Understanding Drug & Alcohol Detection Times

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Patients who have gone down the substance abuse rabbit hole take time to recover from their drug independence and replace the bad habit of abusing substances with healthier habits.

For that reason, drug and alcohol detection tests are a crucial part of any addiction treatment program to help patients recover from their substance abuse and prevent their relapse.

However, in order to get accurate results, there are specific drug and alcohol detection times to take a sample from the patient and run it through tests.

Live Free Recovery Services in New Hampshire are committed to providing comprehensive care that fits the needs of every individual case. That includes running regular drug or alcohol tests correctly during the patient’s recovery period to track their progress accurately.

Understanding Drug and Alcohol Detection

Drug and alcohol detection, or screening, is when a biological sample, such as blood, urine, saliva, or even just breath, is collected and analyzed for any drug traces or a drug’s metabolites. This entire process can take anywhere from a few seconds to 5 minutes.

These drug detection tests include hair follicle testing, urinalysis, saliva screening, and blood tests.

Hair Follicle Test

The hair follicle test, when done right, is one of the best ways to determine whether the person getting tested has used any drugs within the past 90 days.

To run a hair follicle test, the analyst gathers around 100 hairs from the person being tested and trims them as close to the scalp as possible. The analyst then cuts off an inch and a half from the part closest to the scalp and sends the sample to the lab to test it.

At the lab, the hair sample undergoes two tests. The first test is called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the second is gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS).


Also known as urine drug testing, urinalysis is used to test recent drug use. As the name implies, the analyst takes a urine sample from the person being tested to analyze it.

The lab usually runs an immunoassay (IA) test, but they could also use GC-MS, which could detect a wider range of substances.

The only problem with urine testing is the narrow time frame. Unlike the 90-day time frame of the hair follicle test, urinalysis could detect drugs, like amphetamines, within 3-4 days tops. The only expectation is THC, which could be detected in urine for up to 90 days with heavy users.

Saliva Screening

In some cases of saliva screening, the analyst takes a sample of the patient’s saliva by only wiping the inside of the cheek or underneath the tongue with an absorbent pad. However, other methods require spitting or suction to get a saliva sample and send it to the lab.

Once the sample is sent to the lab, it goes through multiple screenings, including ELISA,  Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS).

Saliva screening drug tests can detect drug usage throughout 5 to 48 hours, which makes it the narrowest time frame in all types of drug detection tests.

Blood Tests

After the blood sample is taken from the patient, it goes through IA tests to determine whether it contains any type of drug. The drugs that could appear in a blood sample include cocaine and its metabolites, opioids, amphetamines, and benzodiazepines.

Blood tests can last slightly longer than saliva, with a time frame between one to two days. That is why saliva screening and blood tests can only work if you suspect a person is currently under the influence of drugs or that they’ve been using drugs in the past few hours.

Alcohol Detection Methods and Detection Times

Although a blood serum test is one of the most accurate methods to detect biomarkers of alcohol intoxication, both acute and chronic, a breathalyzer is much easier and quicker.

A breath analyzer works by measuring BAC in the intoxicated person’s body by breathing into the device. When an alcohol-intoxicated person blows into a breathalyzer, the ethanol in their breath reacts with the water from the air at the anode of the device, creating acetic acid.

Since this method is quick and simple, law enforcement and other agencies use the device to detect whether a person has recently consumed alcohol.

A breathalyzer can determine alcohol consumption for up to 24 hours, as opposed to the 12-hour limit of blood serum and saliva tests. A urine sample could also detect alcohol consumption for up to 24 hours — and 72 hours in case of heavy consumption.

Drug and Alcohol Detection Times: Common Substances

Different drugs stick around in our system for different durations depending on their elimination half-life, which is the amount of time needed for the body to break down half the drug dose. Our body typically needs 5 half-lives to completely flush out a consumed drug.

Opioid detection time varies based on multiple factors, including the type and amount of opioids used. For example, Codeine, a mild prescription painkiller, could be found in a urine sample for 1-2 days. On the other hand, Heroin could be detected in urine for up to 7 days.

Cocaine could be found in blood and saliva for up to 2 days and in a urine sample for 3 days. Benzodiazepines, especially strong ones like Valium, could show up in a urine analysis for over a week, depending on the type of benzodiazepine, the dose taken, and the frequency of use.

THC, found in cannabis or marijuana, can stay in your body for the longest time. THC can be detected in a urine sample for up to 30 days, depending on the frequency of use. THC could also be found in a hair sample for up to 90 days.

However, there’s a chance for a false positive result in hair follicle testing because this test analyzes the body oil that goes to the hair, which could be contaminated with THC due to environmental factors.

