Alcohol Abstinence Tag

Call our local number 01603 513 091
Request Call Back

Call our local number 01603 513 091
Request Call Back
Call our local number 01603 513 091
Request Call Back

What Is The Alcohol Abstinence Tag?

Alcohol tracking devices were first launched in Wales in October 2020, followed by England in March 2021 after a successful trial in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire in 2019 [2]. 

The devices are given to those either leaving prison; or as a prison alternative when drinking is considered a factor in the crime. 

SCRAM is the brand used in England and Wales and is approved by HMP and the court system for alcohol testing [3].

Why Is The Alcohol Tag Used?

The electronic device is used to:

  • Reduce reoffending - particularly in those where alcohol was a factor in crime [4]
  • Reduce alcohol-linked crime - alcohol is involved in 39% of violent crimes [5]
  • Removing the number of prison sentences administered - saving taxpayer money on prison sentences [6]

How Alcohol Tags Work

Alcohol devices detect alcohol abuse by using transdermal testing of sweat on the skin to identify traces of alcohol every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day.

In the event of any level of alcohol being detected or the device being tampered with, an alert via radio frequency is immediately sent to the police [7].

This can result in financial penalties, prolonged probation or a return to prison.

Instructions given to users when having a device fitted:

  • Do not try to remove or interfere with the device in any way 
  • Make sure to keep the battery charged - failure to do so will be considered tampering with the device
alcoholabstinencetag abbeycare lg

When Alcohol Abstinence Tags Are Used

Cases where alcohol testing devices are most likely to be part of sentencing are:

  • Aggravated assault, in 64% of violent incidents towards strangers, perpetrators were believed to be intoxicated [8]
  • Domestic violence - where a pattern of alcohol misuse appears to be a key factor in violence
  • Drink driving or causing death by dangerous driving if related to alcohol

Cases where alcohol testing devices are less likely, but occasionally still used as part of sentencing are:

  • Robbery - if the crime occurred whilst drunk or to obtain alcohol
  • Sexual assault - if the crime occurred whilst drunk, dependent on the judge's sentencing
  • Public intoxication - alcohol testing devices are used after bans from city/town centres and location tracking devices have not been effective

Those achieving abstinence as a result of a court order may do so with little underlying positive motivation.

Whereas, those undertaking recovery voluntarily, without an abstinence tag, do so as a result of changed internal decision-making around alcohol.

Despite this, offenders have experienced the full extent of the legal process, making it difficult to continue in a state of denial about alcoholism.

Alcohol testing devices provide the ability to become sober at this optimal time, before the drinker is able to rationalise consequences and return to drinking.

Alcohol Abstinence Tags Usage Statistics

In South Dakota, the 24/7 sobriety project is used as an alternative to prison, with 50% of those qualifying for the programme having been previously convicted over 3 times for drunk driving crimes.

In the programme, which has used 287 devices in 10 years, 74% of offenders had a negative result for alcohol throughout, with no signs of tampering with the device [9].

In Virginia, alcohol testing devices have a 72% success rate and are used as either a condition of bail, or as an alternative to prison for drunk driving or domestic violence caused by alcohol [10].

Using Tags Specifically To Reduce Alcohol Misuse

Devices are ordered specifically for alcohol misuse due to:

  • Alcohol being linked to most or all crimes previously committed
  • The courts and probation service believe that, given the opportunity to reduce alcohol consumption, the offender will no longer commit crimes

Alcohol testing devices are considered a better option than alcohol rehabs for offenders in certain cases because:

  • Traditional rehab options are more suited for severe alcohol use disorders. Whereas, testing devices are used for those with low-level alcohol dependency
  • Provides longer monitoring than a traditional rehab, for low-level alcohol intake . The programme is up to 1 year unlike 28 days in a rehab
  • Offenders leaving prison for rehab may find continued limitations on freedom difficult [11]

Alcohol Abstinence Tag Results

After 1 year of alcohol tag monitoring, 97% of offenders have remained completely abstinent from alcohol [12].

The abstinence rate stayed the same after 2 years of the programme, whilst the number of users rising from 100 to 2,250 during 2021 to 2023 [13].


Positive Impacts On Recovery

Data To Improve Interventions & Individualise Care Plans

The alcohol abstinence tag system could provide data to update alcohol-based interventions, allowing more customisation to individuals' needs.

This means that there is appropriate intervention available for those who, due to personal individual needs and circumstances:

  • Do not actively engage during alcohol treatment
  • Have repeatedly relapsed
  • Have numerous previous alcohol-related crimes and have been given other forms of sentencing (community service, bans from town centres, electronic location monitoring etc) [14]
  • The offender group reconviction scale (using age, gender, crime committed and criminal history to predict reoffending) predicts a high level of reoffending (scale between 0-1) [15]

Early Intervention At Point Of Crisis

With some calibration, alcohol testing devices could connect the drinker with appropriate social care and healthcare professionals after drinking, preventing a slip from becoming a relapse.

