Alcohol Detection Test: What Are The Types?
08 November, 2023
Alcohol detection tests are essential in many settings, including law enforcement, the workplace, and healthcare. It involves various procedures to detect alcohol in the system. The common types are breath, oral fluid, urine, hair, and blood testing. Each method has its advantages, accuracy level, and modes of operation. The convenience of sample collection also differs with each type. Thus, knowing the essential factors for each method can help determine the suitable procedure to use in specific circumstances.
The excessive consumption of alcohol poses several health and safety risks. It can severely impair judgment, perception, reaction time, and motor functions. Hence, it affects the ability to operate a vehicle or heavy machinery safely. Likewise, long-term heavy alcohol consumption may lead to health complications or chronic illnesses. Thus, alcohol detection can help identify issues and offer intervention. This article will present the detection of alcohol using a breathalyser, urine, oral fluid, hair, and blood tests.
Alcohol Detection Test Using a Breathalyser
A breathalyser is a portable device that measures the concentration of alcohol in the exhaled air. It utilises sensor technology to analyse the breath sample and measure the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). Therefore, it can determine whether someone is under the influence of alcohol. The device can deliver the BAC results within seconds, indicating current impairment levels.
Police officers use breathalysers in roadside screening to estimate blood alcohol levels. This can provide an objective measurement of whether a person violates a driving law or not. Moreover, it is beneficial in workplaces as it can monitor the safety of employees who work in safety-sensitive environments.
Breathalysers come in two types: semiconductor and fuel cell sensors. Semiconductor breath testers are relatively inexpensive, making them ideal for quick alcohol detection tests. Meanwhile, fuel cell breathalysers offer a high accuracy rate. It can detect even trace amounts of alcohol in the breath. Law enforcement and workplaces use fuel cell alcohol testers because of their specificity to ethanol. Thus, it minimises the likelihood of a false positive breath test.
How to Operate the Device
- Ensure to wait at least 15 minutes after eating, drinking, or smoking before using a breathalyser.
- Attach a mouthpiece to the device and turn it on.
- Wait for the machine to warm up for a few seconds. A timer will start counting down to indicate that the device is ready for testing.
- When the timer reaches zero, take a deep breath and blow steadily into the mouthpiece.
- The recommended blow time is five seconds or longer.
- The breathalyser analyses the sample of breath and displays the BAC results on the screen after a few seconds.
Alcohol Detection Test Using Urine and Oral Fluid
The urine test can detect alcohol metabolites, such as ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and ethyl sulphate (EtS), for up to 48 hours from the last intake. For heavy or frequent users, the metabolites can show up in urine samples for up to 72 hours or longer. This method is suitable for determining alcohol consumption for the past several days instead of hours.
On the other hand, the oral fluid test can detect alcohol in saliva samples. Moreover, it can provide a BAC estimate. The test kit uses an absorbent swab or pad that collects the sample from inside the cheek. Afterwards, it is placed in a vial and tested for alcohol content using a solution. Alternatively, the sample can be sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Oral fluid tests can detect alcohol for the past 12 to 24 hours. The alcohol detection tests through saliva and urine are reliable and accurate. Rapid test kits have cut-off levels to determine significant consumption. They are also easy to use and understand the results. However, for precise measurement, laboratory testing is the most reliable method.
Advantages of Urine and Saliva Analyses
Urine and saliva analyses are non-invasive methods of alcohol testing. For oral fluid testing, the sample collection can be done in view of the test administrator. Hence, it provides accuracy and minimises the likelihood of tampering. Moreover, the test kits can be used in the privacy of homes.
Advanced laboratory techniques can detect alcohol metabolites in the sample. These are direct biomarkers the body produces after alcohol consumption. Therefore, it can distinguish between actual intake and incidental exposure. Moreover, urine can trace alcohol for extended periods compared to breath tests. Lastly, it is suitable for pre-employment, random, and post-accident testing.
Alcohol Detection Test Using Hair Follicle and Blood Samples
The hair follicle test is another effective method of detecting alcohol. The hair samples can provide a retrospective measure of alcohol consumption over a long period of time. As hair grows, it incorporates substances from the bloodstream, including ethanol metabolites. By analysing hair strands, it is possible to determine the alcohol consumption patterns and periods of abstinence of an individual.
Blood testing can provide a real-time measure of alcohol levels in the body. It requires drawing blood samples and analysing them in a laboratory. This tests the alcohol molecules directly rather than its metabolites. A blood test can also detect a wide range of illicit drugs or drug metabolites.
Hair and blood analysis are costly alcohol detection tests because they require laboratory equipment. Furthermore, blood testing is the most intrusive procedure due to the use of needles or injections. Thus, employers only use it for confirmation testing. This test is essential when an initial screen through urine or saliva returns with a non-negative result.
Accuracy and Detection Window
Blood and hair tests provide high accuracy in their results due to the type of technology used. The blood test can provide an in-depth analysis of alcohol concentrations in the body. Meanwhile, hair tests can detect biomarkers of alcohol misuse like fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE).
The detection period for blood is between 6 to 12 hours. Alcohol compounds in the blood are broken down quickly due to the metabolic processes of the body. Whereas hair testing can detect alcohol consumption for up to 3 months. Due to the extended detection window of hair samples, it is suitable for identifying individuals with alcohol use disorder.
An alcohol detection test is a method of determining whether someone has been drinking. It is essential for various industries to ensure safety and productivity. The most convenient method is using a breathalyser. It is a handheld device that analyses the breath sample to measure the BAC level. This device is ideal for random monitoring or roadside checkpoints. Individuals may also get a personal device to help manage their alcohol intake.
Other types of alcohol testing are urine and oral fluid screening. It can trace amounts of alcohol in the urine and saliva sample for a certain period. On the other hand, the hair follicle test provides the longest detection period. Lastly, the blood test is the most accurate and has a shorter detection window. In summary, knowing the advantages of each type can help select the most appropriate testing option.