Should You Be Nervous About How Different Substances Affect Your Employment Drug Test Results? 13 Mar 2019


Your palms are damp, and you can’t stop your hands from shaking. Although you’re just going in for a drug test, you’re terrified you’re going to fail. You know you don’t take illegal drugs, but you’re still worried about how the test will go. Will you pass your drug test?

The good news is that the majority of people pass their employment drug test. The national positive drug rate (that means they didn’t pass) for the U.S. is only 4.2 percent. But that doesn’t mean you can relax. Even if you don’t take any illicit substances, your drug test could come back positive. How?

Different substances you encounter every day can affect your drug test results and possibly give you a false reading. How do different substances affect your test results? To find out, we have to understand what drug tests look for.

What Do Employment Drug Tests Look For?

Basic drug tests check for a relatively short list of things. If the job or industry you’re applying for isn’t high risk, then these are the substances the standard five-panel drug test will look for.

  • Amphetamines: such as crank, meth, speed, and ecstasy
  • Cannabinoids: the psychoactive compounds in cannabis, or marijuana
  • Cocaine: and crack cocaine
  • Opiates: like heroin, opium, codeine, or morphine
  • Phencyclidine: also known as angel dust

If the job you’re applying for involves heavy machinery or safety concerns, then the drug test will also look for drugs that can create job hazards. Some of these are included below along with their harmful effects.

  • Barbiturates can make you drowsy or dizzy.
  • Prescription opioids often cause drowsiness and dizziness.
  • Alcohol intoxication can lead to drowsiness, decreased perception and coordination, and impaired judgment.
  • Benzodiazepines like Xanax can cause motor incoordination and drunk behavior without actual alcohol.
  • Designer or synthetic drugs mimic the effect of other illegal drugs like amphetamines and cocaine. Its effects include seizures and diminished cognitive ability.
  • Anabolic steroids can trigger aggressive behavior and psychiatric disorders.
  • Hallucinogenic drugs can make people see and feel things that don’t exist and can cause distorted thinking.
  • Inhalants can cause brain damage that leads to loss of coordination and possibly the loss of consciousness.

Not all of these drugs are illegal, but they can be dangerous to use if your job has safety concerns, which means they can still come up on drug tests. But, what if you haven’t taken any of these drugs. Are there other substances that can give you a false positive on your employment drug test?

Can You Get a False Positive on a Drug Test?

Yes, you can. False positives occur when a drug test incorrectly says someone has an illicit substance in their system. False positives can happen if the drug test is run inaccurately or if you have ingested something that mimics the properties of an illegal drug.

Thankfully, false positives are not common. Most labs use a two-step process to discard false positives. If the first step detects a positive result, then a more detailed analysis confirms if it’s a true positive or if it’s false.

What Can Give You a False Positive on a Drug Test?

Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines can create false positives. Even what you eat before a drug test can give a false positive. Let’s look at some of the things you have to watch out for when taking a drug test.

Commonly used products from your medicine cabinet can be mistaken for a controlled substance. Some of these products include:

  • Cough suppressants
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Cold medicines
  • Antihistamines
  • Heartburn medications
  • Decongestants
  • Diet pills

These common items aren’t the only substances you have to watch out for. Prescription medication can also give false positives. Antidepressants, antibiotics, and antipsychotics can all cause false alarms on drug tests. And even if you don’t take any medication, you could still get a false positive from that tea and bagel you had for breakfast. Foods like poppy seeds and coca leaf tea can give a false positive for controlled substances as well.

These products aren’t illegal in and of themselves, although some may require a doctor’s approval. And many of these medications are important to your well-being. So is there anything you can do to minimize the risk of failing your next drug test?

What Should You Do If You’re Taking These Substances?

Person taking prescription medications

If you’re legally taking a controlled substance, make sure you have your prescription information available. Most reliable drug testing companies have a medical review officer who handles positive results for a prescribed drug. They will contact you personally to get copies of your prescriptions and, in some cases, a doctor’s note. But remember that a prescription doesn’t fix everything. Certain jobs and industries are safety sensitive, and if the medication you’re taking presents safety issues, you can lose the job.

If you’re worried that your potential employer could find out your private medical information, ask the test technician for a copy of the company’s protected health information policy. Typically your medication information is not allowed to be disclosed to your employer.

You’ve practically become an expert on what to do for your employment drug test. Does that mean you can relax now?

It’s Time to Get the Job

Are you ready for your drug test? We learned how different substances and even foods can affect your drug test and what you should do if you’re taking prescription medication that could cause you to fail. Hopefully, you feel more confident than you did before.

Drug tests can rattle your nerves, but knowing what to expect can help you relax. Now that you’re prepared, it’s time to go get that job.