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Alcohol Dipstick Test: What Is It And How Does It Work?

13 November, 2023

A dipstick test kit and a urine sample

Alcohol testing measures have become increasingly important in society. One common method to determine alcohol presence in the system is the use of an alcohol dipstick test. It is a simple, portable, and cost-effective alcohol screening test that provides immediate results. It works by detecting the presence of ethyl alcohol, which indicates alcohol drinking. Hence, users usually need to provide saliva or urine samples, dip the alcohol test strips, and wait for the colour change to see the results.

Excessive alcohol consumption is a serious problem that affects individuals and communities. It can lead to a range of health issues, impaired judgment, and even accidents. As a result, there is a growing need for reliable and effective alcohol testing methods. The alcohol test kits became popular due to their simplicity and accuracy in detecting the alcohol concentration in the system of a person. This article will present an overview of how the dipstick test works and its results.

What is the Alcohol Dipstick Test

An alcohol dipstick test is a type of assessment tool to detect the presence of alcohol intoxication. It is a simple and rapid diagnostic method that uses a saliva or urine dipstick with a chemical reagent. Therefore, it helps provide an initial diagnosis of alcohol use. Correspondingly, it is a user-friendly alternative to hair follicle alcohol tests, blood testing, and breathalysers.

The alcohol testing strips consist of a small plastic or paper strip, usually about the size of a pencil. One end of the dipstick has an absorbent pad that contains a chemical reagent to direct ethanol metabolite. These metabolites are byproducts that the body produces when ethanol breaks down. The alcohol biomarkers Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) and Ethyl Sulfate (EtS) are the commonly tested metabolites.

Dipstick assessment finds applications in various settings. This is beneficial for occupational testing as an initial screening tool before more accurate tests. Additionally, treatment centres can use the tool to monitor progress. The method is also valuable for personal use. This enables individuals to have a cheap approach to self-assessment to monitor alcohol consumption.

Advantages Over Other Methods

  • Ease of use – it requires minimal training to perform and does not usually require further equipment.
  • Quick results – the results are usually available within a few minutes after the dipstick meets exposure to ethanol.
  • Non-invasive – it simply requires a urine or saliva sample for testing, unlike blood tests.
  • Cost-effective – dipsticks are relatively inexpensive compared to other testing methods. It also eliminates the need for hospital lab testing, which requires additional costs.
  • Portable and on-the-spot testing – users can carry and conduct the testing whenever and wherever applicable.
  • Screening tool – while it is not definitive evidence of detection of alcohol abuse, it can prompt further confirmatory testing.

A person dipping the strips in a urine sample

How the Alcohol Dipstick Test Works

The alcohol dipstick test works by monitoring the presence of ethanol in urine or saliva specimens. Before performing the test, it is vital to prepare the tools and samples. The samples are collected through a sterile cup or mouth swab. Hence, the volume should be enough to cover the testing area of the dipstick.

Accordingly, the strips are dipped into the sample. It is important to follow the instructions of the manufacturer to ensure accurate results. The strip should stay in the sample for a specific duration. When the ethanol in the sample comes into contact with the dipstick, a chemical reaction occurs. The chemicals on the pad specifically react with certain components of liquor.

Moreover, the reaction is visible through the colour change on the pads. The extent of the colour corresponds to the amounts of alcohol in the specimen sample. Suitably, the colour change on the pads is compared to a colour chart. This colour result comparison chart helps determine the concentration of alcohol in the sample.

Detection Window

The detection window refers to the period during which the test can accurately detect the presence of ethanol metabolites. For the urine sample, it monitors EtG and EtS metabolites, usually about 24 hours after alcohol consumption. On the other hand, for a saliva sample, the detection window is shorter. It can identify ethanol metabolites for only 12 hours after drinking alcoholic beverages.

Hence, the exact length of the detection window can vary depending on various factors. This can include the metabolism of the individual, the amount of alcohol consumption, the type of alcoholic drinks, and even the gender.

A person comparing the colour change of the test strips to a chart

Understanding the Results of the Alcohol Dipstick Test

When it comes to understanding the results of the alcohol dipstick test, it is important to refer to the colour chart that comes with the test kit. The colour of the dipstick corresponds to a specific Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). As such, the stronger the colour, the higher the alcohol concentration in the urine or saliva sample.

To determine the result, the user may compare the colour of the dipstick with the colours on the chart. It is essential to match the colour as closely as possible to the available options on the threshold guide. Sometimes, the colour of the strip may not exactly match any colour in the chart. In such cases, it is advisable to choose the closest colour match.

In addition, if the colour on the strip does not match any colours on the guide or falls between two colours, it may indicate another case. Hence, it is recommended to check with a medical professional for further guidance. Nevertheless, the colour corresponds to the BAC value, which indicates a positive or negative result.

Is There a Possibility of a False Positive

Generally, there is a possibility of a false positive in a dipstick screening. While these tests detect the presence of alcohol in the system, they can occasionally produce inaccurate results. The tool can sometimes cross-react with other substances. This results in a positive test even when ethanol is not present. Certain medications may trigger a false positive result.

Additionally, if the dipstick or the sample is contaminated, it can lead to a false positive result. Thus, it is important to ensure clean and separate equipment for each test. Also, the mistakes made during the testing process can lead to false positive results.

Conclusion

Overall, the alcohol dipstick test is a valuable tool for quickly and easily determining if someone has alcohol impairment. It is a beneficial tool for various settings such as workplaces, law enforcement, or personal use. The test provides a reliable and immediate result, allowing for prompt action to be taken if necessary. Accordingly, the method gives numerous advantages over other testing processes. This includes ease of use, prompt results, non-invasive, cost-effective, and portable.

Users can easily conduct the test. Individuals collect a saliva or urine sample, dip the strips, and wait for it to change colour. The detection window for urine is about 24 hours, while saliva is 12 hours. Hence, the colour change varies depending on the extent of alcohol consumption. Correspondingly, the colour through charts can give BAC levels. By implementing the testing approach, individuals can effectively deter alcohol-related consequences and promote a safe and healthy environment.

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