It is now estimated that nearly 600,000 of the UK population are dependent drinkers - with 81.7% accessing no treatment whatsoever. And with more than one-third of the UK’s children now negatively affected by their parents’ alcohol use, it’s clear that more support is needed for those struggling with their alcohol usage.
Testing individuals to establish alcohol misuse - and to monitor ongoing usage levels - can be achieved in a variety of different ways. Two key approaches in the UK are PEth testing, and SCRAM testing.
So, what do these two methods involve, and how do they compare?
What is PEth alcohol testing?
Now included in our drug and alcohol testing repertoire, PEth testing is a simple finger prick blood test, with only a few drops of blood required, to determine alcohol usage. Similar in its design to a home diabetes test, it’s less invasive than a traditional blood test, which involves drawing blood from a vein.
The PEth in the name stands for phosphatidylethanol: an incredibly sensitive and highly accurate indicator of alcohol usage that only forms in the presence of ethanol. This makes it a more sensitive indicator than existing markers of alcohol - Carbohydrate-Deficient Transferrin (CDT), Liver Function Test (LFT) and Full Blood Count (FBC) - and is no more expensive, either.
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This accuracy means that false positives and negatives are unlikely with a PEth test - especially as it can differentiate between intentional alcohol consumption and incidental usage, such as the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
The other benefit of PEth testing is that it can determine different levels of alcohol use - over a period of time. The results will reveal, on average, how many drinks an individual has consumed per day, and spans a period of 3-4 weeks. This makes it ideally suited to family law cases where the subject’s alcohol usage needs to be monitored over a fixed period of time.
For a more detailed overview of the PEth testing process, click here.
What is SCRAM alcohol testing?
The Alcohol Abstinence and Monitoring Requirement (AAMR) is used by many courts and social care departments to establish whether individuals are adhering to sobriety orders. While there are various testing methods available, many authorities choose to use the SCRAM CAM to monitor alcohol use.
The SCRAM CAM is an ankle tag that must be fitted by trained personnel. It works through transdermal alcohol monitoring, detecting ethanol levels in the sweat of the wearer and measuring these levels every 30 minutes to one hour. The results of these repeated tests are uploaded automatically to an online platform where they can be analysed by trained professionals.
This testing method has many benefits. After fitting, tests are automatically and regularly conducted, meaning that the wearer need not return for regular testing. It has also shown to enforce sobriety. In addition, the frequency of the measurements means authorities can pinpoint near enough the exact times at which alcohol has been consumed to establish whether there are any patterns that need to be addressed.
However, the accuracy of these tests can be questioned, as they can be affected by external contamination. Studies have also questioned how effective the method may be, making the test appear less suitable for zero tolerance court orders, but potentially beneficial when monitoring binge drinkers and heavy drinkers.
Because SCRAM is quite cumbersome, it can be restrictive when it comes to washing and showering and the device needs to be fitted, removed and data downloaded at a specialist ‘hub’.
Finally, SCRAM testing is significantly more expensive to administer, meaning that it may not suit authorities where budget cuts are impacting on the options available.
PEth and SCRAM testing are two of the myriad options available when it comes to testing individuals for alcohol misuse. While both methods can, in theory, be used interchangeably, they are two very different beasts.
In our view, PEth testing is by far the superior of the two. Not only is its accuracy proven to be higher, it is less invasive for the individual, and a single test can cover a wide timeframe. False positives and negatives are far less likely, and it is significantly more affordable: a key factor for those who are fighting budget cuts and needing to justify additional spend in cases where accurate testing is vital to the future wellbeing of a family.
PEth testing is just one of the many drug and alcohol testing options that we offer at Cansford Labs. To learn more about what we do - and find out how we could help - get in touch.
Picture credit: Pixabay
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