How Long Can Urine Alcohol Tests Detect Alcohol?

Companies and many others use urine alcohol tests. How long after the drinking can urine alcohol tests detect it? It depends.

           OVERVIEW

I.  Two Urine Tests

       A. Alcohol in Urine

       B. No Alcohol in Urine (EtG Test)

II.  Resources

I. Two Urine Alcohol Tests

There are two kinds of urine alcohol tests.

A. Alcohol in Urine

The first identifies alcohol in urine. After a person drinks alcohol, some breaks down in the body. Some leaves through the breath, perspiration, feces, and urine.

But the test has a weakness. It can’t detect alcohol in the urine for very long after all alcohol has left the body.1 And alcohol leaves the body rather quickly. To estimate that speed, visit How Long Does Alcohol Stay in the Body?

A yeast, Candida Albicans, causes another weakness of this type of urine alcohol test. The body commonly contains this yeast. Unfortunately, it can change sugar in the urine into alcohol. And it can do this while urine is in the bladder or in the sample vial. This is an especially serious problem for diabetics.2

B. No Alcohol in Urine (Etg Test)

A second type of alcohol urine test doesn’t look for alcohol. It looks for one of the by-products caused as it breaks down in the body. That substance is Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG).

An EtG test advantage is that EtG remains in the body long after all the alcohol is gone. However, the exact length of time is unclear.

It probably depends on a number of factors. Claims vary. Some say that EtG can last “up to 70 to 80 hours.” Others say “approximately 80 hours.” Or “up to 80 hours,” “3 to four days,” etc.

Such claims usually come from those who sell the tests. However, independent researchers tend to report much shorter times. For example, such as 24 hours.

Wide Uses

urine alcohol testsBecause they can test longer than other urine alcohol tests, they have wider uses.

They are useful when a person must be totally abstinent for a length of time. It could be either temporarily or permanently. For example, here are some situations.

    • People under the legal drinking age. Also members of the military services in combat zones where they may not drink.
    • People on probation for alcohol-related crimes.
    • People who have previous alcohol problems. However, they have visitation with, or custody of, children. That is, if they don’t drink alcohol.
    • Drivers guilty of alcohol-related traffic offenses who must abstain. They need to abstain to keep their licenses.
    • Professionals who, because of alcohol problems, agree to abstain. This is needed for continued licensure or employment. Such people include airline pilots, medical personnel, and lawyers.

In addition, clinicians can use EtG urine alcohol tests to motivate clients to abstain. Some use the tests to evaluate alcohol interventions. Parents can use them to discourage underage drinking.

Sellers of test kits promote the latter use. However, it is highly controversial. The American Association of Pediatrics discourages it. The same is true other professional groups. Of course, parents must decide for themselves. Nevertheless, the many problems with such testing may far outweigh any benefits3

Limitations

An EtG test is not good with people who are able to drink while on their own time. In this case, an alcohol breath test would be good. But it’s essential to consider the many problems with their flaws. Learn more at Alcohol Breath Tester Accuracy.

Shortly after EtG urine alcohol tests began, problems emerged. Many credible people insisted that they tested positive after being completely abstinent. Research also suggested that the test is flawed.

There was concern that the test might give false positive results. That is, that the test might falsely show drinking among abstainers.

Government Warning

The federal government warns against using EtG urine alcohol tests for any of the following. “‘[L]egal or disciplinary action[s]’ as ‘primary or sole evidence.'” That is “because it is currently only a ‘potentially valuable clinical tool’ whose ‘use in forensic settings is premature.”’4 It still maintains that warning.

In that bulletin the government reported that

“At issue is whether exposure to alcohol or to the vapors of alcohol in many commercial products, such as personal care items, over-the-counter medications, cleaning products, desserts, wine vinegar, and the like or combinations of these products can cause elevation in EtG…that could suggest the person has resumed drinking. Exposure to these products, combined with possible influences of individual variables such as gender, age, and health status on alcohol biomarker responses, is still being studied.'”5

False Positive Results

EtG urine alcohol tests can falsely report alcohol drinking among abstinent people. For example, if they have eaten foods containing flavoring extracts. Foods cooked with wine or other alcoholic beverages. Flambe dishes such as cherries jubilee, bananas Foster, and baked Alaska.

Another source of false positive readings are personal care products. These include many mouthwashes.  Aftershave lotions.  Colognes. Perfumes. Antiperspirants. Hair sprays. Mousses. Cosmetics. Astringents. Bug sprays and body washes. And the list goes on.

Other sources of false positive results include health products. They include such as meds, herbal products, and cough syrups. Ethel alcohol also exists in many household products. It’s in such things as detergents, cleaners, solvents, lacquers, paints, and surface preparations.

In fact, there are hundreds of household products containing ethanol. This, according to the the U.S. government.

Either skin contact or breathing vapors can yield false positive results from many of these common products.

Dangers

urine alcohol testsThe federal government has issued a warning. “False positive responses can be harmful in medical and forensic settings. Individuals’ freedom or career can be in jeopardy.'”

Researchers are trying to learn how much such exposures affect EtG levels. Furthermore, how diseases, race, gender, and genetics effects test results.7 We also need to learn more about how other bacteria can effect test results.8

The use of EtG urine alcohol tests remains highly controversial.9 Furthermore, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved them.10

People subject to EtG urine alcohol tests need to be extremely careful. They must avoid any and all products that might cause false positive results. In fact, their personal freedom or livelihood may depend on it.

In short, the answer to the question,”How long can urine alcohol tests detect drinking?,” is far from clear.

II. Resources

Popular Readings

References

1. Urine Alcohol Tests. AlcoCheck.

2. What You Should Know About Testing for Alcohol in Urine. Veri, Inc.

3. Lyon, L. 7 Reasons Parents Should Not Test Kids for Drug Use. U.S. News World Rep, Aug 6, 2006.  Should Parents Use Home Drug Tests?

4. Johnson v. State Medical Board of Ohio.

5. SAMSHA. Role of Biomarkers in the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders. Advisory, 2012, 11(2).

6. Wojcik, M., & Hawthorne, J. Sensitivity of commercial ETG testing. Alc. Alc., 2007, 42(4), 317-320.

7. SAMSHA, ibid.

8. Quest Diagnostics.

9. What You Should Know…. ibid.

10. SAMSHA, ibid.

Notes

Above all else, it’s dangerous to drive after drinking or doing drugs. Therefore, doing so is unwise. Additionally, the penalties can be severe.

At this point, you know much more about urine alcohol tests than most people. Congratulations!

Also, do you know of any items that should be added? If so, please contact hansondj (at sign) Potsdam (dot) edu/. In fact, readers help improve this website. So thank you for helping.