Testing for illicit drug use is easy. A urine or blood test can detect
the presence of the drug in your system and you are busted. But testing
for alcohol abuse is more difficult. Because alcohol is metabolized by
the body relatively quickly, detecting alcohol abuse with a urine or
blood test is rare.
Until now. Scientists at Penn State College of Medicine have found
protein changes in the blood that may show the level of alcohol
consumption over a period of time.
Lead investigator Willard M. Freeman has identified 17 proteins
in the blood that accurately predict alcohol use 90 percent of the
time, indicating three categories of usage – none, up to two drinks a
day and at least six drinks a day.
Simply put, the amount of proteins in the blood rose and declined depending on the amount of alcohol consumption.
Developing an Alcohol Abuse Test
Freeman said the goal of his research is to develop a diagnostic test
for alcohol consumption that can be used in areas of public safety,
national security and in primary healthcare settings to determine if
someone may have an alcohol abuse problem.
There are tests that currently try to detect alcohol abuse but Freeman says they are not sensitive or specific enough.
"Many of these tests rely on just one protein," he said in a news release.
"The limitation to this approach is that these tests often look at
proteins produced by the liver. While these proteins increase with
excessive alcohol intake, they also increase with any type of injury to
the liver. For example, a lot of prescription drugs are hard on the
liver. These tests let us know that the liver is being stressed but
can't discriminate between excessive drinking and other conditions,
which therefore reduces the utility of these tests."
Freeman plans more research into his protein test because so far his
research has been conducted only with primates, and not humans.
The study was published online in the journal Biological Psychiatry.