Most people are familiar with the idea of finger prick blood tests for blood sugar or cholesterol levels. But can you imagine a simple finger prick test for alcohol – one that could not only reveal alcohol misuse, but also give an indication of the level of alcohol use over a period of up to four weeks?
Testing for alcohol misuse has long been standard in the context of policing, family law courts, and safety critical work roles such as within aviation or medicine. Alcohol monitoring is also becoming more common in the workplace more generally, with more employers adopting workplace drugs and alcohol testing. In part this is in recognition of the pervasive problem of alcohol misuse – 27% of drinkers in the UK are now technically classed as ‘binge-drinkers’ and 7,697 alcohol-specific deaths reported in the country in 2017 alone.
With an accuracy level of 99% and its ease of administration, the PEth dry blood spot test is set to make alcohol monitoring both an easier and more reliable process.
How is the PEth test carried out?
PEth testing is as easy as pricking a finger and analysing a small amount of dry blood (in a similar manner to a home diabetes test). A bespoke compact device is used to painlessly draw, collect, transport and store several drops in a specially designed collection kit. These blood spot samples are far less invasive than the needle and vial method utilised for traditional blood testing and can be taken comfortably in mere seconds and transported safely at room temperature.
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Whether at the workplace or in family court, a fully trained collector from Canford Labs will always be on hand to guide individuals through the process. The blood is then tested for the presence of PEth (phosphatidylethanol) in our lab. PEth is a chemical that only forms in the presence of ethanol and is a far more sensitive indicator than traditional markers of CDT (carbohydrate deficient transferrin), LFT (liver function tests) and FBC (full blood count), which can offer only a 77% sensitivity rate. The PEth test is not, however, any more expensive than traditional alcohol tests and is much easier on both the tester and the testee as the process is faster and far less invasive.
The results of a PEth test will reveal roughly how many alcoholic drinks a person has consumed per day over a period of 3-4 weeks (one drink is equivalent to a 330ml bottle of beer, a small glass of wine or a single shot of spirit). Results could be interpreted as follows:
Lowest range - Abstinence or low alcohol consumption in the month before sampling or 0 to fewer than 2 alcoholic drinks per day.
Middle range - Moderate level of alcohol consumption in the month before sampling or between 2 and 4 alcoholic drinks per day.
Highest range - Excessive alcohol consumption in the month before sampling or more than 4 alcoholic drinks per day.
So, for example, ten drinks consumed in a single episode will produce a higher PEth in comparison to the same amount of drinks being consumed across five episodes of two drinks apiece. PEth is eliminated from the body within about a month so if a longer term picture of alcohol consumption is required, the test is best used in conjunction with a hair strand test, which can indicate alcohol use over a period of around three months. Together the two tests help form a more complete picture of a person’s alcohol usage.
It’s the ability of a PEth test to actually able to discriminate between heavy, moderate and minimal alcohol consumption is a key benefit of the test among others.
What are the key benefits of a PEth test?
PEth is a direct biomarker. This means that, rather than indirect or toxic effect biomarkers that can lead to false positives and negatives when an individual is suffering from certain illnesses, a PEth test provides the highest possible sensitivity for the detection of alcohol consumption over the past month. It’s particularly effective in detecting chronic or ongoing alcohol misuse and this is why its use is so effective in the context of the workplace and in court situations such as child custody hearings, where alcohol use over a period of time needs to be assessed.
Research has also indicated that a PEth test can differentiate easily between incidental exposure (such as hand sanitiser) and the intentional consumption of alcohol because the level of alcohol required to be consumed to produce a positive reading on a test is far higher than any level possible through incidental exposure. It is, in a word - foolproof. And when you’re dealing with something as serious as familial custody or the safety and wellbeing of your staff, that security can prove vital.
The only conclusive choice
A PEth test’s ease of use and accuracy, and, importantly, its ability to discriminate level of use, mean that it is highly effective in all settings where alcohol use over a period of time needs to be monitored. In the case of those involved with family courts and in the workplace, this ease of use and accuracy will prove particularly beneficial when the level of alcohol consumption over a 3-4 week time frame needs to be proven quickly and conclusively.
If you would like to enquire further about the UK exclusive 3-day turnaround PEth testing services offered by Cansford Labs, please contact us today
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