An at-home drug test could confirm whether someone you love uses substances like cocaine, alcohol, or marijuana. Stop into a pharmacy like Walgreens, pick up a test, get a sample from the person you suspect, and you’re on your way to answers.
But the person you’re testing may not want that drug use known. And since you rely on a clean sample for your test, you’ll need to be alert for fraud.
In general, it’s very difficult to effectively cheat an at-home test. Most methods people try are easy to spot, and if you recognize that the person is cheating, you can assume the result will be positive.
Here’s what you need to know about drug test cheating and how you can help.
How Do At-Home Tests Work?
Any test you buy should come with detailed instructions. Read the paperwork carefully, and you’ll know exactly what to do to get accurate results. But most of these at-home drug tests work in a similar manner.
A typical at-home test requires a urine sample. For most tests, a stick is dipped in a urine sample, and that stick will detect the presence of certain drugs in the urine.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says most tests are sensitive to the presence of drugs. If the sample is tainted, you will know.
But you must send the same sample to a laboratory for confirmation. Lab technicians can perform sophisticated tests you can’t conduct at home, including some relating to tainted results.
Laboratory confirmation typically costs more. But if you want the most accurate results, it’s best to pay the fee and let the experts weigh in. The information you glean could be critical as you try to help someone address an addiction.
3 Ways People Cheat on At-Home Drug Tests
Addiction makes people find innovative ways to hide their substance use. They will try anything to keep the problem hidden, including botching at-home drug tests. Most people try one of three different deception methods.
People ask a sober friend to provide a urine sample. Instead of filling up your test receptacle with their own fluids, they’ll use the liquids they purchased from someone else.
People drink large amounts of liquids right before the test, and they hope all of that fluid will reduce the concentration of drugs in their urine and result in a passing test.
Some people buy commercial products that claim to clear urine and mask drugs. They may chug these products to alter tests too.
People place something inside the sample (like bleach) to clean away the residue of drugs or alter the results. Most people resort to things they can find in a bathroom, but some smuggle products they’ve purchased into the testing area.
3 Ways to Spot Cheating on an At-Home Drug Test
Drug users may feel clever, but testing manufacturers are smart too. Each time someone tries something new to cheat a test, formulas change in response. It is very difficult to fool a commercial drug test.
You can spot some problems at home too. Use these three methods.
Diluted urine looks clear, almost like water. Products added to the urine can react, and the liquid can change colors. Vivid or very pale urine should alert you that something odd is happening inside your sample.
Bleach, mouthwash, and hairspray all smell like chemicals or additives. While no one enjoys smelling urine, a whiff of chemicals or unnatural odors could alert you that the sample isn’t natural.
Urine sits inside the body, deep within the bladder. It’s very difficult to keep purchased urine at the right temperature. A sample that feels very cold (or very hot) has probably been brought to the testing site.
What Else Can You Try if You Suspect Cheating?
Arguing isn’t helpful, and someone caught cheating on a drug test may be too embarrassed or worried to admit to the deception. Don’t dig in your heels or yell. Know that you have other options.
Your doctor can perform clinical drug tests. Make an appointment, and point out that the person will need supervision for a clean sample. You may not be able to stand in the collection area or exam room during the test, but you will get help to pinpoint the drug use.
Tests your doctor runs aren’t as controlled as those in employment testing labs. Companies like this are accustomed to people attempting to cheat on tests, and they use a variety of tools to spot deception, such as:
- Following a strict chain of command for the sample
- Testing the temperature of the sample
- Requiring the person to leave coats, bags, and backpacks outside of the room
- Testing the sample for adulteration
You could ask the person to take a drug test here. It’s incredibly difficult to fake the results when these experts are involved.
How Long Do Drugs Stay in Your System?
A clear drug test doesn’t mean that the person has never used illicit substances. Instead, it means that chemists can’t spot signs of use right now. Most substances become undetectable if the person waits long enough.
Your sample method also plays a role in how long the person will test positive. Here are timelines for how long certain substances show up on specific types of tests:
|Marijuana||Up to 36 hours||Up to 72 hours||A month or longer (for heavy users)|
|Alcohol||Up to 12 hours||Up to 48 hours||Up to 5 days|
|Cocaine||About an hour||5 to 10 days||About a week|
|Heroin||A few hours||4 to 48 hours||48 hours|
Does Your Loved One Need Care?
Substance use disorders go untreated 90 percent of the time in the United States. Drug testing can confirm someone you love has used substances in the past, but it’s up to you to decide what to do with the results.
You can use a drug test to do the following:
- Confirm suspicions. You don’t need to guess about substance use. If the test is positive, you will have firm proof.
- Open up a conversion. The person can’t deny the drug use, which can allow you both to have a clear and honest conversation.
- Empathize. When you know what drugs the person is taking, you can research the health and social impact of the habit. The more you know, the better you can help.
If the person cheats on your drug test, that’s helpful too. You know the person is struggling with something they’re not ready to tell you about. Be open, honest, and direct. If you keep talking, the person may respond soon.
Don’t give up. You could be just what the person needs to start on a happier, healthier life.
Drug and Alcohol Tests. Walgreens.
Drugs of Abuse Home Use Test. (September 2018). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
How People Try to Beat Drug Testing. (February 2015). American Association for Clinical Chemistry.
How to Detect Drug Test Cheats. (March 2019). Clinical Lab Manager.
Clinical Drug Testing in Primary Care. (2012). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Substance Abuse Disorders in U.S. Go Untreated 90% of the Time: 4 Things to Know. (November 2016). Becker’s Hospital Review.