Alcohol Hair Follicle Test: Overview and Accuracy
26 October, 2023
The alcohol hair follicle test is a method of detecting alcohol consumption through hair samples. This procedure is often used in legal settings and alcohol abuse treatment programs. In some cases, workplaces may administer a hair test for alcohol or illegal drugs to determine if an employee has substance abuse or addiction. Additionally, it is highly accurate in determining substances, even in trace amounts. The results of this test can have major implications or consequences.
There are several methods to test for alcohol, including urine, saliva, blood, and breath tests. However, these procedures can trace alcohol or metabolites for a limited period of time. On the other hand, the hair test provides a longer detection window, making it suitable for monitoring alcohol use or abstinence. This article will provide an overview of hair alcohol testing, including its purpose, procedure, and accuracy.
What is the Alcohol Hair Follicle Test
The alcohol hair follicle test is an analysis technique that detects the alcohol markers in a person’s system. The hair samples are tested for the presence of ethyl glucuronide (EtG), a metabolite of ethanol. Other methods are ethyl palmitate (EtPa), and the fatty acid ethyl ester (FAEE). This test works by analysing strands of hair that have been cut as close to the scalp as possible.
When a person consumes alcohol, the body breaks down alcohol into metabolites, including EtG and other alcohol markers. These metabolites are deposited in the hair follicles and remain there until the hair is cut or removed. The amount of EtG markers in the hair can indicate excessive alcohol consumption or how long they have been drinking.
The test has a window of detection of 90 days. This means it can trace alcohol use for several months. When used with other methods like blood tests, it can give a complete picture of the person’s alcohol use. Moreover, it is non-invasive and provides more accurate results in terms of long-term detection.
Reasons to Test
- The long detection window of hair follicle testing can determine chronic alcohol use. It allows a more comprehensive assessment of a person’s historic alcohol consumption.
- Workplaces or health institutions use the test to help diagnose if a person has alcohol use disorder or abuse. Therefore, health professionals can develop appropriate treatment plans.
- Provide strong evidence in legal matters, such as probation, drink driving, child custody battles, and other violations.
- It can provide objective evidence of alcohol use, especially in settings where the consumption of alcohol is prohibited.
- Monitor individuals undergoing alcohol rehabilitation. This test can be used with other methods like breathalysers.
The Procedure of the Alcohol Hair Follicle Test
The alcohol hair follicle test is relatively simple to administer. It involves taking a few hair strands from the individual, usually near the scalp at the back of the head. This method is non-invasive and only takes a few minutes. The standard sample is 1.5 inches in length to determine the past 90 days of use.
Taking from the scalp indicates the most recent drug use. In some cases, the technician may cut longer samples if they need to test for a more extended lookback period. Next, the sample is placed in a sealed container and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The lab will analyse the sample using a chromatography mass spectrometer to detect the presence of any alcohol metabolites.
If head hair is unavailable, the collector may collect body hair samples instead. For court-ordered alcohol tests, only certified testing officers can carry out the sample collection method. Individuals cannot collect their own samples and submit them for laboratory analysis. This ensures the accuracy and integrity of the test results.
Preparations Before Taking the Test
Hair testing requires minimal preparations on the individual. Before taking the test, individuals should follow instructions provided by the testing centre. It may include abstaining from drinking before the test or avoiding certain activities that may interfere with the results. Additionally, avoid environments with smoke or other potential contaminants.
Furthermore, ensure hygiene. Wash the hair to get rid of pollutants or other foreign matter. Also, avoid alcohol-containing products or hair treatments before the test. It is also important to inform the collector of over-the-counter or prescription medications taken. This disclosure can help avoid false positives.
Accuracy and Reliability of the Alcohol Hair Follicle Test
The alcohol hair follicle test is an accurate method of detecting alcohol consumption. It can detect the presence of EtG and other byproducts to determine alcohol use within the past 90 days. EtG is a direct metabolite of ethanol that the body can only produce through intake. Hence, it can distinguish between actual consumption and incidental exposure.
Moreover, laboratories follow a strict chain of custody to ensure the accuracy of the results. This includes the correct sample collection procedure, verification of the sample donor, transportation, and analysis. Conveniently, hair specimens are stable and do not degrade, unlike urine or blood samples. Therefore, the hair matrix does not easily alter due to temperature or humidity.
However, several factors may influence the accuracy of the test. It includes certain health conditions affecting the enzymes that process alcohol. Likewise, the efficiency of the testing procedure and the quality of laboratory analysis can also affect the reliability of results. Thus, the operator must adhere to the standard guidelines for hair alcohol testing.
Possibility of a False Positive
False positives may occur if the instructions are not accurately followed. In the case of the EtG hair alcohol test, hair products like hair dye and treatments can impact the result. Exposure to external contaminants may lead to erroneous outcomes. People with diabetes or liver disease are also at risk of getting false positives.
Informing the technician of these conditions before the test can minimise the possibility of false positives. Laboratories take extra measures to ensure the validity of the test samples and the accuracy of the test. With the more sophisticated technology, it is less likely to adulterate hair alcohol testing.
The alcohol hair follicle test is a reliable method of detecting excessive alcohol consumption for a long period of time. It is valuable in monitoring alcohol use or abstinence in treatment centres, legal proceedings, and workplaces. The hair sample can trace ethanol metabolites like EtG or ethyl glucuronide. Therefore, it can help determine or diagnose if a person has alcohol abuse problems. The results of this test can have serious implications, such as criminal charges or job loss.
To ensure accuracy, individuals should follow the preparation guidelines. Likewise, testing facilities follow the chain of custody procedures to secure valid samples. With its non-invasive nature, it is the preferred method of determining chronic alcohol use. Laboratories may also combine several procedures, such as urine or blood testing, to measure the current blood alcohol levels. Therefore, it can help provide a complete overview of the person’s alcohol use history.