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Why Test For Alcohol?

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Why do numerous American employers test for alcohol?

U.S. employers test for alcohol for the following reasons:

  • To save money

  • To provide a more productive and safe work environment

  • To reduce rising workers' compensation premiums

  • To reduce employee turnover

  • To upgrade their workforce

  • To reduce alcohol-related sexual harassment and sex abuse in the workplace

  • To reduce very preventable alcohol-related accidents and injuries in the workplace

Due to these reasons, and to the current "drug-free" movement in various corporations, organizations, and institutions, it would appear that in the foreseeable future, drug and alcohol testing will expand in the U.S. workplace.o

A Growing Demand for Alcohol Tests

Statistics reveal that alcohol abuse accounts for approximately 67% of total number of substance abuse complaints in the U.S. workplace.

In addition, the abuse of alcohol is associated with half of the automobile fatalities and almost half of all industrial accidents in the United States.

Not only this, but increasing amounts of proof have been documented that conditions such as fetal alcohol syndrome are 100% preventable.

In a similar manner, an increasing number of college, junior high, and high school administrators are stepping up their efforts to eliminate or significantly reduce student alcohol abuse.

As a result of these and many more reasons, there is a growing demand for more effective alcohol detection and alcohol testing in this country.

To drive the point home more forcefully, an ever increasing number of companies, organizations, agencies, and institutions are employing alcohol screening tests and random alcohol tests as part of their workplace alcohol testing programs.

Furthermore, organizations such as MADD are applying increased pressure on state legislators in an attempt to make the penalties more unforgiving for DUI violations and for alcohol-related traffic fatalities and accidents.

As a result of all of these factors, it is apparent that alcohol testing will clearly become even more widely used and implemented in the near future by various companies, organizations, and institutions and that workplace alcohol testing will increase and become even more sophisticated.

Workplace Alcohol Testing: Why Employers Test for Alcohol

Alcohol and drug abuse costs companies a lot of money because of damaged equipment, theft, reduced productivity, high employee turnover, workers' compensation claims due to alcohol or drug-related accidents and injuries, and employee absenteeism.

Drug and alcohol tests can be a screening aid during the pre-employment process and an effective way to check for alcohol and drug abuse by the existing employees.

Implementing a successful drug and alcohol testing policy and procedure will hopefully reduce all of the alcohol and drug-related issues and problems listed above and will also create a safer, more productive work environment.

One way that employers can upgrade their workforce is by conducting pre-employment drug and alcohol tests and random drug and alcohol tests at different times for all employees.

It is no guarantee, but by screening prospective employees for drug and alcohol abuse and by testing all of the current employees, workplace alcohol testing can go a long way in creating a drug and alcohol-free work environment.

Another reason why many employers implement drug and alcohol testing is to take advantage of the discounts offered by workers' compensation.

More precisely, if workers' compensation discovers that alcohol or drugs were contributing factors in an on-the-premises accident or injury, the employer's premiums will be reduced.

Are drug and alcohol testing programs affordable?

According to drug and alcohol testing experts, a company with 100 employees will probably be able to pay for a workplace alcohol testing and/or drug testing program for less than $1,000.00 per year.

The savings to employers comes from significantly reducing all of the drug and alcohol-related costs outlined above and also in employing more dependable, more productive employees who exhibit less turnover.

A final reason why employers perform drug and alcohol testing is to conform to state and federal laws that require drug and alcohol testing in jobs where safety is critical (for instance in the transportation industry) and in occupations where public trust is a requirement (for example in the banking and financial industry).

The Five Kinds of Alcohol Tests

There are basically five different types of alcohol tests that are available for workplace alcohol testing protocols.

These are as follows:

  • Saliva alcohol tests

  • Breath alcohol tests

  • Blood alcohol tests

  • Urine alcohol tests

  • Hair alcohol tests

It can be noted that hair alcohol testing is relatively recent. More specifically, until 2008, hair tests could not detect alcohol and were consequently used to test for drugs other than alcohol.

The Fundamental Characteristics of Urine Alcohol Tests

Urine Alcohol Tests have the following characteristics:

  • They are considered an intrusive method of testing.

  • They can be affected by abstaining from drinking for a period of time before the test.

  • They detect alcohol ingestion mainly within the past week, or longer with regular drinking.

  • They are often temperature tested to assure sample integrity.

  • They are the least expensive of the alcohol testing methods.

  • They indicate the presence of alcohol in a person's system, but it takes up to 2 hours for the alcohol to show up in urine.

  • They can be used at home, for instance, by parents, though lab verification is required for accurate results.

Urine Alcohol Tests Pros

  • They provide the most flexibility in testing different drugs, including alcohol and nicotine.

  • They have a high assurance of reliable results.

  • They are relatively inexpensive.

  • They are the most likely of all drug-testing methods to withstand legal challenge.

