The Consequences of Failing a Drug Test: A Guide for Jobseekers

  • Career Advice from Certified ADHD Coach Hannah Chu
  • By Hannah Chu
  • Published on February 13

In the fiercely competitive landscape of today's job market, keeping a clean profile has become increasingly vital. Drug testing, a widespread practice across various industries, stands as one of the significant challenges that job seekers might face. Gaining insight into the intricacies of drug testing and its potential repercussions is crucial for those looking to enter or progress within the job market. 

This blog post aims to illuminate the reasons behind employer-mandated drug testing, identify the drugs commonly screened for, and explore the impact that failing a test can have on an individual's professional life and financial stability.

What is Drug Testing?

Drug testing is a standard procedure used by employers to detect the presence of illegal drugs or prescription medication in an individual's system. It serves as a measure to ensure workplace safety, integrity, and productivity. The most common types of drug tests include:

  • Urine tests: The most widespread method due to its simplicity and the broad range of drugs it can detect.
  • Blood tests: More invasive but provide accurate information about the drug's current presence in the bloodstream.
  • Saliva tests: A non-invasive method used to detect recent drug use.
  • Hair follicle tests: Can detect drug use over a more extended period, up to 90 days.

Why Do Employers Conduct Drug Tests?

Employers conduct drug tests primarily to ensure workplace safety and maintain the quality of their products or services. Drug use can impair an individual's ability to perform their duties safely and effectively, leading to increased accidents, absenteeism, and lower productivity. In sectors such as transportation, healthcare, and construction, where safety is paramount, drug testing is a regulatory requirement. (Visit the Checkr website for more information on pre-employment drug testing.)

The American Addiction Center highlights the importance of transparency in recruitment processes, noting that many companies explicitly include drug testing policies in job postings. To understand the prevalence of this practice across different job sectors, American Addiction Centers analyzed job listings on Glassdoor. Their research aimed to identify which positions are most commonly associated with requirements for pre-employment drug tests and ongoing drug screenings. 

In an article by Labcorp, they highlight their research based on data provided by the federal government, that employees who use substances are more likely to: 

  • Be late or absent from work
  • Cause higher employee turnover
  • Be less productive employees
  • Be involved in a workplace accident
  • File a workers’ compensation claim

Drugs Included in the Average Drug Test

The typical drug test screens for several classes of drugs, including:

  • Marijuana: Despite its legal status in many areas, it remains the most commonly detected substance in drug tests.
  • Opiates (such as heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone)
  • Methamphetamines: Including methamphetamine and amphetamine.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

"Marijuana is Legal Where I Live,

Why Did I Get Tested for It?"

The legality of marijuana varies by jurisdiction, but federal law still classifies it as an illegal substance. Many employers follow federal guidelines or have their own policies against drug use, including marijuana, to maintain a safe and productive workplace. Consequently, even if marijuana is legal in your area, companies may still test for it as part of their employment policy.

The Consequences of Failing a Drug Test

US Drug Test Centers, a provider of drug and alcohol testing services for employers, states that the decision on the next steps following a failed drug test typically rests with the hiring manager.

Failing a drug test can have immediate and long-term consequences:

  • Immediate job prospects: Failing a pre-employment drug test usually results in the job offer being rescinded.
  • Current employment: A positive result can lead to disciplinary action or termination if subjected to random drug testing.
  • Career impact: A history of failed drug tests can make finding future employment challenging, as some industries share information about drug test failures.
  • Potential Damage to Your Career and Livelihood
  • The ramifications of a failed drug test extend beyond the immediate loss of a job opportunity. It can tarnish your professional reputation, limiting your career advancement and the types of jobs you can apply for. It might even result in losing professional licenses or certifications in highly regulated industries.

Risk-Benefit Analysis of Taking Drugs With Potential Job Testing

Engaging in drug use when your job may require random drug testing is a high-stakes gamble. The temporary pleasure or relief from drug use must be weighed against the potential for job loss, career damage, and the ensuing financial and personal stress. Considering the severe implications, the risks often outweigh the benefits.

In conclusion, drug testing is a reality in the job market that cannot be ignored. Understanding the types of tests, the substances screened, and the consequences of failing is crucial for job seekers. Navigating the job market successfully requires skill, experience, and a clear understanding of the policies that govern workplace safety and employee conduct. Making informed decisions about drug use can protect your career and ensure your livelihood remains secure.


  • 4 reasons why a drug-tested workplace is a stronger workplace

  • Guide to Pre-Employment Drug Testing