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A pre-employment drug test is a screening test that employers commonly require during hiring. The goal of the test is to identify drug use by potential employees and screen out candidates who use illegal or non-prescribed drugs.

Most employers require drug testing for safety-sensitive positions like driving, construction, or healthcare jobs. However, many companies now perform drug screening on all prospective employees, regardless of the job role.

The most common types of pre-employment drug tests are urine drug tests, saliva drug tests, or hair drug tests. Urine tests are by far the most prevalent as they are easy to collect and test for drug use over a longer detection window (usually 2-3 months).

What Drugs Are Tested for?

Employers typically screen for five classes of drugs:

  • Marijuana (THC)
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates (heroin, oxycodone, etc.)
  • PCP
  • Amphetamines (methamphetamines, ecstasy)

Some companies may also test for other substances like benzodiazepines, barbiturates, synthetic drugs, or alcohol. Testing policies and cutoff thresholds can vary between employers.

Post-Circumstances if You Fail the Drug Test?

If your drug test comes back positive, the employer will inform you that you did not pass the screening. Here are some typical outcomes:

Withdrawal of Job Offer

Most companies will immediately withdraw any pending job offer if you fail a pre-employment drug test. They have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drug use by new hires due to liability and compliance reasons.

Opportunity for Retest

Some employers may give candidates a chance to explain positive results and request to re-test at their own expense within a short window of time (1-2 weeks). However, there is still a risk of the offer being rescinded if a second test confirms drug use.

Not Being Considered for Future Positions

Your failed drug test result will be documented and reported back to the hiring company. You may find it difficult to be considered for other open roles at that employer in the future due to distrust after a positive screening.

Blacklisting from Industry

In some cases, particularly for DOT-regulated transportation jobs, details of a failed drug test can be entered into a clearinghouse database shared between companies. This prevents people from simply re-applying elsewhere to avoid consequences.

How Long Does a Failed Test Affect Future Hiring?

The negative impact of failing a pre-employment drug screening tends to diminish over time as drug metabolites clear your system, and you show evidence of sobriety.

However, how long it takes to potentially be reconsidered for jobs varies significantly:

  • 3-6 Months: You may have difficulty getting hired anywhere that does routine drug testing. Most employers want to see a period of abstinence first.
  • 6-12 Months: After half a year, your chances improve if you can prove you’ve addressed any substance abuse issues. Applying for less safety-sensitive roles may work.
  • 1-2 Years: The one to two-year mark is when many employers will be willing to overlook a single past failed test, assuming no other red flags turn up in your application or background check.
  • 2+ Years: With over two years since a failed screening, you have a good shot at being given a fresh start and fair consideration for open positions by most hiring managers. Your prior drug use is less likely to impact the decision.

What Can You Do if You Fail a Pre-Employment Drug Screening?

While a failed drug test is not an easy situation, there are still actions you can take that may help alter outcomes:

  • Be honest with the employer about what happened and express commitment to remain substance-free going forward.
  • Ask for a re-test, as many allow one “mulligan” within two weeks of the positive result.
  • Consider substance use treatment or counseling to begin rebuilding your reputation.
  • Apply for jobs that don’t conduct pre-hire drug screening to gain employment sooner.
  • Re-focus efforts on industries or employers with more lenient testing policies after 6-12 months.
  • Have current employers, counselors, or sponsors write recommendation letters touting your improvement post-drug testing.
  • Consider disclosing past failed tests upfront to demonstrate accountability during future hiring processes.


Failing a pre-employment drug test has serious short-term implications for job prospects. However, with sustained efforts to address substance abuse and gain sobriety, most candidates can reasonably expect to be reconsidered for opportunities within 1-2 years. Communicating honestly and showing commitment to change are key factors in mitigating the career impacts over time.

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