Will Zoloft show up on drug tests?

Dear Alice,

I, like many Americans, take Zoloft, 50mg a day.

My question is: Will this show up or alter in any way a pre-employment drug test for future jobs? Should I even mention that I am taking it to the screener?

Dear Reader,

You're correct that many people rely on sertraline hydrochloride (Zoloft) to help improve depressive symptoms. Sertraline is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that helps increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, ultimately affecting mood and energy with the goal of reducing anxiety and depression. It's understandable to not want to disclose any health information, especially mental health information, to a future employer. Common drug tests are designed to detect alcohol and illicit drugs. Thus, the prescribed sertraline would most likely not appear on pre-employment drug tests. Read on for more information about typical pre-employment drug testing as well as privacy protection laws that are in place for employees nationwide.

If an employer chooses to enforce pre-employment drug testing, there are local, state, and federal laws to regulate this practice. Tests are commonly performed at certified laboratories by qualified technicians. They may collect hair, saliva, or sweat for analysis. However, urine samples are most commonly used. During a urine drug screen (UDS) the tests are designed to measure metabolites, or byproducts created when the body metabolizes a drug, that are specific to each substance. Each drug being assayed has a pre-determined level of metabolites at which the test would return a positive result. The majority of UDS tests are designed to detect:

  • Ethanol (alcohol)
  • Amphetamine
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Opiates
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

In addition to these main categories, employers may choose to run additional testing for barbiturates, benzodiazepines, hydrocodone, MDMA, methadone, methaqualone, or propoxyphene. Given proper test administration and recent advancements in technology, false positive tests are rare but not impossible. Of concern, there have been previous reports of false positive results regarding benzodiazepine detection in patients with active prescriptions for sertraline hydrochloride. The good news is that if this unfortunate circumstance happens to you, you may have the specimen tested by a second laboratory. Secondary testing is commonly performed using a different, more accurate method called gas-chromatography mass-spectrometry (CG-MS). In the previous report of false positives associated with sertraline use, CG-MS confirmed that the test results were in fact false in all patients who weren't prescribed benzodiazepines. Given this research, hopefully future testing will improve and the incidence of false positives will continue to decrease over time, not only to ensure accuracy, but also for employers to avoid lawsuits from those wrongly accused of using illegal substances.

It's unnecessary to disclose that you take sertraline or similar medications to a future employer, drug test or not. Medical information is confidential and employers don't have the right to inquire about it unless you give them signed consent to release it. Furthermore, only one person or team from your future company would likely have access to this information and would be expected to abide by confidentiality protocols. Furthermore, if a false positive incident reveals your mental health history, rest assured that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects individuals with mental health disorders and other conditions to ensure that they're allowed to continue working.

Here’s to testing negative and thinking positive!

Last updated Jan 21, 2022
Originally published Jan 28, 2005