Ethyl glucuronide—the direct ethanol metabolite on the threshold from science to routine use

Authors


Friedrich Martin Wurst MD
Psychiatric University Hospital
University of Basel
Wilhelm Klein Strasse 27
CH 4025 Basel
Switzerland
Tel: ++41 61 3255112
Fax: ++41 61 3255583
E-mail: friedrich.wurst@pukbasel.ch

ABSTRACT

Aims  Current biological state markers remain suboptimal with regard to sensitivity and specificity for monitoring recent alcohol consumption in various settings. Furthermore, these biomarkers can be influenced by age, gender and a variety of substances and non-alcohol-associated diseases and do not cover fully the time axis for alcohol intake. Ethyl glucuronide (EtG) is a non-volatile, water-soluble, stable, direct metabolite of ethanol that can be detected in various body fluids, tissues and hair. Shortly after the consumption even of small amounts of ethanol, EtG becomes positive. It can detect ethanol intake up to 80 hours after the complete elimination of alcohol from the body, covering a unique and important time spectrum for recent alcohol use. EtG seems to meet the need for a sensitive and specific marker to elucidate alcohol use not detected by standard testing.

Design, setting, participants, methods and findings  The literature was re-viewed with a focus on possible diagnostic and therapeutic applications, currently available methods and future perspectives. To date, more than 4000 samples of body fluids, tissues and hair from approximately 1500 individuals have been assessed.

Conclusions  The data suggest that EtG is a useful tool in numerous settings, including alcohol and drug treatment (to detect lapse/relapse and for motivational feedback), in safety sensitive work settings where use is dangerous or in other settings where alcohol use may be risky (e.g. such as driving, work-place, pregnancy or monitoring physicians or other professionals who are in recovery and working) or for resolving forensic questions. If the question of recent alcohol consumption has to be answered in a binary way (yes/no), such as for determining lapses, the use of EtG in urine is among the preferred tests. The use of this marker alone and complementary with other biological state markers and self-reports is expected to lead to significant improvement in treatment outcome, therapy efficacy and cost reduction.

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