The alcohol (ethanol) urine test identifies the recent use of alcohol.
Different tests can identify alcohol in the urine for up to 80 hours. Depending on several factors, how long ethanol can be detected in urine varies by person. Such factors include metabolism, foods consumed, drinking frequency, and physical activity levels before and after drinking. In addition, drinking how much alcohol, type of alcohol used, or combining alcohol with other drugs influence urine evaluation results.
Companies, government agencies, public institutions, and medical centers use urine alcohol tests and drug tests for different purposes.
Types of Biomarkers for Alcohol Tests
Many situations warrant the monitoring of an individual’s alcohol use. The urine analysis is the most common test used to detect alcohol use.
The biomarkers for alcohol are of two types: long-term markers and short-term markers. The former detects sustained heavy drinking and the latter spots recent ingestion.
The short-term markers help to reveal even a single intake of alcohol. This is very useful in monitoring alcohol-dependent patients on withdrawal treatment. Similarly, short-term markers are widely used in alcohol testing by agencies or at the workplace.
Types of Urine Tests for Alcohol
A urine test can help medical professionals detect potential substance and alcohol abuse problems. Urine tests for alcohol use can be of two types.
1. Detection of alcohol in urine
Alcohol is mainly broken down by the liver, which can metabolize around one drink (12 grams of pure alcohol) per hour for men.
When a person drinks alcohol, most of it breaks down in the body. A lot of alcohol leaves the body through urine, feces, sweat, and breath. Therefore, a urine examination can try to identify the unmetabolized alcohol contained in the urine.
Testing for ethanol content in urine is only sometimes effective for some reason. First, testing to find unmetabolized alcohol in urine gives one a very short window for detection because unmetabolized alcohol leaves the body very quickly.
Secondly, this alcohol test can prove wrong in persons with Candida albicans, a yeast infection. Both of these fungal infections can turn sugar in the urine into alcohol. This is an especially serious problem for people with diabetes and those who consume many sugary foods.
2. EtG test
The second type of alcohol test does not look for alcohol in the urine. EtG is a biological by-product that occurs when you consume alcohol, This test looks for ethyl glucuronide (EtG), traceable in the urine.
In your urine sample, a certain level of EtG can be detected according to the amount of alcohol consumed.
Fortunately, an EtG test provides a longer window for detecting alcohol use. EtG stays in the body long after all the alcohol is removed.
How long ethyl glucuronide is present in the urine depends on several factors. Most clinical testing experts suggest that EtG can last up to 70 to 80 hours. Claims vary from testing company to testing company. EtG is traceable in the body for up to 24 hours in every person after having had the last shot of alcohol.
Related article: Drug And Alcohol Tests Clinical Diagnosis
Benefits and Uses of EtG Testing
Effects of alcohol can be detected in breath, blood, urine, and hair.
EtG can be found in the urine much longer than blood alcohol test or breathalyzer test.
EtG testing offers a long alcohol detection window. It can detect alcohol use (EtG in the urine) for up to 80 hours or four days. Because of this, this test has broader uses than others. The following are some of its detection uses:
- Youth under the legal age of drinking
- Individuals on probation for alcohol-related crimes
- Persons are supposed to be abstinent for a certain length of time, like military members in combat zones, pilots, surgeons, public vehicle drivers, etc.
- Public servants and drivers are guilty of alcohol-related traffic offenses.
- People with alcohol problems who have custody of or are under visitation with children.
- Professionals who have agreed to abstain from alcohol, such as pilots, teachers, lawyers, medical professionals, etc.
- Testing the effectiveness of alcohol addiction rehabilitation and intervention programs
- Parents and teachers may use this method on children/youth to discourage underage drinking.
Limitations of the EtG Urine Test
A breath test is more appropriate and accurate than EtG in detecting the use of alcohol within 24 hours.
Many past instances have reported accuracy problems with the EtG test for alcohol.
Incidental exposure to ethanol from non-beverage sources can test positive for alcohol use in the EtG test.
Initially, after the introduction of EtG tests, many drawbacks of the test came to light. Some research works suggest that in some incidences, even those who completely abstained from alcohol tested positive. This test can be unreliable in some cases.
At times, the EtG test can give false positive results. Interestingly, teetotalers may sometimes be tested as alcoholics.
The federal government approves EtG test results as ‘primary or sole evidence’ in legal matters. According to a government bulletin, it is only a ‘potentially valuable clinical tool.’ Its use in forensic settings is premature.
The bulletin further suggests including alcohol in several foods and household products. Many common consumer products and flavored foods contain alcohol in minimal amounts but are detectable by the EtG test.
A federal agency has declared the test too scientifically uncertain to be the sole basis for legal or disciplinary action.
Kenneth Hoffman, the agency physician, suggests that the urine-alcohol screen called EtG doesn’t offer surefire proof of drinking.
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Sources of False Positive Readings in the EtG Test
EtG alcohol test quickly detects the presence of alcohol in your system. Unfortunately, using the EtG test for job screening and legal proceedings is untrustworthy. There are numerous incidents where this test has reported alcohol consumption among abstinent people.
Here are some of the commonly used consumer goods that raise false alarms in urine tests:
- Foods containing flavoring extracts like wine, rum, or whiskey
- Flambe dishes
- After-shave lotions, colognes, perfumes, and antiperspirants
- Hair sprays, mousses, astringents, and cosmetics
- Bug sprays and body washes
- Medications, cough syrups, and herbal therapies
- Detergents, solvents, paints, cleaners, and lacquers
The list goes on. There are hundreds of household products and foods that contain ethanol.
Skin contact with ethanol or breathing ethanol vapors can yield false-positive results from many common products.
Implications and Dangers
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), “false-positive responses can be harmful in medical and forensic settings. Individuals’ freedom or career can be in jeopardy.”
Using an EtG test for alcohol detection is a highly controversial issue. It correctly detects the amount of alcohol present in the body. But it picks up the alcohol content entered into the system via foods and household products. For this reason, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved this alcohol test.
If you are subjected to an EtG urine alcohol test, keep track of any alcohol-rich foods or products you have used within the last four days. Nevertheless, you won’t be falsely tested positive for alcohol despite abstaining from alcoholic drinks.
Recommended reading list:
- Lyon, L. 7 Reasons Parents Should Not Test Kids for Drug Use. U.S. News World Rep, Aug 6, 2006
- The Role of Biomarkers in the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders. Advisory, 2012, 11(2).
- Wojcik, M., & Hawthorne, J. Sensitivity of commercial ETG testing in screening for alcohol abstinence. Alc. Alc., 2007, 42(4), 317-320.
- Gudrun Høiseth, Jean Paul Bernard, Nicolai Stephanson, Et al, Comparison between the urinary alcohol markers EtG, EtS, and GTOL/5-HIAA in a controlled drinking experiment, 29 January 2008