Types of Alcohol and Drug Tests

young person with drugs

In Virginia, some laws prohibit the abuse of illegal drugs, including prescription drugs. Moreover, individuals under the influence of legal substances such as alcohol, or marijuana, may be violating the law if they are engaging in certain activities such as driving a motor vehicle.

As part of the investigation, suspects are subject to drug and alcohol tests to determine the presence of alcohol or drugs, identify the type of substance, and detect the amount of substance in the person’s system.

Generally, three types of tests can be conducted to detect the presence of alcohol or drug and determine the level of alcohol or class of drugs in a person’s system.

Hair Follicle Drug and Alcohol Tests

A hair follicle test detects drug use by locating the presence of metabolite from the suspect’s hair sample. A metabolite is a substance that a person’s body creates when it breaks down the drug consumed. This metabolite remains in a person’s hair as it grows, thus can detect the length and pattern of drug use for up to 3 months. Generally, this type of test can detect the presence of drugs around 7-10 days from the consumption of the substance.

A hair follicle test can also detect the presence and history of alcohol use by examining the Etg (Ethyl Glucuronide) and FAEE (Fatty Acid Ethyl Esters) marks on the hair sample. Generally, this test can trace alcohol consumption for about 3-6 months. However, it should be noted that perms, dyes, gels, sprays, and straightening products on the hair sample may affect the results of this test.

Since this type of test can show the pattern of use, it can help screen for long-term abuse of prescription drugs, alcohol, or illegal drugs.

Fingernail and Toenail Drug and Alcohol Tests

A nail test could detect the presence and history of drug and alcohol use by examining the fingernails or toenails samples collected from the suspect. Typically, these tests detect alcohol and drugs as early as 1-2 weeks after the consumption date. Substances can also be seen for up to 3-6 months for fingernails and up to 6-12 months for toenails.

However, several factors, such as aging and health conditions, may affect the results of a fingernail drug and alcohol test.

Unlike a hair follicle test, a fingernail drug and alcohol test cannot detect patterns of substance abuse. Nonetheless, this test helps screen for long-term substance use, given its long detection window.

Drug and Alcohol Urine Tests

A urine test is a good tool for detecting the presence and level of drug or alcohol in a suspect’s body in a non-invasive and quick way.

Typically, alcohol can be detected within less than an hour after consumption, reaching its maximum concentration within 5.5 hours. Generally, alcohol is detected in a suspect’s urine for up to 5 days. However, this time window dramatically depends on how much alcohol has been consumed.

Although urine tests can immediately detect the presence of drugs, the detection window may dramatically depend on the type of drugs the suspect consumes. Generally, amphetamines stay detectable between 1-3 days from the time of consumption, while urine tests can still trace barbiturates for up to 2-4 days after ingestion. Whereas benzodiazepines can show up on the test for up to 3-6 weeks, and cannabis can appear in a test between 7-30 days after use.

Unlike the other types of tests discussed above, a urine test is best used for detecting the presence, amount, and class of drugs currently in the suspect’s system, as it can provide instant results.

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