How Long Does a Drug Test Take?

By Chelsea Levinson - Updated February 23, 2018
Medical specimens

Taking a drug test can be a stressful experience. Usually it goes hand-in-hand with getting a new job or being tested randomly by your employer. Approximately 66 percent of employers conduct pre-employment drug tests, making the practice incredibly common. If you have to take a drug test, you may be feeling some uncertainty. How long will the test take? What drugs are they testing for? Will you ever find out the results? It’s unnerving to ask an employer too many questions about the process. Nobody wants to look suspicious when it comes to a drug test. The good news is, you shouldn’t have to wait very long for your results.

Tip

Most drug test results will be available in 24 to 72 hours. However, your wait time really depends on the type of drug test, and whether your results came back positive or negative.

Different Types of Drug Tests

There are four common types of drug tests: Urine, saliva, blood and hair tests. The vast majority of employers, around 90 percent, use urine tests. This is because they’re cost effective, accurate and have relatively speedy results. Urine testing also happens to be the only federally-mandated type of drug test, used frequently by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

The next most popular type of drug test is a saliva test, used by 10 percent of employers. These tests have the advantage of offering nearly instantaneous results. However, they generally detect only drugs that have been used within the last 24 to 36 hours, making them less useful to employers than urine tests. It’s uncommon for employers to use hair or blood drug tests. Both are more expensive and invasive than urine tests.

Urine Tests

The most popular type of urine drug test is called a five panel test. That means it looks for five common drugs: Amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates and phencyclidine (PCP).

There are also urine tests that look for more types of drugs, although they are less common with employers. Quest Diagnostics, for example, can test for amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, marijuana, MDMA, methadone, opiates, oxycodone, phencyclidine, propoxyphene, synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic stimulants (known as "bath salts"). LabCorp looks for up to ten drugs in its panel tests.

Most drugs will show up in your urine for 24 to 72 hours after use. However, marijuana, phencyclidine, benzodiazepines and barbiturates can potentially be detected in your urine for several weeks, depending on your frequency of use.

How Long Will Drug Test Results Take?

The majority of testing labs will process your drug test results in 24 to 72 hours.

Once your sample is collected, it will go through an initial screening test. If your initial screening test results are negative, meaning no drugs are present in your sample, then your drug results will likely be delivered within a day. Both Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp release negative test results within 24 hours.

If your sample tests positive for drugs, then you’ll have to wait a little longer for your results. This is because your sample will need to be sent out for confirmation testing, intended to rule out any mistakes from the initial screening. If both your initial screening and the confirmation test come back positive, then your sample will be sent to Medical Review Officer (MRO), a doctor who is specifically trained to review test results.

At Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, follow-up testing can mean waiting up to 72 hours for your drug test results. For some labs, the results for a positive test can take up to ten days. Although it’s frustrating to have to wait a little longer for your results, this process is really meant to ensure accuracy.

About the Author

Chelsea Levinson earned her J.D. from Cardozo. As a former policy researcher, she has a passion for communicating legal issues to the public. She has created legal and policy content for Vox, Levo, Run For Something and more.

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