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WHAT WILL SHOW UP IN MY DRUGS AND/OR ALCOHOL TEST?
If the Local Authority has concerns about your suspected alcohol or substance misuse, they may well ask you to agree to be tested. There are several different ways to test for alcohol or substance use, each of which will be further explored within this article.
Hair Strand Testing – Head Hair – Hair can be used to test for both drug and alcohol use. The most common method of testing for both drug and alcohol use is by way of hair strand testing, using hair from your head. Anything you ingest, including drugs and alcohol, will stay in your hair forever. Head hair grows at approximately 1cm per month and it is therefore possible to take a sample of hair from your head and split it down (segment) to show a breakdown the usage month by month. They will usually seek to test for 3 or 6 months. You should be prepared for a sizeable chunk of hair to be taken and it has to be taken from the root to get the newest hair section, although they do try to take the sample from the middle of your head to keep it as hidden as possible.
Body Hair – If you do not have any hair on your head sometimes body hair will be used as an alternative. This can be taken from any area of the body. Again, this can be used to test for both drugs and alcohol. This testing works in the same way, however it is not possible to segment body hair in the same way you can with head hair, so the testing will only show an overview of the time period being tested. This is less precise than testing head hair and it does mean that the result will be positive even if you have not used any substances recently, but if you have within the time period being tested.
Fingernails – Testing fingernails is similar to testing body hair, in that it can only show an overview of usage during a specified time frame. This is a less commonly used method and can only be used to test for drug use, not alcohol.
Urine – Urine testing is commonly used by medical professionals but less often within legal proceedings. Urine testing is very accurate and will show up any substance misuse within an approximate 48-hour window. This means you have to repeat the testing regularly.
Mouth swab – Similar to urine testing, mouth swabs will only show up substance use within an approximate 48 hour window.
Blood – Blood testing can be used to test for alcohol only, this involves a blood sample being taken and sent away for testing. It is more accurate than the other methods of testing for alcohol but is of course more intrusive. Blood testing will go back approximately 1 month and can identify whether the levels of alcohol ingested during that time frame were ‘chronic excessive’.
SCRAM – Another method of alcohol testing is via a SCRAM bracelet. This is a chunky bracelet which is worn on your ankle over a period of weeks or months, which continually monitors the level of alcohol in the body and produces reports. This means that if you consume alcohol whilst wearing the bracelet, it will recognise this and the report will show up the amount of alcohol consumed and at what exact time.
If you are asked by your social worker, or anybody else, to agree to testing for drug or alcohol use you should seek legal advice before agreeing. A solicitor will be able to talk through the above options with you and help you to decide which, if any, is the best option for you and what may happen if you refuse to be tested.