Urine vs. saliva drug testing

The best and easiest way to determine if an individual is engaging in alcohol or drug abuse is through drug testing. However, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options for drug testing. In this article, we will look into urine drug testing and saliva drug testing.

drug test comparison

Courtesy of Home Health Testing

Overview on Drug Testing

Drug testing is a precautionary means used by employers to ensure that the workplace remains safe and healthy for all employees. Mandatory drug testing is implemented in certain industries such as aviation, mining, construction, transportation, and manufacturing industry. Individuals working in such industries are prone to work for long hours that some of them find it fitting to take drugs or alcohol to evade sleep and be able to perform their duties.

Unfortunately, more than the positive effects that these individuals may enjoy, long-term use and increased intake of illicit substances may result in accidents, injuries, and even death.

Drug testing can be performed in 5 different ways: blood, saliva, urine, hair, and sweat. In most industries, urine drug test and saliva drug test are the two most popular options.

Urine Test

When taking a urine drug test, the individual to be tested is asked to provide at least 30 mL of urine sample in a restroom.  The collector places the sample in a bottle that is completely labeled and tamper-resistant. The samples are then shipped to an accredited laboratory where a Medical Review Officer will perform the test.

In the lab, the sample is divided into two. The second sample will be used as a confirmatory test should the first sample turn positive. The results are then mailed or sent electronically to the employer after a predetermined period.


  • Reliable and accurate
  • Wider detection window


  • Urine sample has a potential to be adulterated
  • Privacy issues

Saliva Test

Saliva drug test analyzes a sample of saliva that is collected using a swab which is placed in the individual’s mouth. The areas include between the cheek and lower gum. The procedure is performed for at least two minutes until the saliva has been absorbed.

Some saliva drug test kits may provide on-site results, while others require the swabs to be sent to a laboratory for analysis.


  • Less invasive collection
  • Likely to determine the most recent intake of drugs
  • Allows easy observation while the test is being performed; adulteration is unlikely


  • Smaller window of detection; it can only detect the last 24-48 hours of drug use
  • Not accepted by some federally-mandated drug programs

How about the other types of drug tests?


Considered as the most invasive and the most expensive, blood drug testing is also the most accurate type of drug test. It is able to detect the presence of drugs and its metabolites, as well as the amount of drugs in the blood at the time that the test has been performed.


More companies are now using this type of drug test as a means of determining whether an employee has taken a particular drugin the last 90 days. A sample of hair of at least 3 inches is cut near the scalp.


This method of drug testing makes use of a patch that is worn for 14 days. As the person excretes sweat, traces of drugs may manifest on the sweat, which is then collected in the patch. This is mostly used to monitor individuals who are under probation or those involved in child custody cases.

Which is the better method of drug testing?

Is a urine test better than a saliva test? The answer would entirely depend upon the circumstances of the person or the organization performing the test.

For instance, if an employer would like to have a quick and convenient means of on-site drug screening in the workplace, performing a saliva test is a better drug testing method. However, if an individual is being tested in relation to legal circumstances, a urine test should be the drug testing method of choice.

The wider detection window of urine drug testing makes it the better testing method if one needs to establish a general ideal regarding the individual’s pattern of drug use. On the other hand, a saliva test can be useful for detecting any current impairment, which can be helpful in post-accident testing or for parents who may be suspecting their children to be using drugs on a particular day.

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