Explanation of Key Phrases Used in Drug and Alcohol Testing:

The world of drug and alcohol testing can be quite complex, with numerous terms, acronyms, and phrases.

Here we clarify some of the most commonly used terminology, to ensure you have a clear understanding when going through our medical reports.

Detection Window

The detection window refers to a period that a drug or alcohol marker may be identified by a test after a person has been exposed to it.

For instance, hair testing can detect and measure alcohol markers for up to six months. Drugs can be detected for up to twelve months, but measurements are more reliable for up to six months.

Court-approved drug and alcohol testing in child custody cases


When drugs or alcohol are broken down they form chemicals known as metabolites. Different substances create different metabolites. We can test hair samples for these specific chemicals to determine if a person has consumed the substance.

In Vivo

This refers to a metabolite forming inside the body that requires ingestion to form. These metabolites are very useful when determining active misuse, as opposed to passive exposure to a drug.

In Vitro

Some metabolites may form ‘spontaneously’ outside the body – ‘In vitro’, so when detected in isolation at low levels may be due to passive exposure.

How far back does a hair drug test go?


A cut-off aids the interpretation of drug and alcohol testing. This reduces the risk of ‘false positives’ being reported from passive exposure and external contamination. Drug testing standards are set by The Society of Hair Testing. They are responsible for reviewing and updating standards.

A test result above the cut­-off given by The SoHT is suggestive of active misuse. When a result is much higher than this cut-off, it’s a strong indication that drug use has happened within the sample’s timeframe.

Why clients should do a 9-panel hair drug test


Hair grows in a non-linear manner. This means we can detect drugs after a person stops using. This usually only occurs after a period of regular heavy misuse of a drug, and the levels rapidly decline in an exponential-like pattern.

The length of time that drugs may be detected due to washout depends on the type of previous use (the amount and frequency) and how a drug is broken down inside the body.

Why use hair segmentation drug testing?

For more on drug testing and our medical review process, click here.

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