Test

There are several tests an employer may administer to determine illicit substances in an employee’s system; each will take time to see results. Common drug test types and estimated timelines include:

An employer likely won’t see results during these time frames, as more factors influence the time in which results can be seen.

Drugs Tested For

Different drugs will stay in a person’s system for different amounts of time. If an employer is testing for a specific substance, they will need to choose a test to detect the drug ingested. For example, if an employer tests for cocaine (which can be seen in a urine sample if taken 2 to 4 days prior), they may want to administer a hair follicle test — which can detect drug use further back.

An employer will need to know what drugs can be detected within a given timeframe to choose the right type of test to see accurate results. The following list of commonly tested-for drugs and duration they can be detected through a urine test goes as follows:

  • Marijuana — up to 30 days;
  • Cocaine — up to four days;
  • Amphetamine — up to 48 hours;
  • Opioids — up to four days;
  • Barbiturates — up to three weeks;
  • Benzodiazepines — up to one month;
  • PCP — up to eight days;
  • Alcohol — up to 48 hours.

A different test, such as a hair test, may detect drugs ingested longer back than that of a urine or oral fluids test.

Lab Provider

The lab provider that an employer chooses to analyze their drug tests will factor into the quality of results. Employers will need to select a trustworthy drug testing agency with reliable products and services for their testing. If not, delays can occur (see below). Additionally, testing for several drugs at once, such as a 10-panel drug test, will take longer to analyze than just determining the results of a drug and alcohol screening.

Initial Result

Certain medications can create a false positive for drug tests. It will be important that an employee disclose all medicines they are taking to avoid this mishap. If a drug-testing agency is not adept at producing accurate results, you could end up turning away a qualified candidate for bogus reasons. Additionally, a drug test may be diluted if the employer drinks a lot of water, requiring another drug test. Whether diluted on purpose or not, this will delay results.

Potential Delays

One last factor that can delay drug test results is logistical issues. Whether the lab you chose has been backed up with an overload of work, mishandling of a specimen, or weather delays in the delivery of said specimen — you’ll have to account for these uncertainties as well.

Drug tests aren’t always as straightforward as you might think. Account for all the steps and potential delays when you’re anticipating results.

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