Does a Background Check Include a Drug Test?


does a background check include a drug test

Getting a job offer has many different steps, often including background testing, drug testing, and reference checking (which is, in fact, different than a background check).

The background check process for a job usually includes a criminal background check and verification of resume claims.

And sometimes, your potential employer will also run a drug test around the same time.

Drug testing helps ensure that the candidate is sober enough to handle the duties assigned to them. However, like with most things, this process is not one-size-fits-all.

To that end, this article is going to unpack of the question of “does a background check include a drug test” and other related questions.

Let’s dive in.

Does a Background Check Include a Drug Test?

thinking person

While many employers will run a background check to verify the validity of the claims made, and the identity of the potential employee, they may also run a drug test around the same time. The two tests are separate and are often completed by different agencies.

For a background check, you’ll usually have to sign a paper agreeing to the check, and you may even have to have your fingerprints taken and submitted. Depending on the check needed, and the level of security required, the background check process may require more steps. You coordinate this process with your potential employer, as well as background check agencies and or government agencies.

For a drug test, you’ll be required to agree to the test and then go provide a sample at a lab that your potential employer uses. A common lab used for drug testing is LabCorp.

There are multiple different drug tests, and they may vary in the number of panels, or drugs, tested. There is urine, blood, sweat, and hair drug tests. Hair drug tests can detect substances in the proteins of your hair for usually up to 1 year. The most common form of drug test for most employment opportunities is urine, which can detect most substances for up to a month depending on the type of substance.

Drug tests range in the number of substances they test for, the more panels, the more substances they test for. While panels can range up to 19 or more, the most used are 5 and 7 panel drug tests. These test for common substances such as crack/cocaine, heroin/opiates, marijuana, and so on. Your potential employer may or may not run a drug test, though most average employment opportunities do.

Do You Always Get Drug Tested Before Getting Hired?

drug tests

Many employers will request a drug test before moving forward in the hiring process. This is essentially an insurance policy that you can complete the work assigned to you safely. It also ensures that you represent the company in the best way possible, as most people don’t want those struggling with addiction to represent their company.

While many employers do drug test, plenty do not, and some may have certain allowances. For instance, white collar jobs with high salaries are less likely to drug test than your average blue collar supermarket job.

Some employers will also allow for exceptions to be made for legal substances, such as in states where marijuana is legal to use. Whether your potential employer tests or not depends on them, as there is no current law or regulation that they must follow.

No Mention of Drug Test in Offer Letter: Will There Be One?

offer letter

Many employers will lay out what to expect in the offer letter sent to you. This offer letter is usually sent once the employer has decided to offer you a position, on the grounds you have passed the tests required of you. If no drug test is mentioned in your offer letter, it doesn’t mean there won’t be one. However, it’s highly unlikely that there will be a drug test at that point.

Most employers will only send a firm offer of employment after you’ve passed a background and/or drug test. Your offer letter usually will detail what is expected of you as an employee, and what you can expect from the employer. As such, most employers drug test before sending offers, not afterward, even if surprises can happen. If you’re unsure about what will be required of you moving forward, reach out to your hiring manager for more information. 

How Long Do a Background Check and Drug Test Take?

specific timeline

Depending on the level of security required, a background test usually takes up to 5 days to complete. Some higher clearance checks may take up to two weeks, while most are back within 3 days.

Drug tests usually take about 48 hours to complete. While the tests themselves are completed the same day, it may take some time for the results to be sent to your potential employers. If you’re concerned about the timeline of these tests, you can always reach out to your potential employer, or the companies conducting the test for more information.

What Happens If You Fail a Drug Test?


Drug testing is often considered a highly important aspect of the employment process. Should you fail a drug test, you likely won’t get an offer of employment. However, if you fail the drug test for a drug that you have a prescription for, your potential employer may make an exception.

If you have a prescription for a drug that is being tested for, it’s always a good idea to tell your employer up-front. Offer to bring the prescription in for them to see and be open about your use of the drug. Many employers will allow those with prescriptions to be hired, even if they fail a drug test.


Having to complete a background and drug test is sometimes stressful, especially since you’re tasked with taking time out of your busy day to do so. However, these tests serve a real purpose and help keep workplaces safe, healthy, and productive. To find out if your potential employer will run these tests, you can always look for information online, or ask the company themselves. Always be up front about prescription drugs and any old criminal charges that may flag a test. By being honest and forward, you may find that your potential employer offers you the position anyway. Remember, these tests are for the benefit of everyone, and the results usually don’t lie.

About the author

ted wilson
Ted Wilson

Ted Wilson is a writer and marketing specialist with over thirteen years of experience. He has worked with clients of all types, including major brands like Bed Bath & Beyond. He has years of experience writing for career management and education websites and often tells clients seeking to advance their career that passion and consistency are key.

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