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Military Drug Test: A Breakdown of Military Drug Testing

Drug testing is an annual requirement for US service members.

Undergoing a military drug test is something every recruit goes through in MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Stations). But what they may not know is that they’ll be tested for substances – both legal and illegal – for the rest of their time in the military. 

When it comes to drug use, the military has a zero-tolerance policy. They have a high code of honor to uphold, and that includes being clean from drugs — even if the drug is legal in your state. In this article we’ll be going over the entire process of the military drug test, including:

  • How they drug test
  • When you’ll be tested
  • What drugs are tested for, and
  • What happens if you fail a test


Military Drug Test 

The military’s current drug test of choice is urinalysis. And it’s exactly what it sounds like: A test on your urine. This is probably due to several reasons. 

One is that urine tests are common and easy to do. They’re over 99 percent accurate, and can detect a much wider range of drugs versus saliva testing. Urine tests aren’t usually as accurate as blood tests; however, according to the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association, they’re proven to be better at detecting drug use within the past few days.

Anyone who’s been in the workforce awhile has probably taken a drug test before, and probably also knows that there are ways to cheat the system. Here’s a tip: Don’t try. The military is not like the civilian world, and failing a drug test or trying to cheat can have serious life and legal consequences. (And yes — they will be watching you pee. I reiterate: Don’t try to cheat). 


When Does the Military Drug Test? 

As mentioned above, every recruit gets tested at MEPS. This falls under the category of Medical Testing: A military drug test that is done along with any other medical requirements the military has for you. Unfortunately, you can’t opt out of medical testing in the military. The good thing is that you’ll almost always know about it before it happens. 

Here are some of the other times the military drug tests: 

  • At least once a year. All active service members are required to undergo at least one urinalysis a year. Reservists and National Guard members need to do this once every two years. 
  • Randomly. A commander can order a drug test on their entire unit, or a randomly-selected part of the unit, at any time for any reason at all. However, they can’t target a specific individual with random testing; it truly needs to be random. 
  • When there’s probable cause. If your commander suspects that you’re using drugs and they have some sort of proof to verify this, they can request a search authorization from the installation commander. From there, if JAG agrees with it, a military search warrant will be issued and you will be forced to submit a drug test. 
  • If you consent to it. If your commander suspects you but does not have probable cause, they can simply ask you to undergo a military drug test. You have the right to refuse, although this won’t bode well for your working relationships. 
  • If your commander directs it anyway. Let’s say you refused to undergo the drug test. In this case, your commander can still order you to do it and you won’t have a say in the matter. However, the results of the test can’t be used against you in a court of law, and if you’re discharged from the military they won’t affect your discharge status (honorable, dishonorable, etc). 


What Drugs Do They Test For?  

A basic military drug test will always test for marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines, including ecstasy. However, depending on the laboratory, samples may be tested for much more. 

Right now, incoming recruits are tested for more than 26 drugs. This includes: Marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, MDMA (Molly/ecstasy), MDA, heroin, codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and more. A commander can also order tests for specific drugs such as steroids or LSD. 


What Happens If You Test Positive? 

The best way to never test positive on a military drug test is to stay away from drugs. Even the ones you think are harmless. For example, it’s much easier to test positive for marijuana than cocaine; marijuana is legal in much of the U.S. and it takes one to three weeks to leave a person’s body. Cocaine, however, cannot be detected in a test after just two to four days. But both can have dire impacts on your career. 

If you do happen to test positive, it’s likely that one of three things will happen: 

  1. Article 15. This is the best possible outcome. Essentially, it allows your commander to carry out whatever punishments they see necessary. This can include anything from assigning you to undesirable work duty to turning you down for promotion, and much more. 
  2. Discharge from the military. If you test positive for a more serious drug than marijuana, it’s likely you’ll be discharged from the military. Unfortunately, the test results will be a factor in your service characterization – meaning you could be dishonorably discharged because of it. 
  3. Court-martial. This means you’ll face military court. If you’re found guilty, you’ll have a criminal record that will follow you into the civilian world, as well as repercussions that could include jail time. 

One thing to note is that you will almost never see false positives. If your sample is flagged during the initial screening, they will retest it to be sure there wasn’t a mistake. In the event it comes up positive again, they will run a more accurate and intensive test to properly determine the results. So, if you’re not using drugs, you don’t have anything to worry about. 

For more, read about the marijuana ban in the military, and what it means for disabled service members and veterans who’d like to use it medically. 


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