How to Fight a Positive Drug Test in the Military

Members of the military service are very familiar with drug tests. Most of them understand that going back to their unit after a period of leave or a holiday break will most likely require passing a drug test. However, how accurate are military drug tests? They should be accurate, simply because all military branches implement a “zero tolerance” policy to using drugs. 

Because of this, a notification of a failed drug test may simply be heartbreaking, as it could translate to a finished career. It can also have an impact on your reputation. Still, this may not be the case all the time. The good news is that, there are proven ways methods to fight a positive military drug test, and prove yourself free from guilt. 

Have you received military notification of failed drug test?

Despite going through a challenging situation, failing a military drug test does not really mean that everything is over. The good news is that while mandatory processing is expected, mandatory separation is not. 

This means that there are a number of ways to possibly challenge positive tests. For one, you can start by questioning the way in which the sample is collected, handled, and tested. The process for collecting sample is quite detailed, with a testing procedure that is scientific. There are certain cases wherein the samples are mishandled or mislabeled, resulting to questions regarding the result accuracy. It is very important to ensure that the process was done right, since it is your career is on the line. 

Another possible way to fight military drug test results is to prove that you have taken the drug unknowingly. If this is the case, which could be possible since there are different possible ways of doing so, then you are good to go, free from guilt. Even though your test came out positive, you did not use the drug intentionally. Your goal is to persuade the government that you are not guilty, and that you did not just accept the result based on the outcome. 

Getting Professional Help

If you are to contest the results of a military drug test, getting professional help is very important. Should you get the professional help of a civilian help rather than an active military counsel? There are certain factors to take into consideration. If you accept free military legal counsel, your case will be assigned to any available lawyer. However, if you hire a civilian attorney who is outside military legal counsel, you have more freedom and the capacity to select someone who you feel comfortable with and trust. In the end, it is up to you who handles your case. 

Another benefit of getting professional help from a civilian defense is that they are usually free from threats or intimidation that is common among military defense lawyers. Private attorneys are not subject to factors such as chain of command, supervisory responsibility chain, and ranking. This will allow civilian lawyers to pursue anything that will protect your best interests. 

Civilian lawyers are also completely dedicated to your case, giving you the needed effort and time to establish the best defense possible. Also, since private civil lawyers work for themselves, they are very careful not to become overloaded. This is good news on your part because it means that the lawyer will be able to dedicate time for your case accordingly. This luxury is something that may not be available with military legal counsel. 

Why the Need to Pass the Military Drug Test

To ensure a responsive and alert fighting force, the military performs regular military drug testing. The tests usually come in the form of urine tests, with the goal of monitoring the presence of substances that are controlled. Random urine samples are tested each month, covering different branches of the service, including Air Force and Navy. Guard and Reserves members are also required to submit and pass drug tests. 

The zero-tolerance policy in the military on drug use is a justified one. After all, if you will enlist yourself with serving and protecting the nation, there is always the expectation of doing it while being free from the influence of any substance. For this reason, all members in the service, from the recruit position to general, are tested regularly for drugs so as to prove that they are working in their best mental and physical condition. 

Is it Possible to Retake the Test?

In general, military applicants are allowed to retake a drug test after failing. This depends on the service branch, recruits testing positive for drugs can still apply again 90 days after the last test. Failing a second test, on the other hand, might mean being barred from possibly serving in any military branch moving forward. 

For members who are active in duty, a second opportunity is not available. After testing positive, disciplinary and administrative action will follow. The consequences may depend on the type of drug that gave the positive and failing result. During the entire procedure, members of the service may not be provided with a free military counsel for defense until everything is too late. 

How Accurate are These Tests?

There are protections that the service has to protect, thus ensuring that the results of the tests are accurate. To begin with, every individual need to write their name initials on the bottle label. Also, there should be somebody present, observing the member of the service as they produce a urine sample. This will also avoid cheating. The bottles will be grouped into batches, with the individual in charge of administering the urine test will start a document for every batch. 

This document is called the chain-of-custody, a legal paper requiring anyone who had contact with the sample bottle to sign. The person may be anybody from the actual observer assigned, to the one who places the bottles in batches and taking them out. The document can also be used by anybody who has access to the sample inside the laboratory. The name of every individual, including their role in handing the sample need to be shown in the document, just to make sure of its overall accuracy. 

What kind of discharge for failing drug test?

Unfortunately, active service members are not allowed to take the test again after failing. A retake is only allowed to applicants who are looking at joining the military. Also, depending on the call of the branch of service, recruits who end up getting a positive test result can reapply. Applicants who end up failing the test twice are permanently and automatically disqualified from having a position in the military.


Just like with most careers, taking and using drug is something that should be careful with, simply because the consequences could prove to be catastrophic. While this is expected in a normal career, the expectations are double in the military. The possible consequences will have an impact on your life, even after your actual service time. A negative characterization on your service will taint your reputation forever. Even though challenging the results may turn out impossible, it is definitely worth knowing how to potentially fight and challenge a positive drug test. Doing so will allow you to protect your military career and reputation. 

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.