Urine Alcohol Test | EtG Test Advantages And Limitations

The Alcohol (Ethanol) urine test identifies the recent use of alcohol.

There are different tests that can identify alcohol in urine for several hours up to 80 hours.

For how long ethanol can be detected in urine varies by person depending on several factors. Such factors include metabolism, foods consumed, frequency of drinking, and level of physical activity before and after drinking. In addition, the quantity and type of alcohol used matters in urine test results.

Companies, government agencies, and public institutions and medical centers use urine alcohol test for different purposes.

Types of Biomarkers for Alcohol Tests

Many situations warrant the monitoring of an individual’s alcohol use. Urine test is the most common test used for the detection of alcohol use.

The biomarkers for alcohol are two types; long-term markers and short-term markers. The former is for the detection of sustained heavy drinking and the latter for spotting 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, the short-term markers are widely used in alcohol testing by agencies or at the workplace.

Types of Urine Test for Alcohol

A urine test can help a medical professional to detect potential substance and alcohol abuse problems. Urine tests for alcohol use can be of two types.

1. Detection Alcohol in Urine

When a person drinks alcohol, most of it breaks down in the body. A good bit of alcohol leaves the body through urine, feces, perspiration, and breath. Therefore, a urine test can try to identify the unmetabolized alcohol contained in the urine. 

Testing for ethanol content in urine is not effective always for some reasons. First of all, 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 who have Candida Albicans of yeast infection. Both these fungal infections can turn sugar in the urine into alcohol. This is an especially serious problem for diabetics and those consume a lot of sugary foods.

2. EtG Test (No Alcohol in Urine)

The second type of alcohol test does not look for alcohol in urine. It looks for one of the by-products of alcohol, Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) traceable in the urine. 

Fortunately, an EtG test provides a longer window of detecting alcohol use. EtG stays in the body long after all the alcohol is gone.

For how long Ethyl Glucuronide stays in a person’s system 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 company.  Anyways, EtG is traceable in the body up to 24 hours for sure in every person after have had the last shot of alcohol.

Benefits and Uses of EtG Urine Testing

EtG urine testing offers a longer window for alcohol detection in your system. It can detect alcohol use up to 80 hours or four days. Because of this, this test has wider 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 supposed to be abstinent for a certain length of time like military members in combat zones, pilots, surgeons, public transport vehicle drivers, etc.
  • Public servants and drivers guilty of alcohol-related traffic offenses
  • People with alcohol problems but have custody of or under visitation with children
  • Professionals under an agreement to abstain from alcohol; such as pilots, teachers, lawyers, medical professionals and the like.
  • For testing the effectiveness of alcohol addiction rehabilitation and intervention programs
  • Parents and teachers may use on children/youth to discourage underage drinking

Limitations of EtG Urine Test

A breath test is more appropriate and accurate than EtG in detecting the use of alcohol within 24 hours.

Many instances from the past have reported problems of inaccuracy with EtG test for alcohol.

Incidental exposure to ethanol from non-beverage sources can test positive for alcohol use in EtG test.

Initially, after the introduction of EtG urine alcohol tests, many drawbacks of the test came forth. Some of the research works suggest in some incidences even those who completely abstained from alcohol were tested positive. This test can be unreliable in some cases. 

At times, EtG test can give false-positive results. Interestingly, teetotalers may sometimes be tested as alcoholics.

Government Warning

The federal government does approve EtG test results as ‘primary or sole evidence’ in any legal matters. According to a government bulletin, it is only ‘potentially valuable clinical tool’. It’s ‘use in forensic settings is premature’.

The bulletin further suggests the possible inclusion of alcohol in several foods and household products. Many of the common consumer products and flavored foods do contain alcohol in minimal amount but detectable in EtG urine 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.

Sources of False Positive Reading in EtG Urine Test

EtG urine alcohol test easily detects the presence of alcohol in your system. Unfortunately, the use of EtG test for job screening and the legal proceeding is not trustworthy. There are numerous incidents where this test has reported alcohol consumption among abstinent people.

Here are some of the commonly used consumer good raise false alarm in urine tests:

  • Foods containing flavoring extracts like wine, rum or whiskey
  • Flambe dishes
  • Mouthwashes
  • Aftershave 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. In fact, 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 of these 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 EtG urine test for alcohol detection is a highly controversial issue. It correctly detects the alcohol present in the body. But it picks up the alcohol content entered in 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 EtG urine alcohol test, keep a track of alcohol-rich foods or products that you have used within the last four days. Never the less you won’t be falsely tested positive for alcohol despite abstaining from alcoholic drinks.  

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