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If you drink alcohol, will it show up on a test?

At some time in your life, an employer, a family member or the government may ask you to take a drug test. It’s important to understand what drug tests can detect and what might happen if you fail one.

Alcohol is legal to buy, drink and make in New Zealand if you are over 18, which means that it may not be tested in the same way that other drugs are. Breath testing is the most likely way to be tested to see if you have consumed alcohol. If you are breath tested, you will be asked to blow or speak into a breathalyser machine, which measures the number of micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath. This is usually done by Police when you are driving but might be used in other places as well.

Alcohol can also be tested for using hair, urine, saliva (spit), sweat or blood. A blood test might be used to follow up a breath test for alcohol. This test measures the number of milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Alcohol can be detected in your blood up to 12 hours after your last drink. Similarly, the level of alcohol in your body can be detected in your sweat for about the same amount of time. Less common is testing urine (which can detect alcohol for 10–12 hours), saliva (which can detect alcohol for 1–5 days) and hair (which can detect alcohol for up to 90 days).

It is important to remember that every person’s body is different and will process alcohol differently.

If you fail an alcohol test, this may affect your employment, government support, court cases or official licences or registrations. At work, you may face legal consequences, especially if you have put the safety of others at risk.

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