Does Alcohol Show Up on a Drug Test for Work?

Alcohol, just like drugs, have the capacity to impair the physical and mental abilities of a person. It can also result to unsafe situations, especially at work. For this reason and more, drug tests are established to ensure that employees are free from substances that might affect the quality of their work.

Does alcohol show up on a drug test? This question is commonly asked by both employers and employees. The answer to this question depends on a number of factors. 

Does alcohol come up in a drug test for work?

Even though alcohol, in its most natural state, does not surface in common drug tests, it may be included in a pre-employment test when requested by employer specifically.

The most common testing for employees is 5-panel drug test, which will detect at five different drug substances – THC, amphetamines, opiates, cocaine and phencyclidine. If the same urine sample is also tested for alcohol, this would be called a 6-panel screening.

Do drug tests test for alcohol?

Even though the standard test does not test the presence of alcohol in the body, some companies specifically request for alcohol testing in their program, usually through a saliva or breath test. Also, with the increase of prescription medication misuse, companies request that drug tests for their employees should include other drugs aside from the five mentioned earlier. 

Does DoT drug test test for alcohol?

The drug and alcohol testing program of the Department of Transportation is unique. It only tests for substances of cocaine, marijuana, opiates, amphetamines, phencyclidine groups, while having a separate test for alcohol presence in the body.

If you are an employee and you are not sure whether alcohol test is also included in your drug test, you may want o refer to your employee handbook for reference and guidance. 

How can alcohol be detected in a drug test

The following are the most common ways in which a person can be tested for alcohol presence. 

  • Saliva Test

Saliva tests to detect alcohol looks into the presence of the component ethanol, which is a byproduct of wine, beer and other spirts. Even though this form of test is more expensive that other options, it is very easy to conduct. It also has the capacity to detect ingested alcohol up to two days past.

This kind of test should be preformed inside a laboratory, though at times, HR representatives personally administer this type of test in their office. 

  • Breath Test

Even though breath tests may be administered in different ways, one of the most common ways is to use a Breathalyzer. While this is a brand name of the device used for this procedure, several other brands have been introduced in the market, and are still known by this name.

The Department of Transportation has prepared some strict requirements for these types of devices, especially the ones that are used in performing breath tests for alcohol. The devices that are allowed for this purpose meet high standards. With a breathalyzer, the blood alcohol content or the blood alcohol concentration is measured in the breath. 

  • Urine Tests

Alcohol presence may also show in a urine drug test, even after days from last consumption. The maximum concentration happens after five and a half fours. Still, this depends on the amount of alcohol you consumed, since a urine test may also be able to detect presence of alcohol even after 24 to 80 hours. The component ethyl glucuronide may be detected on a urine test up to 5 days from the last intake. 

  • Hair Test

Although less common, hair test for drug and alcohol presence is typically used to detect consumption of alcohol over a long period of time. In fact, a sample can still be traced with alcohol up to 6 months, and drug use up to one year. 

Alcohol detection time

A number of factors may also influence the detection time of alcohol. The amount of alcohol that you drink is one of the most important factors. This means that the more alcohol consumption you had, the longer it will stay in your body, which also means that it will also be detectable longer. 

The length of time in which alcohol stays in your system may depend on how fast you consume alcohol. The quicker your drink, the more challenging it is for the body to break the substances of alcohol down. Another factor that influences alcohol detection time is the type of tool used for alcohol testing. A breathalyzer is recommended to be used right away after consuming alcohol. 

Sobering up from alcohol

Note that sobering up after alcohol intake could take time. This is because of the metabolizing rate of the liver. As such, if you consumed a lot, then you may need to wait for some hours to completely sober up. While others believe in some myths related to alcohol sobering, such as forcing to vomit, cold shower, drinking coffee or eating bread, the best way to handle the effects of alcohol consumption is simply to wait. 

This means that if you need to take a drug test and you have just consumed alcohol, you may have to wait if possible. Some resort to drinking more water as it helps in diluting the alcohol in the system, while rehydrating you at the same time. It is also helpful in flushing out toxins from the body. Read more in our “How to pass a urine test for alcohol” article.


If you are worried that alcohol might show up on your drug test, then it would be best to take some preventive measures from coming out positive. You may want to try the suggestions mentioned above to avoid a positive result from a drug and alcohol test. 

The story is different if you feel that you are misusing alcohol. If this is the case, you may want to reach out for professional help. You may also consider other treatment options, such as going to therapy or rehab, as it can be quite helpful in dealing with the mental and physical effects of this concern. 

Bikas Gurung

Bikas Gurung is a human rights activist representing International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and United Nations Strategic Advisory Group on drug use. He received his Master’s degree in Public Health from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and has been recognized for his work by winning "The Best Film Award" at the 2013 Harm Reduction Conference in Vilnius, Lithuania.