Continuous Objective Monitoring of Alcohol Use: Twenty-First Century Measurement Using Transdermal Sensors


  • The subject of this mini-review has been presented in a symposium held at the Scientific Meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), June 25 to 29, 2011 (Atlanta, GA). Organizer and Chair of the symposium was Nancy Barnett. Speakers were Robert Swift, Susan Luczak, Donald Dougherty, and Nancy Barnett, and the discussant was Raye Litten.

Reprint requests: Thad R. Leffingwell, PhD, Department of Psychology, 116 North Murray, Stillwater, OK 74078; Tel.: 405-744-7494; Fax: 405-744-8067; E-mail:


Transdermal alcohol sensors continuously collect reliable and valid data on alcohol consumption in vivo over the course of hours to weeks. Transdermal alcohol readings are highly correlated with breath alcohol measurements, but transdermal alcohol levels lag behind breath alcohol levels by one or more hours owing to the longer time required for alcohol to be expelled through perspiration. By providing objective information about alcohol consumption, transdermal alcohol sensors can validate self-report and provide important information not previously available. In this article, we describe the development and evaluation of currently available transdermal alcohol sensors, present the strengths and limitations of the technology, and give examples of recent research using the sensors.