What is an Instant Drug Test?

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  • Written By: Matthew F.
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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An instant drug test is a type of drug screening in which the results may appear relatively quickly, without sending them to a lab for analysis by a professional. Instant drug tests can be an advantage in the workplace, where an employer might administer the test in order to see if any of his or her employees are using illegal drugs. These tests are not just used in the workplace, however. They are also used in people's homes to test when a family member is suspected of using illegal drugs, and in drug treatment programs as a way to safeguard against members of the program lying about their drug use.

An instant drug test may screen for one illegal drug, such as THC in marijuana or opiates, although many screen for multiple drugs at once. Instant drug tests may feature panels, or parameters, which describe how many substances the drug test screens for. Three panel, five panel, and ten panel drug tests are common. A ten panel drug test is a very comprehensive drug test because it screens for approximately 95 percent of illegal drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamine.


An instant drug test can work in one of a few different ways. The most commonly used is a test that screens the person's urine. The test does not actually screen for the presence of the drug or drugs themselves, but rather metabolites in the urine which exist only as a result of a drug being used by a person. Other instant drug test methods include testing the hair, blood, saliva, and even sweat.

There are also instant drug tests which test for the recent consumption of alcohol. The Breathalyzer® is an example of such an instant drug test; it uses a breath sample to determine a person's blood alcohol content. There are also urine and blood tests to screen for the presence of alcohol in somebody's system, as well as alcohol strips, which are to be placed in the person's mouth to detect if he or she has consumed alcohol.

Detection periods of an instant drug test refer to the time in which a drug will be accurately detected by a drug test. These periods differ with each substance, because each drug is metabolized by the human body at a different rate. For example, marijuana can be detected in urine up to one month after consumption because marijuana is stored in the body's fat cells, which take longer for the body to purge. Cocaine, on the other hand, is a water soluble substance, and is therefore typically out of the system no longer than 72 hours after use of the drug.


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Post 2

I can see where drug tests are important, for example with airplane pilots, truck drivers, heavy equipment operators and similar such jobs, but I think they're a total violation of a person's privacy and won't apply for a job that requires them. And I don't do drugs.

Post 1

Seems like I read somewhere that the hand-held Breathalyzers used by the cops are not overly reliable or accurate. Can anybody speak to whether or not this is true?

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