Can you test if someone is a binge drinker?
A hair alcohol test is used to indicate if an individual has consumed alcohol excessively during a defined period.
But can it reveal more than that? Can it highlight when an individual is a binge drinker?
How does a hair alcohol test work?
Hair alcohol tests assess the alcohol biomarkers ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEE) found in the hair. These alcohol breakdown products (caused by consuming alcohol) are then deposited in the hair via the bloodstream.
Due to the nature of hair growth, the Society of Hair Testing recommends that a minimum of 3 months of hair growth be used to get reliable results.
It defines chronic excess alcohol consumption as consuming 7.5 units daily over several months. This means that consuming 3.2 pints of 4% lager on a daily basis should result in a positive test.
BUT, where does this leave the detection of binge drinkers?
First, we need to understand what is meant by “binge drinking.” It’s only then that we can understand what the hair test would need to measure.
The government does offer an explanation of what it considers to be binge drinking:
“Binge drinking really means drinking enough on a single occasion to get drunk. The technical definition of binge drinking is drinking 6+ units for women or 8+ units for men in a single session.”The Government
The clinical definition of ‘Acute Intoxication’ does not depend on the amount of alcohol ingested and is reliant on the negative effects on an individual; physical, mental, or social. We need to identify how much alcohol is too much alcohol.
So, can a binge drinker be confirmed using a hair test?
The short answer is no. A hair test can show excess levels of alcohol but not how or when it was consumed. A hair alcohol test should be combined with blood alcohol tests and medical interpretation to get the full picture.
A binge drinker might have significant periods of abstinence in between. This can result in cases where test levels are below the cut-offs. It can also result in high levels, where you are unable to differentiate between regular heavy drinking and episodic binges.
Atkinson Lewis recommends combining a hair test with regular alcohol blood testing or PEth testing in order to gain a clearer picture of an individual’s drinking pattern. It’s important to note that not even these will provide a definitive absolute answer.