Urine Drug Test

Written by Debra Stang | Published on October 5, 2015
Medically Reviewed by The Healthline Medical Review Team on October 5, 2015

What Is a Urine Drug Test?

A urine drug test, also known as a urine drug screen or a UDS, is quick and painless. It tests your urine for the presence of certain illegal drugs and prescription medications. The urine drug test usually screens for alcohol, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, marijuana, cocaine, PCP, and opioids (narcotics).

A urine drug test can detect potential substance abuse problems. After a drug test identifies these problems, doctors can help you start a treatment plan. Taking urine drug tests throughout substance abuse treatment helps to ensure that the plan is working and that you’re no longer taking drugs.

When Is the Test Used?

There are several scenarios where a urine drug test might be necessary.

Your primary care doctor may order this test if they suspect you have a problem with drugs or alcohol. An emergency room doctor may also request this test if you’re confused and your behavior seems strange or dangerous.

Many employers require potential employees to get a urine drug test before they can be hired. One benefit of the urine drug screen is that it can keep people with drug problems out of jobs that require the ability to be alert and focused. A drug-addicted air traffic controller or truck driver, for instance, could put the safety of many people at risk.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers test residents on a regular basis. This helps to ensure that people receiving treatment for drug or alcohol abuse are staying sober. If you’re on probation or parole for a drug- or alcohol-related offense, the officer in charge of your case may request random drug tests to verify sobriety.

Finally, the tests can be used in home settings. For instance, parents may ask teenagers to take this test to prove that they’re not using drugs or alcohol. If you’re planning to test your teen at home, it’s a good idea to consult with your family doctor or another health professional beforehand. They can advise you on how to follow up if the test is positive.

Types of Urine Drug Tests

There are two types of urine drug screens. The first, called the immunoassay, is cost-effective and gives results quickly. However, it has drawbacks. For example, it doesn’t pick up on all opioids (narcotics). Also, it sometimes gives false positives. A false positive occurs when the test results come back positive for drugs, but there has been no drug use.

If your first test does come back positive, but you deny drug use, you’ll take a second type of test called gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). This type of test uses the same procedure for getting a urine specimen as the immunoassay. GC/MS results are more expensive and take longer to give results, but they rarely produce false positives.

Both types of tests:

  • can create a false negative, which is when the test reports a negative result even if there is drug use
  • can be used to cheat the system
  • can fail to capture same-day drug use

How to Take the Test

You may take the urine drug test anywhere a bathroom is available, such as a doctor’s office, a hospital, a place of business, or at home. The test procedure includes the following steps:

  • The person administering the test will give you a specimen cup.
  • You’ll need to leave your purse, briefcase, or other belongings in another room while you take the test. You may also need to change from your street clothes into a hospital gown.
  • In some cases, the nurse or technician administering the urine drug screen will accompany you into the bathroom so that you can’t do anything to skew the test results.
  • Clean your genital area with a moist cloth that the technician will provide.
  • Begin to urinate into the toilet.
  • While the urine is in midstream, place the specimen cup in your urine stream. Don’t allow the cup to touch your genital area.
  • When you finish urinating, put a lid on the cup and bring it to the technician.

Urine Drug Test Results

The technician or nurse should be able to inform you of the test results almost immediately.

Immunoassays, the most common type of urine drug screening, don’t measure drugs themselves. Rather, they measure how drug use interferes with the body’s ability to form antigen-antibody complexes.

Results of this test are expressed in ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter). The test uses a cutoff point. Any result below the cutoff number is a negative screen and any number above the cutoff number is a positive screen. The people who administer the drug test usually give the results in terms of positive or negative instead of numeric values.

Many immunoassay tests don’t even display the ng/mL measurements. Rather, the results appear on a test strip that turns different colors to indicate the presence or absence of various substances.

If you get a positive result for illegal drugs that you haven’t taken, you should request a GC/MS test immediately.

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