Get help today 888-509-8965 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Drugs at Work

drugs at work

Mandatory drug testing for employees has been a hotly contested issue for many years. While some say it is costly, archaic, and misguided, others believe drug testing should be a welcome practice, citing fewer workplace accidents coupled with increased financial benefits for the employer.

While substance misuse is understood to have a negative effect on the workplace, we took a deeper look into the relationship employees have with drug testing implemented by many businesses. This article explores how frequently certain sectors conduct testing, which drugs are the most widely used among respondents, and how many people decide to simply walk away from a job instead of braving the cup. Keep reading to learn more.

Testing Employees in America


Coverage Levels of Different Health Insurance Providers

Visit the links below to find out more about insurance companies and coverages for inpatient or outpatient drug and alcohol rehab treatment.


To understand which U.S. industries have the highest rates of drug testing, we analyzed how many Americans per industry underwent a drug test. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 10.1 percent of individuals aged 12 and older have used illicit drugs in the past month, and some employers are curious to know if their staff members are contributing to this statistic.

Topping the list is the ever-regimented military, with 97.6 percent of service members having been tested for drugs at some point. Next came manufacturing and transportation and warehousing at 94.4 percent and 94.3 percent, respectively. The most tested occupations were notably labor intensive, necessitating a large amount of physical involvement and readiness, from toting a firearm to operating heavy machinery and motor vehicles. It is unsurprising, then, that employers in these domains have a particular interest in their team arriving to work sober, as the alternative has the potential to create catastrophic consequences.

Education, a profession that has its practitioners interacting with children and young adults on a daily basis, had a 76 percent drug testing rate – one of few industries that see its workers in a position of direct responsibility for other people’s well-being.

Drug Testing Tendencies

percentage of employees that test positive for drugs

This table illustrates the percentage of respondents who’ve used the above mentioned substances at any point before a drug test. Different drugs can stay in one’s system for highly varied amounts of time – for example, heroin can be wiped from your system after 1 to 3 days, but PCP can show up on a drug test for 1 to 2 weeks after use.

Marijuana, a drug that has been making recent headlines after a handful of U.S. states successfully pushed for its legalization, is far and away the most used substance in this survey. This may be due to its reputation of being a largely harmless drug; however, it is important to note that it does indeed have lasting effects on both the brain and body. Among those who tested positive on a drug test, 88.4 percent of those respondents reported using marijuana.

While opioids are known to have a relatively short half-life, implying a quick expulsion from the bloodstream, respondents reported testing positive for the drug more than twice as often as not.

Trying Not to Get Caught



As with any test, there will always be attempts to dodge an unfavorable result. In this case, that means coming up positive on a drug screening. While some respondents reported having turned to methods that aim to cycle a substance out of the body – such as sweating it out or drinking specific fluids – there was a clear preferred approach. Nearly half of the surveyed population chose to abstain from using their drug of choice before taking a test, and a little over 12 percent elected to stop using the substance completely: willpower in action, especially considering the unpleasant realities of withdrawal.

The 40.4 percent of respondents who used the most common method, which was to temporarily stop using the drug, still tested positive in some cases. Other respondents reported using methods such as swapping urine with someone else, using test kits to predict a test result, and attempting to dilute their urine with water or other products. There were no telling fluctuations in the numbers to conclusively say that one method was better than the other.

The Consequences of a Positive Result


First comes the testing, then comes the aftermath. The chart above analyzes data from respondents who tested positive on a drug test, and the resulting impact on their state of employment.

The numbers jump wildly here, although one side of the equation is clear: African-American respondents experienced the highest rate of firing or being reprimanded, by far, at 9.2 percent, a depressing outcome given the widespread incidence of racial profiling in the U.S. A nearly even 10 percent of respondents in the same category kept their jobs. The next highest rate of job loss or being reprimanded was 5.8 percent for biracial or multiracial employees, well below the rate for African-Americans. However, only 2.4 percent of Hispanic employees were fired or reprimanded for testing positive, compared to 10.7 percent who were let off the hook.

Caucasian respondents experienced similar levels of leniency, with 4.4 percent of our surveyed population reporting job loss or being reprimanded, and 11.7 percent flying under the radar. Every single Asian-American respondent who had a positive drug test was let go or reprimanded, a notably aggressive statistic given the relative mix of outcomes in all other categories.


Drug Test Turn-Offs



Some predict that the wave of marijuana legalization will “[prompt] more employers to revisit their policies or back away from pre-employment drug testing”. Over 27 percent of respondents said they opted out of a job due to the promise of a drug test. The average salary expectation for these foregone jobs was around $33,000, with $42,091 for scientific positions, and $26,261 in the arts and entertainment domain. Given the modest rate of these salaries, it can be inferred the employee who is turning away from companies that conduct testing is looking for an entry- or mid-level position, as opposed to senior or executive roles. It is also possible the proposed salary is not high enough for applicants to remain interested and proceed with the test.

The construction and utilities sectors were tied for the highest percentage of forgone applications, at an even 37 percent, followed closely by hotel and food services at 35.6 percent. Military and education brought up the rear at 16.5 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively. This may be because those applying for jobs in these sectors know what to expect: Future service members are already aware of the near-certainty of a drug test, while those working in education assume they will be under the microscope due to their proximity to children and teens.


While the future of drug testing in the workplace is unclear, its turbulent history has already made its mark on the way that employees, both prospective and current, relate to the controversial practice. What is clear, however, is that abstaining from substances may be the best way to approach a new employment opportunity, regardless of the industry. To learn more about  detox treatment plans and methods, visit Our website provides substance-specific guides on how to get clean, what to expect during recovery, and how to do it in the safest way possible.


Our survey included 1,522 participants in total, with 722 men, 797 women, and three people identified as another gender, with a mean age of 34.3 years and a standard deviation of 9.5 years. Our analysis focused on industry and race. We excluded certain industries and minority groups because of small sample sizes.

We surveyed Americans on whether they have been drug tested for employment. We asked about drug use before testing, methods used to evade a positive test result, and basic demographic questions.


The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include but are not limited to: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Statistical testing was not performed to determine which demographics had significant correlations to drug use, drug test results, or drug test result consequences.

Fair Use Statement

Are you interested in sharing our study on drug testing for employment in America? Feel free to link a friend for noncommercial purposes only. Please link back to us to give us credit for our work!

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.