Importance of Drug & Alcohol Detection in Treatment

As part of an efficient drug or alcohol addiction treatment program, patients need regular testing throughout their entire treatment duration. Regular drug and alcohol detection can help determine a patient’s consumption patterns and amounts per dose.

This technique would help the treatment center set up a treatment plan that suits each addiction case. Additionally, regular tests are used to monitor the progress of the treatment plan and record the results throughout the treatment period.

After the treatment period is over, it’s important to continue with the regular detection tests to support patients in relapse prevention and be able to quickly fix any downfalls at the beginning before they spiral out of control.

Factors Affecting Drug and Alcohol Detection

A few factors can affect the drug and alcohol test samples, which may later lead to different results. Some of these factors are environmental, which could be easily controlled by a strict protocol. Other factors depend solely on each individual case.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are anything that could affect a test sample and aren’t related to the patient’s body state. Some of these factors include tampering with the sample, not running enough tests, and widening the time gap between sampling and testing.

To limit these factors, a qualified toxicologist must do these tests at a professional lab to ensure that they run all the required tests promptly before the sample is affected by environmental factors such as temperature and humidity — especially liquid samples.

As for sample tampering, the sample should go through a chain of custody where every step of the testing process is documented and traceable with timestamps. That way, all parties involved will be held accountable for carrying out their role and preventing sample tampering.

Individual Factors

These factors depend on each individual case. For example, a person’s age, weight, and metabolic profile can all affect the results of their bodily fluid samples.

Other situational factors like the patient’s hydration level, the pH level of blood, saliva, or urine, and sweat or sebum contamination of hair strands can affect the concentration of the drug metabolites in the patient’s body.

Other factors that might be overlooked are hair treatments and bleach, which can significantly decrease the percentage of drug metabolites in hair strands. If the person does regular hair treatments, the hair sample must be taken from their body hair to ensure its natural state.

Overview of Live Free Recovery Services

We at Live Free Recovery Services offer structured sober living homes all over New Hampshire for both men and women. That way, we could help any substance abuse patient break the vicious cycle and recover from their chronic drug or alcohol addiction.

The recovery process is done through multiple pathways, including a 12-step program and a medication-assisted treatment program, based on each individual case.

Although we don’t provide medicated-assisted treatment at our sober homes, any patient who’s following this treatment pathway is welcome to stay.

We trust that the positive environment provided at all of our sober homes in New Hampshire can help addiction patients throughout their journey to recovery. With a strong support system at our sober homes, patients can go through the 12-steps program consistently and effectively.

Utilizing Drug & Alcohol Detection in Addiction Treatment at Live Free Recovery Services

At Live Free Recovery Services, we provide patients with all the needed treatment protocols to ensure they have a pleasant, beneficial stay with us. As we’ve mentioned, drug and alcohol detection tests are an integral step of any treatment program, both during and after.

During Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Programs

Whether the patient is enrolled in an inpatient program, an outpatient program, or one of our multiple sober living houses, they’ll all be tested at random times throughout their stay with us. This procedure is to monitor whether the treatment plan is progressing with each patient.

The treatment may prove ineffective due to different reasons. It could be because the patient’s cravings aren’t receding, so they would need a stricter program. It could also be because they simply need a different approach to help them apply their routine.

In all cases, the tests will help us know early in the treatment process and quickly adjust the patient’s treatment program.

Post-Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Programs

After finishing a rehabilitation program, it’s equally important, if not more, to maintain regular checkups and tests to ensure that our patients are well. Random detection tests also help the patients prevent relapses and stay sober for as long as possible.

When patients are in a controlled environment, it’s easy for them to follow a healthy, pre-set routine when they have an entire team caring for them and helping them overcome their addiction.

The same applies to sober living homes, where all the residents share the same goal and offer a supportive community to one another.

The real challenge is when the patients return to the real world and start living on their own terms. They need strong will and discipline to remain sober and avoid falling back into their previous unhealthy lifestyle.

That’s why it’s crucial to stay in check with regular tests at random times. That way, they’ll be able to notice any early signs of relapse and treat the problem as early as possible.


Regular drug & alcohol detection tests are an integral part of every substance addiction treatment program. It holds patients accountable, keeps them away from their addiction, and monitors progress as the drug concentration gradually decreases in their body.

That is why it’s crucial for patients, along with their families and friends, to understand the significance of drug detection and the right time for each test. If you’re not sure how to deal with substance abuse, we’re ready to help at Live Free Recovery Services.

If you’re anywhere around New Hampshire and need help on your journey to beat drug addiction, contact us today, and we’ll help you find a sober living house that fits you best and provides the help you need to stay sober.

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Published on: 2023-05-03
Updated on: 2024-04-05