According to the “Global status report on alcohol and health” by WHO, alcohol addiction is a worldwide problem. It causes hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. It is a precursor to violence, injury, and several diseases.
Furthermore, the negative impacts of alcohol spread throughout a family, community, country, and beyond.
Alcohol consumption by the general public is increasing rapidly. Consequently, there is a growing demand for more alcohol testing, screening, and detection.
Testing for alcohol through clinically proven methods verifies the use of alcohol over a period of time by an individual.
When do you need an alcohol test?
One may have to undergo an alcohol test for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Pre-employment screening
- During the probation period for alcohol-related crimes
- Mandatory workplace screening programs for alcohol use
- For granting visitation permit or custody of children
- Identifying drivers suspected of drinking and driving
- For de-addiction treatment and rehabilitation
- As a part of the police investigation procedure in criminal cases
Levels of Alcohol Consumption
Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is the only type of alcohol suitable for consumption without harming yourself. The percentage of alcohol in the system is the amount of ethanol consumed.
- Abstinence: No consumption of alcohol
- Occasional Drinking: If you consume less than 40 grams of pure ethanol a day then it is within the occasional drinking category.
- Alcohol Abuse: Excessive use of alcohol is defined as consuming more than 40 grams of pure ethanol a day. Half a bottle of wine has over 40 grams of ethanol.
Types of Testing
We are all familiar with police officers testing drivers with breathalyzers for alcohol.
For assessing current intoxication or a history of prior alcohol and drug consumption, a variety of specimens and methods can be used. Common specimen tests include:
- Hair Testing
- Breast Milk
- Breath (remote alcohol monitoring) – as long as required
- Blood indirect (CDT, LFT, FBC) – 30 days
- Blood direct (PEth) – 30 days
- Fingernail – 3-6 months
- Head hair – 0-3 or 0-6 months
- Body hair (chest, arm) – 4-8 months
- Body hair (pubic) – 4-8 months
- Saliva – 24 hours
- Breast Milk – 30 days
- Sweat – 80 hours
Indications of Various Testing Specimens
It is possible to assess the drinking habits of the individual through alcohol tests. According to the level of alcohol content in the specimens, here are some of the indications:
- Breath (Remote alcohol monitoring) – social drinking, alcohol abuse, abstinence
- Head hair – social drinking, alcohol abuse, abstinence
- Body hair (chest, arm) – social drinking or alcohol abuse
- Body hair (pubic) – Abstinence
- Fingernail – alcohol abuse, social drinking
- Urine – social drinking, alcohol abuse
- Saliva – Social drinking, alcohol abuse
- Blood direct (PEth) – social drinking, alcohol abuse, abstinence within a week
- Blood indirect (CDT, LFT, FBC) – Alcohol abuse or abstinence with a limitation of 44-85% accuracy
Common Tests for Alcohol Detection
The common alcohol testing methods are blood, breath, and saliva tests. There are other specimens like hair, nail, sweat, and breast milk tests as well. These tests help in diagnosing the drinking habits or abstinence from alcohol by a person. Below are brief notes on each type of alcohol testing.
The Bottom Line
Different alcoholic drinks like wine, beer, and liquor break down differently in each person’s body. Therefore, the detection period for each type of drink and other biological factors influence the outcome of alcohol tests.
The most commonly used alcohol tests are breath and urine tests. However, hair or fingernail tests offer a longer detection window for alcohol testing. Blood and saliva tests offer only a shorter detection period, less than 48 hours at the most.