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Hair Testing for Alcohol Use

By Andrew David Easler, Esq.

You can tell a lot about a person’s state of health and their habits by the condition of their hair. Long after certain drugs have been flushed out of the bloodstream, they’ll still show up in hair, and looking for those substances in the hair can reveal the extent of a person’s substance abuse patterns. So, do workplaces conduct hair tests for substance abuse? Sometimes, but they hardly ever to test for alcohol. The reasons are two-fold – first, the test is considerably more expensive than a urine testing. Second, the federal government doesn’t consider hair testing to be a valid means of testing for alcohol.

Hair or Urine

A hair analysis test, conducted by a qualified graduate of a hair collector training course, examines the hair for the presence of ETG (ethyl glucoronide), which remains in the hair for up to three months, and/or for FAEE (fatty acid ethyl esters), which remain in the hair for up to a year. So, why aren’t they used all that much?

As previously stated, these tests are expensive. They’re more appropriate to issues of child custody, where the court might mandate such a test as a means of proving that a parent seeking custody doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, or that he or she is working to overcome a problem. They’re less useful when it comes to determining immediate impairment, for example in issues where workplace safety is an issue.

A urine test determines whether alcohol has been used recently, and therefore meets DOT drug testing requirements. Hair testing would be essentially useless in determining alcohol as a factor in a workplace accident.

Do Any Employers Use Hair Testing?

Yes, they do. If it’s a condition of your employment that you abstain from using alcohol at all times, the test has value. One example of this would be people who are employed as alcohol counselors – in such a case, knowing about long-term use would be helpful. Even then, though, a series of regular urine tests would be less expensive, and even more conclusive. A hair test can determine if you’ve used alcohol at some point, but it wouldn’t be possible to pinpoint exactly when. Alcohol use is, of course, not illegal, so it could be argued that hair testing discriminates against people based on lifestyle choices.

Is There a Market for Hair Testing?

Of course there is. But it has to be done at specialized labs, and in case the point hasn’t been effectively made just yet, it’s expensive. However, when a hair test is needed, a graduate of a hair collector training course is going to be needed to do it. It’s a niche market, to be sure, but it can be a great opportunity for a drug or alcohol test technician who wants to specialize, or even set up in his or her own full-time or part-time business.

The information on this page may have changed since we first published it. We give great legal advice, but this page (and the rest of our site) is for informational use only and is no substitute for actual legal advice. If you’d like to establish an attorney-client relationship, reach out to us and we’ll tell you how we can make it official. Sending us an email or reading this page alone doesn’t mean we represent you.

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