Anxiety Medications and Drug Screening

Eileen Bailey Health Guide July 18, 2011
  • We receive many questions about how long medications, especially benzodiazepines, remain in your system and whether they are detected in a drug screening. Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications and include Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan, which are often taken to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, especially in those suffering from panic attacks. Many times our readers and members are worried about upcoming employment screening and how results will impact their being offered a job position.

    It is impossible for anyone to say with any exactness how long a medication will remain in your system. There are a number of factors, including your dosage, how often you take the medication, how long you have been taking medication, your metabolism and even what you eat or drink. It is also impossible for us to know what type of drug screening is being requested, as not all screening look for this type of medication. I can give you some guidelines and information to help you understand the process a little better.


    What Drugs Show Up on Screenings?

    The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration requires that companies with employees who use a commercial class drivers license must have a drug screening policy in place. They are required to have the basic screening completed which tests for five specific substances:

    • Cannabinoids (marijuana/hash)
    • Cocaine (cocaine, crack, benzolecognine)
    • Amphetamines (amphetamines, methamphetamines, speed)
    • Opiates (heroin, codeine, opium, morphine)
    • Phencyclidine (PCP)

    Benzodiazepines are not on the list for the basic drug test but would be included if an employer chose to order the expanded drug screening which includes the above five drugs plus any number of the following (companies choose which they want screened for):

    • Barbiturates (Phenobarbital, Secobarbitol, Butalbital)
    • Hydrocodone (Lortab, Vicodin)
    • Methaqualone (Quaaludes)
    • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Librium, Serax, Rohypnol)
    • Methadone
    • Propoxyphene (Darvon compounds)
    • Ethanol (Alcohol)
    • MDMA (Ecstasy)
    • LSD
    • Tryptamines (Psilocybin, AMT, DMT, DPT, 5-MeO-DiPT)
    • Phenethylamines (Mescaline, MDMA, MDA, MDE, 2C-B, 2C-T-7)
    • Inhalents (Toluene, Xylene, Benzene)

    Although drug screening can be done through blood samples, saliva, sweat, urine or hair, most employers choose either urine or blood tests. Some are now using hair samples because hair testing will show drugs used within the last 90 days. It is not known how long benzodiazepines can be detected in blood tests, but for urine tests there it can be detected for approximately 40 days, depending on the different factors as explained in an earlier paragraph.

    Laws Concerning Drug Screening

    Although specific laws regarding employment screening may differ based on where you live, there are some similarities. In order for an employer to request an employment screening, they should have a written policy explaining their system for testing and stating they require job applicants to be drug-free. They should provide written notice that includes:

    • What situations require drug screenings
    • Type of drug testing that will be done
    • What over-the-counter medications can be detected 
    • What over-the-counter medications may produce a positive result
    • Type of drug testing 

    Check with your state offices to find out the exact laws in your state. Some states require companies to give you a conditional offer of employment before requesting a drug screening. There are also anti-discriminatory laws that require companies to require drug screenings on an entire class of employees. In other words, they can't pick and choose who is required to undergo drug screening or ask you to go for a test because you look like someone who would do drugs.

    Although some people that drug screenings are an invasion of privacy, courts have upheld companies rights to require a drug screening as a way to determine employment.

    Prescription Medication and Drug Testing

    Taking prescription medication for anxiety can cause your test to be positive if your employer or potential employer tests for benzodiazepines. You have a choice of talking to the employer beforehand, letting him know that you are prescribed this medication. That way results won't come as a surprise. Some people, however, do not want to disclose their anxiety or other medical conditions because they believe this information will make the employer view them negatively. They believe disclosing medical conditions is a personal decision and they should not be forced to do so.

    You may be given forms to complete by the medical lab where you can write any prescription medication you are taking. Some labs may discount results if you provide a prescription. If possible, you may want to have your doctor give you a written prescription you can include, however, the employer may still receive the positive results and not receive the additional paperwork from your doctor. If this happens, you may be given an opportunity to explain the results, but employers can simply offer someone else the position.

    If you feel you have been discriminated against based on drug screening, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov). 

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