US Drug Test Centers Blog/News

Can a Hair Test Detect Alcohol?

Posted: Mar 20 2019

By: Tracy Ellis-Malone

While urine testing has long been the most popular form of drug testing due to its accessibility and affordability, hair testing is quickly catching up. It’s less invasive, harder to cheat, more accurate, and it has a longer detection window, meaning drug testing centers can look further back into an individual’s history to see patterns of substance use and abuse. Typically, hair tests can see as far back as 90 days using just 1.5 inches of hair, although some tests can go back a full year. As hair follicle testing is still not so well known, you might be wondering: can a hair test detect alcohol?

Let’s talk about how alcohol hair testing works, some of its other applications, and additional important details you need to know.

Can a Hair Test Detect Alcohol? 

Alcohol EtG Testing

Hair tests can indeed pick up on alcohol. EtG testing is one of the most popular methods for testing hair for alcohol use. It’s particular to court-ordered alcohol testing and is also common for child custody proceedings and people in substance abuse treatment programs. Essentially, these tests are frequently used for people who should not be drinking alcohol, period, since they can look so far back in a person’s history. 

How does alcohol get into your hair in the first place?

woman laying on bed with long hairHere’s how it works. When you drink alcohol, a metabolite called ethyl glucuronide (EtG) gets into your system. You might be wondering what this has to do with your hair. Any foreign substances that get into your body — whether you smoked, swallowed, snorted, or injected it, says DrugAbuse.gov — will hit your bloodstream and eventually end up embedded in your hair strands and the tissues that surround them in your scalp. Some substances will even attach to the melanin in the hair.

Once there, the substances stay put for an extended period of time — longer than they stay in your urine. This is why, by testing a hair sample, a lab can determine if you’ve consumed alcohol.

Urine tests can pick up on the EtG as long as the consumption was more recent — about 80 hours. 

Hair testing, however, can detect EtG that got into your system up to 90 days ago. It’s a reliable way to determine if someone has abstained from drinking alcohol, although it’s not the right solution for workplace testing since it will not detect current impairment — meaning if that person is under the influence at that exact moment.

If you’re interested in EtG testing, US Drug Test Centers offers it around the United States using Quest Diagnostics — our certified laboratory. We offer same-day and next-day testing. Call today to make an appointment, or you can request one online.

The Benefits of Hair Testing

As we earlier mentioned, hair testing offers benefits that urine testing can’t.

woman with red hairOne of the drawbacks of urine testing is that the individual being tested can skew their results by drinking a lot of water before they provide a specimen. This will sometimes result in a negative dilute drug test. This means the urine is too diluted to accurately determine if the person tested positive or negative. (To be clear, though, a positive test always means they tested positive.) 

The next step is determined by that employer’s drug-free workplace policy, but coming after a negative dilute is often another urine test.

On the other hand, you cannot do anything to cheat a hair test or skew the results. No amount of water can alter the presence of EtG in your hair. Even shaving your head won’t do the trick, because hair can be taken from the body — most commonly, the arms and legs.

If you’ve consumed alcohol within the detection window, you will see alcohol in a hair follicle test. 

Another drawback to urine drug testing is that it’s possible for an individual to provide a synthetic urine sample. This can’t happen with hair testing since a medical professional will be the one who collects the sample.

For these reasons, hair drug testing is more accurate than urine testing and even results in twice the number of positive drug test results.

Finally, hair testing is less invasive, since not even a couple of inches of hair is needed, and it can be taken from the head or body.

people drinking glasses of wine before a hair alcohol test

Using Hair Testing to Detect Other Substances

As you probably guessed by now, other substances can be detected through your hair, as well. Marijuana is one example. More specifically, it’s the THC in marijuana — the ingredient that’s responsible for getting you high. 

Different drugs have different lifespans, but there are additional factors that will determine how long they stay in your system, such as: 

  • How much you consumed.
  • How you consumed it.
  • Your metabolism.
  • How strong the drug was.
  • Your age.
  • Your activity level.

However, it’s important to note that considering hair testing’s lengthy detection window, if you think you might be tested for drugs, it’s best to refrain from using any.

Why Work With US Drug Test Centers?

At US Drug Test Centers, accuracy reigns supreme. We’ll give you access to our cloud-based drug testing portal that allows you to do everything from order a drug test to manage your results. It even provides up-to-date status reports of all of your testing, from the time it’s scheduled to when a medical review officer verifies it to when the results are completed.

Our staff members are trained DOT (Department of Transportation) drug test collectors, and we’ll assign you a designated account representative who is fully equipped and trained to meet all of your needs.

yellow cabNeed more help? We’ve got you covered. We can also offer:

  • Creating a formal written drug-free workplace policy.
  • Employee education.
  • Supervisor training.
  • Employee assistance testing.

If you need court-ordered, child custody, or child protection drug testing, hair follicle drug testing is a suitable solution. Make an appointment with US Drug Test Centers today for same-day or next-day testing and visit one of our convenient locations. 


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