Since the late 1990s, the EtG test has been commonly used for various purposes to determine the presence of alcohol/ethanol in an individual’s system. Moreover, once the alcohol has been fully purged from the body, other popular methods such as the breathalyzer can only detect very recent alcohol use. In contrast, an EtG screen can do this effectively for up to five days.
How an EtG Urine Test Works
When a person consumes alcohol, the body will process it by breaking it down into chemicals known as metabolites—of these is ethyl glucuronide (EtG). It remains present in the body for anywhere between 1-5 days after drinking, depending on the amount of alcohol an individual ingest.
The EtG test can be quite beneficial when monitoring a person’s alcohol abstinence or use. An EtG test can confirm that an individual did or did not consume alcohol several days before the test. Breathalyzer and blood tests are unable to do this.
EtG tests are sensitive and can find even low levels of alcohol ingestion. For this reason, the test could yield a false-positive result if a person were exposed to one of the many household products containing alcohol.
Who Uses an EtG Test?
There are many reasons and circumstances in which a person may require a person to be tested for alcohol abstinence, including the following:
- Drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs
- Probation/programs that monitor people with alcohol-related offenses such as DUIs
- Liver transplant requirement
- School or the military
- Court cases
- Potential employers
- Court-mandated parenting programs
This test measures alcohol consumption that occurred over the last few days, so it is not considered a standard test for those suspected of being under the influence while driving or at work. In these “spur of the moment” situations, a breathalyzer test would be a better option.
EtG Test Limitations
The EtG test can only confirm that an individual has not ingested alcohol or products that contain it in the few days leading up to the test. Unfortunately, there is a myriad of alcohol-containing items that a person can be exposed to daily, including the following:
- Breath spray
- Cough syrups and cough drops
- Household cleaning products
- Hand sanitizer
- Hair color
- Food prepared with alcohol
- Kombucha drinks
- Non-alcoholic beer
The Household Products Database, published through the NLM (National Library of Medicine), allows individuals to search for products that contain alcohol, and therefore, have the potential to influence the results of an EtG test.
Interpreting An EtG Test
A negative EtG test suggests that an individual was not exposed to ethanol within the testing window or over the last five days. Conversely, a positive EtG test usually confirms a person was exposed to ethanol, whether by actively drinking alcoholic beverages or coming into contact with alcohol-containing products.
Results will reveal levels of EtG in the urine, and SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) provides interpretation guidelines for the findings related to EtG tests. A level above 1,000ng/mL of EtG in the urine is considered a high positive. It usually indicates excessive drinking within the previous day or even light drinking the same day as the test is taken.
Low positive tests have found levels of EtG between 500-1,000ng/mL. These amounts of EtG could result from excessive drinking within three days of the test, light alcohol use in the past day, or very recent intense exposure to alcohol-containing items.
Positive EtG levels than 500ng/mL are considered very low and may indicate excessive drinking several days before the test or light within 12-36 hours before. It could also suggest that the individual was exposed to alcohol-containing products.
False Positives In EtG Testing
In addition to ethanol exposure, there are other situations in which an individual may produce a positive EtG test without drinking alcohol.
If a person’s urine is not stored correctly and stays too long at room temperature, EtG levels increase due to bacteria growth in the sample. Therefore, the refrigeration of samples is advised for any EtG test that cannot be processed within the recommended time.
Finally, an individual with diabetes and a urinary tract infection may produce EtG and result in a positive test. An instance such as this, however, only occurs in persons who are diabetic.
Getting Professional Treatment for Alcoholism
Failing a drug or alcohol screen may be evidence that an individual is battling a substance abuse problem or addiction, especially if the testing was anticipated. A person who finds themselves unable to abstain from alcohol long enough to test negative on an EtG alcohol screen probably has some level of alcohol dependence.
Fortunately, there are several effective options for individuals who struggle with an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol abuse rehab centers such as Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery provide many treatments and activities for those seeking sobriety, including detox, psychotherapy, counseling, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and more.