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Biomarkers: testing for alcohol consumption among women

  • Heavy alcohol consumption can cause biochemical changes in the body.
  • Testing for specific biochemical markers is one way of establishing the likelihood of problem drinking.
  • Biochemical markers tend to be less sensitive for women than for men.

In addition to direct questioning of patients, biochemical markers may indicate drinking problems. The unique advantage of biomarkers is that they can not be feigned. They may confirm or bring into question an individual's own report of alcohol use explained John Allen, Associate Director of Treatment Studies at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In particular, they can help primary care physicians in screening for heavy drinking. Patients who come up positive on the tests may then be given a more in depth diagnostic evaluation. These lab tests may also assist in identifying individuals in alcohol treatment who have relapsed to drinking. Knowing that the patient has relapsed can signal the need to modify or intensify his or her treatment program. Dr. Allen added that some people in treatment might be too embarrassed to let the clinician or counselor know they had started drinking again, fearing to disappoint them. This study is in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Another use for biomarkers involves insurance companies," observed Martin Javors, professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio. "Also, physicians may want to be sure that people who are going to get liver transplants are not drinking." Javors speculated that courts might also be able to use biomarkers in DWI or probation cases, dependent upon future refinement of biomarkers' alcohol detection capabilities.

The ratio of men who have alcohol problems versus women is roughly three to one, yet women who drink too much seem to be at increased risk for certain negative consequences. "Although alcohol problem
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Contact: John P. Allen, Ph.D.
jallen@willco.niaaa.nih.gov
301-443-0796
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research
25-Apr-2000


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