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Your Substance Identification Guide to Hair Follicle Drug Testing

Hair Follicle Drug Testing

50% of Americans over 12 have used an illegal drug at least once in their lifetime. An even higher percentage of people regularly use or abuse legal substances like alcohol and prescription medications.

If you have employees, you can guarantee that at least one uses drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse in the workplace is unfortunately common and can be detrimental to employee safety and business reputation.

Hair follicle drug testing can help employers identify substance use problems before hiring. This type of test is ideal for employee screening. Keep reading this article to find out why.

Substances Hair Follicle Drug Testing Can Detect

It is easier to talk about the substances hair follicle drug tests can’t detect than the ones they can. That’s because these tests are configurable to find traces of most major illegal and prescription drugs out there.

Here are some of the most common substances you can test for with only a few strands of hair.


Alcohol is a legal but widely abused substance. In the US, more than 219 million people over the age of 12 drink alcohol at least once in a lifetime. Meanwhile, nearly 11% of the US population is addicted to alcohol.

Despite its prevalence, alcohol has a detrimental effect on human health. It can ruin relationships and take lives. Meanwhile, workplaces employing regular or excessive drinkers are at risk for productivity loss and workers’ comp lawsuits. 


Cannabis is illegal in most states. However, a handful of US states have legalized recreational cannabis, resulting in higher use rates. Today, at least 45.7% of people over the age of 12 will use cannabis at least once.

The risk of addiction and overdose is relatively low for this substance. However, people who use cannabis often self-isolate and develop mental health disorders like depression. The drug also impacts reaction times, reducing workers’ ability to operate machinery or keep up with a fast-paced work environment.


Cocaine, including crack cocaine, is the second-most frequently used illegal drug in the US. 14.2% of Americans aged 12 or older report having used cocaine or crack at least once in their lifetime.

Cocaine addiction in the workplace is common. People use it to stay focused or get ahead. However, abusing this substance can ultimately result in significant mood swings and even aggression that can reflect badly on business.


Hallucinogens include commonly used drugs like PCP, LSD, and ecstasy. Around 17% of people in the US over the age of 12 will use one or both of these hallucinogenic drugs at least once in a lifetime.

Many people believe hallucinogen use is harmless since they are non-addictive. However, the use of these drugs is highly correlated with rates of suicide. In the workplace, hallucinogen intoxication may lead to dangerous and even deadly accidents that can drive up your workers’ comp insurance costs.


Methamphetamine, or meth, is a highly addictive and illegal stimulant drug that causes dangerous behavioral shifts. At least 5.6% of Americans aged 12 or older will use this substance at least once in their lifetime.

As a stimulant, meth can make workers more productive at first. But as with cocaine, long-term or excessive use can alter someone’s behavior to the point that they may become a danger to themself or others.


There are many types of opiates, ranging from natural and synthetic to prescription and illicit. One of the most addictive opiates, heroin, affects only 2.3% of Americans 12 and older but causes an overwhelming number of substance use disorders and opiate overdose deaths.

Opioids are sedatives that cause severe confusion and drowsiness. That may not sound so bad, but the bigger concern is the debilitating addictions people can develop. Opioid addiction is a significant cause of workplace absenteeism.

Prescription Drugs

6% of Americans over the age of 12 report abusing one or more prescription drugs each year. Prescription opioid painkillers are the most prevalent medications of abuse. Other common prescriptions people misuse are:

  • Sedatives like benzodiazepines
  • Stimulants like amphetamines
  • Depressants like barbiturates

Abuse of these substances can cause many workplace or interpersonal relationship problems, depending on the exact substance. Importantly, just because they are prescriptions does not mean they can’t be dangerous.

Hair Follicle Testing Detection Window

One of the reasons so many employers and individuals choose hair follicle tests to identify substance use is that they have the longest detection period. Hair strands show drug and alcohol use for up to 90 days prior to the test.

Hair follicle drug tests can’t show drug or alcohol use that occurred within the last five to seven days. They also can’t tell you exactly how long ago the substance use occurred since everyone’s hair grows at a different rate.

Disadvantages of Using a Hair Drug Test

Hair drug tests are not the only way to do a drug screening. You can also use a mouth swab drug test or urinalysis to detect more recent substance use. Choose a hair test if you want reliable results and a longer detection window.

However, hair follicle drug tests do not come without a few drawbacks. Namely, they are more expensive, and it takes longer to receive the results. Keep these facts in mind when deciding which method is right for your organization.

How a Hair Drug Test Works

Hair follicle drug testing is simple. First, you collect up to 120 hairs by cutting a small section from the crown of the head. This may seem like a lot of hair, but it is not enough for someone to notice an aesthetic difference.

Next, a laboratory examines the hair using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Once this is done, you will receive a positive, negative, or inconclusive result.

Improve Employee Screening With Hair Drug Tests

Hair follicle drug testing is often considered the gold standard in substance screening. It can uncover the use of the most commonly abused drugs and alcohol. Plus, this type of test can detect use as far back as 12 months.

Are you searching for one source for all your drug and alcohol screening needs? ReliaLabTest offers drug testing, paternity DNA tests, STD testing, and allergy tests. We also provide turnkey drug and alcohol testing services for employers.

Contact us today to learn how our business services can help protect you, your livelihood, and your workers.

Order a Test

Whether you are an individual looking to get a drug test done today or an employer looking to get a pre-employment drug test done today, ordering a test online is easier than ever! Just submit your order online, receive your test authorization by email, go to your local clinic to be tested, and receive your test results in 24 to 48 hours.

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