Urine Alcohol Tests Cons

  • The specimen can be adulterated, substituted, or diluted.

  • They indicate the presence of alcohol in a person's system, but it takes up to 2 hours for the alcohol to show up in urine. A positive urine test does not necessarily mean the individual was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the test. Rather, it detects and measures the use of alcohol within the previous day or so.

  • They have a limited window of detection (typically 1 to 5 days).

  • They are considered as invasive or embarrassing form of testing.

  • They present a biological hazard when the specimens are handled and shipped to the lab.

Blood Alcohol Tests

Blood alcohol tests measure the amount of alcohol that is in the blood at the time a blood sample is drawn.

One drawback of a blood alcohol tests is that they do not show how long an individual has been drinking.

Another shortcoming of alcohol blood tests is that they do not necessarily reveal whether or not the individual has a drinking problem.

Since more than few medications and prescriptions can modify the alcohol blood test results, individuals undergoing a blood alcohol test need to inform the physician, lab, or test administrator about all the prescription and nonprescription medications they are taking.

Moreover, if an individual is presently taking a blood-thinner or has bleeding or clotting problems, he or she needs to inform the agency or test administrator of these issues before a blood sample is drawn.

Alcohol blood tests (also known as blood alcohol tests) have the following characteristics:

  • Alcohol blood tests are the most intrusive method currently in use for testing a person's blood alcohol content.

  • Blood alcohol testing is one of the most expensive methods for testing an individual's blood alcohol content.

  • Alcohol blood tests are one of the most accurate methods for testing an individual's blood alcohol content.

  • Due primarily to their intrusiveness and high costs, alcohol blood tests are usually the least common method used for testing a person's blood alcohol content.

Saliva Alcohol Tests

Saliva alcohol tests detect the presence of alcohol in the saliva, and are a relatively good approximation of blood alcohol content (BAC), also known as blood alcohol level.

Due to the fact that the concentration of alcohol in saliva is very likely to be similar to the BAC that is in the blood, saliva is the preferred alcohol testing method when compared with blood alcohol testing.

Saliva Tests have the following characteristics:

  • They are slightly more expensive than urine testing, but less than hair or blood testing.

  • They are a relatively non-intrusive method of drug testing.

  • They are becoming more common compared to the other methods of testing.

  • They are easy to administer but require lab processing for accuracy.

  • They detect use primarily within the past day or so.

  • They can detect more recent drug use than other testing methods.

  • They have no nationally accepted cutoff concentrations or standards for detection. This makes the results more dependent on the specific product employed and could make results less-reliable and/or acceptable for legal considerations.

  • They are more reliable for the detection of methamphetamine and opiates and less reliable for THC or cannabinoids.

Saliva Drug Tests Pros

  • They provide samples that are acquired under direct observation.

  • They present a minimal risk of tampering.

  • They spare patients the discomfort of repeated vein punctures.

  • They are non-invasive.

  • They present no risk of infection, thrombosis, or anemia.

  • They present lower total testing costs since no special staff training is required for collection.

  • They provide for samples that can be collected easily in almost any environment.

  • They can detect alcohol use.

  • They reflect recent drug use.

Saliva Drug Tests Cons

  • They present some detection limitation since drugs and drug metabolites do not remain in the saliva as long as they do in the urine.

  • They are less efficient than other testing methods in detecting marijuana use.

  • They provide a relatively short window of detection, approximately 10 to 24 hours.

Breathalyzer Tests: The Breath Alcohol Test

Breath alcohol tests such as breathalyzer tests have the following characteristics:

  • They do not directly measure blood alcohol concentration or content.

  • They estimate blood alcohol concentration or content indirectly by measuring the amount of alcohol in one's breath.

  • They not only detect the ethyl alcohol found in alcohol beverages, but also in other substances that have a similar molecular structure.

  • They can result in false BAC readings caused from electrical interference, tobacco smoke, moisture, dirt, police radios, and cell phones. They can also result in false BAC readings from compounds or materials found in cleaning fluids, lacquers, gasoline, celluloid, and paint removers.

  • They can lead to false BAC results from alcohol present in the individual's mouth, vomit, or blood.

  • They can result in false BAC readings due to an individual's breathing rate caused by hyperventilation, a person holding his or her breath, or from vigorous exercise.

  • They can result in false BAC readings if law enforcement personnel use the breathalyzers incorrectly or fail to properly maintain and re-calibrate the units when necessary.

Hair Alcohol Testing

As the hair grows, it absorbs special markers called fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) and ethyl glucuronide (EtG).

The FAEE and EtG markers stay in the hair for an indefinite period of time as long as the individual doesn't cut his or her hair or shave his or her head.

Since EtG and FAEE markers are only produced when there is alcohol in the person's bloodstream, the higher the number of markers, the more alcohol the person has ingested.