A testing device could also be connected to a smartphone app that provides immediate guidance to the user after a lapse has occurred, i.e. direct access to a local ADP team or sponsor via phone or in person.

Opportunity To Access Therapeutic Interventions

Whilst working with a probation officer during imposed tag use, offenders are able to access interventions for pre-existing conditions.

These pre-existing conditions may have been self-medicated with alcohol; or alcohol may have been used to cope with symptoms of these conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • PTSD/Trauma
  • Depression

Being able to access appropriate treatment during enforced abstinence leads to a reduction in reoffending [16].

Disadvantages Of Alcohol Monitoring Tags

False Positives

Whilst uncommon, false positives can occur if the device is older and hasn't been updated, or has not been correctly administered to the body [17].

False positives occur when a user has:

  • Used mouthwash or breath spray
  • Used antiperspirant or perfume
  • Spilt an alcoholic drink over the device
  • Come into contact with chemicals containing alcohol, particularly if working with paint or chemicals [18]

The impact of a false positive for the user includes:

  • A financial penalty, community service or prison sentence that is not deserved
  • Loss of motivation to continue on recovery journey

Negative Motivation vs Positive Motivation In Recovery

Those coerced or forced into treatment, are 17.6% more like to relapse into alcoholism, compared to those who have entered treatment willingly [19].

As a parallel, those assigned electronic monitoring devices, who achieve sustained abstinence over time, may show reduced voluntary motivation for sobriety, potentially reducing long term recovery outcomes. 

External vs Internal Locus Of Responsibility

Abstinence as a result of external enforcement and accountability, such as an ankle device, is less likely to help the individual reclaim personal responsibility for themselves. 

Drawing from our experience at Abbeycare, enforced tags mean the user is not undertaking recovery of their own volition. 


Whereas, those voluntarily choosing sobriety, experience a shift from an external to an internal locus of responsibility through therapeutic intervention.

Those using enforced tags have no therapeutic journey, so do not have a shift in responsibility that encourages successful abstinence journeys.

Short Term Coerced Abstinence vs Long Term Voluntary Abstinence

Whilst enforcing abstinence provides short-term positive results, it does not motivate the individual to:

  • Gain long-term positive associations with sobriety
  • Consciously seek recovery of their own volition. Short-term abstinence does not equate to long-term recovery
  • Improve confidence levels by making positive choices for themselves

Enforced abstinence removes the user's opportunity to experience positive feelings triggered when choosing sobriety voluntarily, resulting in increased motivation.

Our findings in the clinic show that positive feedback loops, such as voluntarily choosing sobriety, are crucial during early recovery for abstinence to last over time.

This means, that whilst tagging produces short-term abstinence, it may not lead to true alcohol recovery.

Negative Emotional Reinforcement

Those suffering from alcoholism experience pre-existing embarrassment, shame and guilt around drinking.

Overcoming shame and guilt makes it easier to overcome the underlying causes of alcoholism.

Wearing a physical tag as an identifier of alcohol-related issues could exacerbate perceived judgement from others, making emotional recovery more difficult.

Alcohol Tag Long-Term Benefits

81% of users of enforced devices predicted drinking less or not at all after the device is removed [20].

Justice Secretary David Gauke predicts that by using alcohol testing devices, alongside community support, there will be 32,000 fewer offences committed per year [21].

In the South Dakota 24/7 sobriety programme, prison admissions for drink driving have dropped by approximately 100 people per day [22].

When Alcohol Tagging Doesn't Work

False Negatives

Alcohol testing devices have a 99.8% detection rate when consumed over 4-5 drinks, but a 31% detection of less than 5 drinks [23].

This means that, if a user manages to maintain a level of drinking that produces a false negative, there will be no meaning or consequences ascribed to the negative impact of drinking.

Cross Addiction To Drugs

Alcohol testing devices are not able to detect other substances, potentially leading to users choosing to experiment with illicit drugs to replace alcohol. 

As enforced abstinence does not resolve the underlying addiction, developing a cross-addiction becomes more likely, to replace alcohol as a pre-existing coping mechanism. 


30% of device users reported perceived stigma from friends and family due to the device, potentially resulting in isolation and depression.

10% of those with a monitoring device reported that wearing the device hindered the ability to gain employment, further demotivating users from the desire to achieve sobriety [24].

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

About the author

Harriet Garfoot

Harriet Garfoot BA, MA has an Undergraduate degree in Education Studies and English, and a Master's degree in English Literature, from Bishop Grosseteste University. Harriet writes on stress & mental health, and is a member of the Burney Society. Content reviewed by Laura Morris (Clinical Lead).

Last Updated: February 28, 2024