Indeed, it is hard to come back to work after a positive drug test. Not only will you be subjected to more drug tests for substance abuse, but you may also experience uncomfortable or awkward interactions with your co-workers should word come out that you tested positive on your drug and alcohol testing.


Having a failed drug test can hinder career growth prospects, especially if you want to get promoted to a better position. That's why many companies include a comprehensive pre-employment drug test for their applicants and current employees. It is one of their safety-sensitive functions, and failing an alcohol or drug test can also be dangerous for you.

In addition, positive workplace drug test numbers spiked at their all-time high for sixteen years in 2020, with many people believing the global pandemic resulted in higher use of illicit substances that could have a spillover effect on workplace safety.

Returning to duty can be stressful if you have some unanswered questions in your head, including, how will you explain the positive drug test to your boss?

If you test positive, what can you do? Do you need a follow-up evaluation? How about consulting drug and alcohol counselors? Will you get sent to a treatment program or is this just about getting some brief education?

The number of questions that surface after a drug test can be overwhelming. This article will answer several of them and give some general advice about how to prevent another drug test violation in the future. 

An Overview Of The Steps In The DOT Return-To-Duty Process

After a positive test ordered by a DOT regulated employer, the process may vary slightly by industry, but the following are key actions that must be completed.

1. SAP Evaluation. You must first be evaluated by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP).

2. Education and/or Treatment Program. After the initial assessment, you will be required to go through an education and/or treatment program as prescribed by the SAP professional.

3. Follow-Up Evaluation. After completing education, counseling, or treatment, you must return to the original SAP that evaluated you in order to complete a follow up evaluation. 

4. Return-To-Duty Test. The last step is to take a return-to-duty drug test. This test is ordered by the employer right before you begin your safety sensitive duties in order to demonstrate your readiness.

5. Follow-Up Testing. The DOT requires all regulated employers to order a minimum of 6 tests in the first 12 months of returning to duty. The SAP who evaluated you has discretion to order up to 5 years of return-to-duty tests which must be in addition to any random drug testing that the company may be conducting during the same period of time. 

Now that you know the general steps on what to do after a positive drug test, it is time to focus on how you can get your job back after a failed drug test.

Consulting With A Substance Abuse Professional

The first thing you need to do after a positive drug test or refusal to drug test is meet with a Substance Abuse Professional (or SAP), someone who can help you complete a DOT acceptable substance abuse evaluation. They will evaluate you to determine the appropriate level of education, counseling or treatment. Even if you do not have a substance abuse diagnosis, you must at a minimum complete some form of substance use education as determined by the SAP. 

In addition, many employers also have Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs. This confidential service can provide you with the necessary help and support, including resources for substance abuse professionals in your area.

Returning After A Positive Drug Test

It's not going to be easy, but with the right support system, you can get back to work after a positive drug test. It may take time, but you can get through anything with the right attitude and determination.

Remember, you are not alone in this. Many people are willing to help, including your friends, family, substance abuse professionals, and your employer's EAP. So don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.


Getting A Negative Drug Testing Result

You must also get a negative result from your first return to duty drug test to get the official clearance that you can get back to work. This is very important, and you should make sure that you are indeed clear/testing negative at home before going back to work which means completely abstaining from using prohibited drugs.


Post-Treatment Care

After completing your treatment program, some individuals may need to continue with post-treatment care, or what is referred to as aftercare. The SAP determines whether it is appropriate or not. In many cases it is not necessary, but in cases where there may be a long-standing dependence on alcohol or drugs it is likely to be recommended. 

Aftercare may include attending support group meetings, seeing a therapist or counselor regularly, and getting regular drug tests. Aftercare recommendations may also help you deal with any underlying issues that may have led to your drug use in the first place.

Post-treatment care is just as important as the treatment itself, so make sure to take it seriously. If you need aftercare, be sure to take advantage of support resources to stay on the right track and avoid any chance of a positive test that could affect your livelihood.


Trying To Get Promoted

If you're on the way to getting promoted, a positive drug test can hinder you. Your employer may think that you cannot handle more responsibilities or that you are not fit for the position.

However, if you can prove to them that you have completed a treatment program and are now ready to return to duty, they may be more likely to give you the promotion. Remember, there are other factors for your promotion, but a drug test result should not be the major hindrance to your career.

This is why it is important to get treated and take your post-treatment care seriously. 

In Conclusion

Getting back to work after a positive drug test can be difficult, but following your treatment plan and avoiding a relapse will make the process smoother and more manageable. 

Most importantly, don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Many people are willing to help. Choose people who will surround you in these difficult moments and get all the motivation and encouragement you need. 

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