Wide-ranging scientific investigations on FAEE and EtG tests have enabled researchers to generate a consistent base line for EtGs and FAEEs pertaining to the drinking behaviors of diverse groups of individuals such as social drinkers, non-drinkers, and heavy drinkers.

Due to the fact that the concentration of blood to the body hair is unsuccessful in eliciting reliable results, only scalp hair leads to an accurate alcohol evaluation when employing hair alcohol testing.

Even though perms, hair dye, bleach, and other common hair processes cannot modify the results of the test, it should be highlighted that the hair test will not work if the individual shaves his or her head or has extremely short hair (less than ½ inch).

One of the primary benefits of hair alcohol testing is that it is non-invasive and can provide an accurate "window" of alcohol ingestion that goes back in time quite a few months, if not years.

Hair Alcohol Tests have the following characteristics:

  • They provide accurate results for social drinkers, heavy drinkers, and non-drinkers.

  • Alcohol hair tests detect alcohol use over a longer period of time than any other type of alcohol testing method (for example, hair alcohol tests can provide precise test results going back several months or years).

  • No adulterants have been found that can defeat alcohol hair test results. Not only this, but the risk is minimized since every collection is easily observed.

  • They are virtually a non-intrusive method of alcohol testing.

  • Alcohol hair testing reduces the need for recurring random alcohol testing.

  • Hair alcohol tests currently costs many times more than urine tests.

  • They require a sample of hair roughly 1.5 inches long and approximately the diameter of a pencil.

  • Until the past year or so, due to the fact that they could not detect alcohol, alcohol hair tests were employed almost entirely for the detection of drugs other than alcohol.

  • Hair alcohol tests can accurately detect drugs, alcohol, and combinations of both.

Alcohol Hair Tests Pros

  • They offer relatively great stability (that is, they do not deteriorate).

  • Hair alcohol tests offer a collection procedure that is not invasive or embarrassing.

  • They are almost impossible to adulterate.

  • Hair tests detect the combined use of alcohol and other drugs.

  • They provide accurate results for non-drinkers, social drinkers, and heavy drinkers.

  • Hair alcohol tests are a non-intrusive form of alcohol testing.

  • They provide convenient shipping and storage, since they do not require refrigeration.

  • Hair alcohol tests have a relatively long window of detection (for example, hair tests for alcohol can provide accurate test results pertaining to alcohol use going back many months or years).

Alcohol Hair Tests Cons

  • No matter how long the hair is, hair alcohol tests cannot be performed on a single hair.

  • They are so recent that many, if not the vast majority of U.S. employers are unaware of their availability.

  • Hair tests for alcohol will not work on body hair and therefore only work with scalp hair.

  • They will not work if the person shaves his or her head.

  • Hair alcohol tests will not work on hair that is less than 1/2" to 1" long.

  • Hair tests for alcohol are relatively expensive.

Conclusion: Why Test For Alcohol?

The following represents some of the main reasons why alcohol tests will likely increase in number and in scope in the near future.

  • Increasing efforts to reduce preventable alcohol-related injuries and accidents in the workplace.
  • Substantial evidence that most, if not all, alcohol-related highway fatalities can be prevented.

  • An increasing number of junior high, high school, and college administrators cracking down harder on student alcohol abuse.

  • Increasing pressure being exerted on drunk driving legislators by organizations such as MADD to make the penalties more harsh for DUI violations.

  • Solid confirmation that medical conditions such as fetal alcohol syndrome are preventable.

Clearly, the above evidence strongly substantiates the notion that alcohol tests will probably increase in scope and in number in the foreseeable future.

Indeed, increasing numbers of companies and organizations are implementing random alcohol testing and alcoholism screening tests as part of their workplace alcohol testing policies and procedures.

It would not be surprising, moreover, to see alcohol testing policies and protocols extended to academic, social, and political settings.

Why do organizations and companies test for alcohol? Why is workplace alcohol testing increasing? Why will alcohol tests continue and even increase in the near future?

There are three main reasons why workplace alcohol testing exists and why employers test for alcohol: to upgrade their workforce, to provide a safer, more productive work environment, and to save money.

In short, alcohol tests affect the bottom line, and when employers can efficiently increase their economic viability in a cost-effective manner, they will.

Due to the fact that there are currently only five real options employers have when considering the type of alcohol testing program they will implement, it should come as no surprise if scientists develop a more tamper-proof, more sophisticated, and a more accurate alcohol test or series of tests in the near future.

Not only this, but because alcohol testing falls under the "drug testing umbrella, it is safe to say that drug and alcohol testing will continue and probably increase in U.S. corporations, organizations, and institutions.

The five types of alcohol tests currently used by U.S. employers are: saliva alcohol tests, breath alcohol tests, hair alcohol tests, blood alcohol tests, and urine alcohol tests.

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