What Drugs Show up in a Urine Test and for How Long?

Updated on June 20, 2023

One of the most common methods for drug testing is the urine drug screen. It is a quick, painless, and cost-effective way to check for the presence of prescription and illegal drugs in a person’s system.

All one has to do is provide a urine sample for the doctor or tester to analyze. The analysis aims to figure out if an individual has consumed specific drugs within a recent time-frame, even after the drug’s effects have subsided.

Today, we will be taking a closer look at the urine drug test, including the drugs it can trace and the length of time these substances remain detectable in urine. 

Who Requires a Urine Drug Screen?

From sports officials and doctors to employers, anyone may ask you to undergo a urine drug test for several reasons. You could also decide to get screened to know if you beat a drug test and have a completely abusive-substance-free system.

1. Physicians

A drug screen may be required by a physician to confirm or deny any misuse of any medication such as OTC appetite suppressants. Misuse of this particular medication can cause dependency and addiction, along with many physical side effects. Phentermine and other appetite suppressants can be detected in a drug test. It may also be requested by medical professionals to find out if a patient has been misusing prescription medicines, or using illegal substances.

2. Sporting Events

Cheating in the sporting world comes in many forms, one of them being performance-enhancing drugs. Due to the propensity of certain athletes to take these drugs, most major sporting events require urine drug screens as a requirement for participation.

3. Rehab Programs

Alcohol and drug rehab facilities may request urine drug screens to determine whether or not a person has gone off the wagon. Prison systems also require the test for individuals with a history of substance abuse.

4. Employers 

Companies sometimes require their incoming and existing staff members to undergo urine drug screens. This is especially prevalent in work environments that require high safety levels. For instance, a person operating large machinery is more likely to be requested for a drug screen than one doing back-office support.

The laws that govern drug testing vary in every jurisdiction, which is why you need to do your research or check with the local authorities.

Drugs a Urine Test Can Trace

A urine drug screen is capable of detecting all kinds of drugs. These include but are not limited to:

  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Opioids
  • Methamphetamine
  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Amphetamines
  • Phencyclidine

A urine drug test can also trace the level of alcohol in one’s system. However, it is not the first course of action for someone suspected to be under the influence of alcohol. Blood and breath tests are usually what’s administered in these scenarios. Urine screens can also detect the presence of nicotine and cotinine, which is a by-product of nicotine. 

Types of Urine Drug Screens

A urine drug screen is usually carried out by a physician or trained tester. It comes in two types, both of which require samples.

1. Immunoassay (IA)

The more common of the two urine testing methods because of its quickness and cost-effectiveness, IA is also prone to giving false-positive results. For this reason, it may show the presence of a drug that a person hasn’t actually consumed. 

2. Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS)

Any false-positive results from the IA can be cleared up by this method. Not only is the GC-MS more reliable than the IA, but it can also detect a wider range of substances. Providers of these tests also do follow-up check-ups on account of the test’s higher cost.

How Long Do Drugs Remain Traceable Under the Urine Drug Test?

Various factors determine the length of time in which tests can detect specific drugs in a person’s system. These include:

  • Urine acidity
  • Frequency and quantity of drug use
  • How recently the drug was taken
  • Hydration levels
  • Body mass

If a person is a heavy and frequent user of a drug, then the substance will naturally remain detectable in his or her system longer.

Let’s take the following detection times for marijuana, depending on the frequency of use, as an example:

  • One-time use: three days
  • Four times a week: seven days or one week
  • Everyday use: up to two weeks
  • Heavy use: one month or more

The following shows the length of time certain drugs remain traceable after use under the urine drug screen:

  • PCP: eight days
  • Long-acting benzodiazepines: one month
  • Short-acting benzodiazepines: three days
  • Long-acting barbiturates: three weeks
  • Short-acting barbiturates: one day
  • Alcohol: up to 12 hours
  • Amphetamines: two days
  • Morphine: two to three days
  • Heroin: two days
  • Methadone: three days
  • Cocaine metabolites: two to four days

Effectiveness of the Urine Test

Urine drug screens are ideal for detecting the presence of prescription and illegal drugs in a person’s system. It is mostly requested by physicians, sporting organizations, and employers for a broad range of reasons.

These tests can also trace a number of drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, methadone, heroin, and barbiturates. It is important to note that some of these substances may remain detectable in the body for a longer period.

In the event that an initial urine test churns out a false-positive, one may need to undergo a second screening in the form of a Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) test.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.