Whether you smoke, vape, or chew, nicotine enters your system and sticks around until it’s processed. If you need to pass a test for work, an insurance program, or a drug-free facility, you could face tough days ahead.
Nicotine can show up on a drug test for the following amounts of time:
- Blood: up to 10 days
- Urine: up to 10 days
- Saliva: 4 days
- Hair: up to a year
- Breast milk: about 120 minutes
Help! I Need to Pass a Drug Test!
About 2 percent of employers test for drugs, and some include nicotine and its metabolites. If you’re hoping to take out a life insurance policy, you might also need to pass a test and prove that you don’t have a history of nicotine use.
Any product that contains nicotine could cause a positive test, including these:
- Vaping products containing nicotine
- Nicotine-based chew
- Nicotine-replacement products, like gums and lozenges
Companies can use qualitative testing to determine whether or not you’ve been exposed to nicotine. They could also use qualitative methods to determine how much nicotine you’ve taken in lately.
During that metabolization process, your body will transform nicotine into another chemical, such as cotinine. Some drug testing companies look for cotinine, and those tests are harder to pass, as your body needs more time to clear that metabolite.
Certain factors influence how much time you need to clear nicotine and its metabolites. They include the following:
- Dosing: How much nicotine have you used lately? Did you take in products purposefully, or were you exposed to secondhand smoke? The more nicotine you’ve consumed, the longer it will stay in your system.
- Sex: Women process nicotine faster than men do.
- Age: Older people need more time to clear nicotine when compared to younger people.
- Race: Some studies suggest non-Hispanic white people clear nicotine faster than other races.
Should I Quit to Pass a Test?
The best way to ensure that your nicotine drug test is clear is to stop using products weeks before the exam. Should you quit just to ensure you pass?
People who have used nicotine for a long time can develop withdrawal symptoms when they stop using, including these:
- Cravings: You think about nicotine all the time and wonder how you can get more. It’s very difficult to resist these cravings to use.
- Irritability: You feel grouchy and jumpy.
- Distracted: You’re thinking about nicotine all the time, so you can’t think about anything else.
- Insomnia: Your mind races, and you can’t fall asleep. Cravings often take over your mind at night when you should be sleeping.
- Hunger: Nicotine is an appetite suppressant, and when it’s removed, your hunger comes roaring back. You might gain weight due to overeating. Cigarettes and vaping products also kept your hands occupied. You might be tempted to fill your hands with snacks instead.
- Emotional problems: You might feel sad, depressed, or anxious.
A typical nicotine withdrawal timeline looks like this:
|Day 1||Restlessness, irritability, increased appetite||Mild|
|Day 3||Difficulty concentrating, changes in concentration, restlessness, cravings||Severe|
|End of week 3||Cravings, weight gain, sleep changes, mood changes||Moderate|
Note that some people feel acute nicotine withdrawal for about a week. But you might not feel like yourself for several weeks. Sometimes, it takes longer.
Knowing that you will experience withdrawal symptoms, quitting for a few weeks before your test is wise. We all know that quitting nicotine products is better for your overall health and your wallet. You could use this time to learn how to kick the habit for good.
You could also visit your doctor and ask for a prescription for nicotine replacement products. These products can help you to quit nicotine use. You’ll use them in the short term and wean off them over time.
If you have a prescription for a nicotine replacement product, bring it to your drug testing appointment. The clinic should make a note of that, and your test result won’t be marked illicit. You’re just following your doctor’s orders.
- Drug Testing at Work Is a Thing of the Past, Study Finds. (August 2019). Forbes.
- Nicotine Testing: Common Questions (2012). Alere.
- Biomonitoring Summary. (April 2017). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Seven Common Withdrawal Symptoms. (June 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Understanding Withdrawal. Smokefree.gov.
- Nicotine Replacement Therapy to Help You Quit Tobacco. (August 2021). American Cancer Society.