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EtG Alcohol Hair Follicle Test: What It Is, How It Works, And Accuracy

22 November, 2023

A lab technician looking at hair samples in his tweezers

The liver produces a metabolite called Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) after the intake of ethanol products. An EtG alcohol hair follicle test detects the presence of alcohol in the body within the past 90 days. It works by collecting 100 to 200 strands of hair samples, which get cleaned and then submerged into a fluid to expose its inner core. Lab technicians use specialised techniques to analyse this. It is an accurate method used for work-related purposes and legal proceedings.

Many prefer this method because of its lengthy detection period. Moreover, the collection process is non-invasive. People may even use body hair instead of scalp hair samples. However, this test is limited to detecting alcohol intake. It does not detect misuse of illegal drugs and prescription medication. This article will present what an EtG hair alcohol test is, how it works, and its detection period and accuracy.

What is the EtG Alcohol Hair Follicle Test

An EtG alcohol hair follicle test is a type of testing method used to detect the presence of alcohol in the body. It is an accurate method of acquiring a history of the intake of ethanol by an individual. However, this method only detects ethanol consumption. This is because EtG is a metabolite of alcohol.

The body produces EtG after consuming alcoholic drinks. This is why it is helpful as proof of abstinence. In particular, EtG tests help to monitor alcohol usage during rehabilitation because they can detect periods of relapse. It is also used in family court cases to ensure the sample donor has abstained from consuming liquor products.

Compared to other tests, it is valued for its lengthy detection period. Moreover, EtG hair tests have cut-off levels depending on the specific requirements needed. A negative result indicates the individual has not consumed alcohol within the detection window. Meanwhile, a positive result means the person may have consumed alcoholic beverages.

Advantages of the Test Procedure

These are the advantages that hair tests have over blood, salivabreath, and urine tests.

  • Non-invasive: collecting hair samples is a straightforward and painless procedure. There is no risk of infection or other complications.
  • Objective evidence: this is valued for legal proceedings, workplace matters, and monitoring the consumption of alcohol.
  • Long detection window: it helps provide a pattern of alcohol consumption over a long time period.
  • Sample longevity: people may store a sample of hair for extended periods. This is unlike the case with urine samples or blood samples, which can compromise the accuracy of results.

A lab personnel placing hair samples into a tube

How an EtG Alcohol Hair Follicle Test Works

An EtG alcohol hair follicle test uses samples of hair to trace alcohol metabolites. It starts with the sample collection procedure, which usually entails gathering scalp hair samples. Generally, hair grows about 0.5 inches from the scalp. This hair retains alcohol markers as it emerges from the scalp.

After collection, the staff transports the samples to the lab. Here, the lab technicians will first wash the hair sample. This preparation method removes some external factors that may hinder accurate analysis. Afterwards, they submerge the hair in a solution that dissolves its outer layer. This is so the inner core, which contains the ethanol, can be exposed.

Labs may use various techniques to identify the ethanol concentrations in the sample. For example, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is one technique laboratories use. During this, gas chromatography uses a gas carrier medium to separate the compounds. Then, mass spectrometry classifies the ions based on their mass-to-charge ratio. It is an analysis technique often used for forensic purposes.

Specimen Collection Procedure

For a hair follicle alcohol test, a collector will cut 100 to 200 strands of head hair to get an ideal sample collection size. Typically, they take the specimens from different areas to avoid leaving a bald patch. They may also collect body hair under certain circumstances.

Collectors often gather armpit hair and pubic hair if the person is bald, suffering from alopecia, or has bleached hair. There is no difference in accuracy in using either. However, it may differ in the resulting time frame of detection. After collection, they take the samples to a lab for analysis.

A lab professional placing a hair sample into a circular container

Detection Times and Accuracy of an EtG Alcohol Hair Follicle Test

The EtG alcohol hair follicle test is valued for its accuracy and long detection period. Using a hair strand of at least 1.5 inches may cover up to 90 days or three months of alcohol consumption. This is why it is valued for acquiring a history of alcohol misuse or alcohol abstinence. Many people use this for medico-legal purposes for this reason.

EtG testing is more accurate than some screening methods because EtG is a direct metabolite of ethanol. In addition to that, hair samples do not degrade due to temperature or humidity. However, it is crucial to use a reliable testing service to preserve accuracy. The collectors and lab technicians should follow strict protocols and ensure a proper chain of custody.

This starts from the collection procedure to the laboratory analysis. Moreover, the testing service must also use proper equipment and verify the identity of the sample donors. Other factors may affect the accuracy of hair follicle testing. This includes environmental factors and health conditions.

Is There a Possibility of a False Non-Negative

There is a possibility of false positive results with hair follicle alcohol tests. This can occur due to several factors. One possible reason is cosmetic hair treatments. In addition, some products may also damage the hair and lead to inaccurate results.

Exposure to environmental ethanol sources may also lead to a false positive result. One example is staying in a room with a high concentration of liquor vapours. Lastly, certain medical conditions like diabetes and liver diseases also have a higher risk of getting an erroneous result. The individual may inform the technician or lab of this beforehand.

Conclusion

An EtG alcohol hair follicle test helps in acquiring a history of liquor consumption. It is a highly accurate test with a lengthy detection window of 90 days. Many prefer it to other tests because of its non-invasive testing procedure. Moreover, the samples do not degrade over time like samples of other tests. Lab technicians may analyse head or body hair and trace alcohol usage using specialised techniques.

However, this form of hair testing is limited to only tracing alcohol. It cannot detect the misuse of illicit drugs or medication. Some factors may also affect the accuracy of the test. This includes the overall health condition and the hair products the individual uses. To ensure the accuracy of the results, the person must use a reliable testing service. Moreover, they should inform the facility of any health condition or medication that may impact the results.

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