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.