What Happens If You Fail a Drug Test?


Thousands of drug tests are performed every day throughout the United States and the world 1. In the employment field, drug tests may be given for pre-employment consideration or randomly throughout the time you remain employed with the company. For example, some state and federal jobs require mandatory random drug testing. Drug tests are also used in the criminal justice system, especially in regards to parole. Even many sporting events use drug testing to insure that no athlete has a pharmaceutical advantage over competitors. In most cases a drug test is just a formality, as the larger percentage of individuals pass the test with no problem; However, drug test failures do happen, and depending on what the test was for, there could be a wide range of consequences.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) guidelines for drug testing is the most common guide that most companies or government agencies abide by when it comes to testing procedures. Although private organizations are not required to abide by these rules, most choose to in order to protect themselves from lawsuits. In most cases where a drug specimen is being evaluated by a professional lab, drug testing is done in two phases, First the test goes through an initial screening. Here the lab technician must be able to find a specific amount of drug (measured in nanograms per milliliter) above federally set cut off levels. Cut off levels vary depending on the drug being tested for. If the initial test is positive for amounts above cut off levels, more detailed confirmatory tests must be done to prove the sample is indeed positive. If the initial test does not have enough drug presence in nanograms per milliliter of urine, the test will be deemed negative.

Return to Duty

In cases where you are given a second chance after failing a drug test, you will most likely be required to take a "return to duty" drug test. This is usually given after a specified time of leave from work to get yourself sober enough to pass a second test. During this time you may be required to access drug or alcohol counseling or take special drug awareness classes, depending on the requirements of the company requesting the drug test. Once you pass the "return to duty" test you will be able to return to work. If you fail the return to duty test, you could possibly be let go from your job.

Follow Up

Even after passing a "return to duty" test, you may still be required to take follow up tests. Follow up tests are monthly or even weekly tests used to prove that you are remaining sober. How long you will be required to take these test depends on your company's drug free workplace guidelines.

Employment Consequences

Depending on the policies of the organization giving the drug test, there may be added consequences for failing. For example, if you fail a drug test for an offer of employment, the company will most likely not hire you. If you fail a random drug test for a job you already have, you could be fired from your job. It it important to understand the consequences attached to your company's policy on drug use before choosing use illicit drugs (or in some professions even alcohol).

Probation Consequences

If you are required to take part in drug tests as part of your probation terms, there may be even harsher consequences for failing a drug test. After failing, your parole officer will write up a violation report, which is then sent to a judge. It is up to the judge to decide whether you will receive a warning, or if your parole will be revoked, and you will end up back in jail. The decision many times relies on how many drug test you have failed while out on parole, as well as any other factors the judge deems are relevant to your case.

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