EtG Urine Alcohol Test Unreliable Warns Federal Agency

A widely-used urine alcohol test is unreliable warns the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The EtG urine test is used to test compliance of people legally prohibited from drinking.

The federal agency has issued a warning that the test is so sensitive that it can falsely read positive for alcohol consumption if the test-taker has used an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, taken medication containing alcohol, or consumed foods containing alcohol. For example, the test might report alcohol consumption if a person drinks orange juice that has been in a refrigerator too long.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “The warning represents a victory for the growing number of people who insist they flunked the EtG test despite having abstained from liquor. Their cases, replete with polygraph exams and other evidence of sobriety, convinced even the scientist who pioneered EtG screening in America that the test is prone to so-called innocent positives. Whether the agency's warning will help these people reclaim the jobs that some lost after flunking EtG tests is unclear. In any case, the warning is a blow to the credibility of the $4 billion-a-year urine-testing industry, which introduced the EtG test two years ago as offering fail-safe proof of alcoholic-beverage consumption.”

Because of its inaccuracy, "legal or disciplinary action based solely on a positive EtG ... is inappropriate and scientifically unsupportable at this time," the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration warned. It recommended that a positive test result be used as the basis for a broad investigation into possible alcohol beverage consumption.

This recommendation, if followed, would appear to protect both the public welfare and the rights of test-takers.



  • Helliker, Kevin. Federal agency says urine-alcohol test isn’t totally reliable. Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2006.

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