Alcoholism Blood Test Results

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An alcohol drinker should undergo blood testing to determine how much alcohol content is circulating through his blood.

Many individuals probably heard about breathalyzer as it is a test utilised by the police officers if they suspected someone who is driving under the influence of alcohol.

But blood testing provides more accurate results.  

When a person undergoes blood testing, the test will reveal how much ethanol his body has. Ethanol is the primary ingredient found in most alcoholic beverages.

When a person drinks alcohol, it will travel through his bloodstream directly to the liver to be processed.  

In general, if a person has a healthy liver, the body is more likely to absorb alcoholic beverages in just an hour.  

When a person's liver is damaged due to alcohol, it is advised to undergo alcoholism therapy.

How Does Blood Testing Determine Alcohol Exposure?

In general, blood testing can detect alcohol abuse by measuring indirect and direct biomarkers.

But in most cases, blood testing is being used to calculate indirect biomarkers. This is measured to determine how a person's body, together with its internal organs, functions 

If the blood test result entails that the person's indirect markers are out of normal ranges, that person may have excessive alcohol exposure.

On the other hand, excessive alcohol exposure is not always the reason behind this result.  

When it comes to direct biomarkers, it is usually measured when a person has a high level of blood alcohol or exposure to heavy alcohol drinking.

When the direct biomarkers are measured, it ensures that the test will offer accurate results regarding a person's alcohol consumption.

Unlike indirect biomarkers, direct biomarkers are not affected by several factors.  

Can a Blood Test Determine if a Person is Exposed to Heavy Alcohol Drinking?

Yes. Through blood testing, professionals can determine if a person is exposed to heavy drinking.

On the other hand, it is important to note that the timing of the test will affect the accuracy of the results.

Generally, blood test can determine if a person has excessive alcohol use if he has been tested within 12 hours after his last drink.  

Blood tests are essential because it helps the medical professionals and even the police officers determine possible liver problems or whether the driver manipulates his car under an alcoholic substance.

Aside from that, it is used in tracking slow changes in the alcohol consumption of someone, especially if he decided to quit alcohol drinking slowly.

What are the Different Types of Alcohol Blood Tests?

The following are the different types of indirect alcohol abuse testing. Read on to know further.  

Liver Function Test (LFT) 

GGT or Gamma-glutamyltransferase is the primary biomarker used in a liver function test. This type of alcohol blood testing is considered one of the most reliable indirect markers.

Several studies show that Gamma-glutamyl transferase can help professionals determine the alcohol use of an individual.  

For a male to have low alcohol exposure, his GGT should range from 10 to 71 iU/L. If the test shows that a person's GGT is more than the expected range, he may have excessive alcohol abuse.

Medication is a factor that could affect the GGT levels of a person.

These medications include the following: 

  • Cimetidine 
  • Barbiturates 
  • Antidepressants 
  • Warfarin 

But in most cases, a sudden increase of GGT in men may be primarily because of enzyme-inducing drugs or alcohol abuse.  

Carbohydrate-Deficient Transferrin (CDT) 

Aside from liver function tests, CDT or Carbohydrate-deficient Transferrin can also provide professionals with more accurate measurements of indirect biomarkers.

It is 77 per cent more sensitive than LFT in terms of detecting excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages. A person's normal measurement for this test is ranging from zero to 1.6 per cent.  

On the other hand, in terms of people who expose themselves to excessive use of alcoholic beverages regularly, they can receive more than 10 per cent.

Like LFT, several factors could affect the percentage level of a person's indirect biomarkers, which include the following: 

  • Whether the person is suffering from any liver disease 
  • The last time a person consumed alcohol 
  • Health 
  • Medications 

Full Blood Count (Mean Conspicuous Volume – MCV) 

A full blood count is divided into several tests, including the MCV (Mean Conspicuous Volume) test.

This type of alcohol blood test is determining what type of alcoholic beverage a person previously ingested. MCV measures the average volume of a person’s RBC (Red Blood Cells) by getting a little blood sample.  

Unlike the two previously mentioned types of alcohol blood tests that measure indirect biomarkers, this one is the least reliable, even though it can help professionals determine whether a person is under the influence of alcohol.

It has a low sensitivity rate, which is only 44 per cent.  

Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT) 

This is a biomarker that can be found inside the liver cells of a person.

If the test shows higher level than normal, it indicates that the person's liver is slowly deteriorating because of alcohol.

If a person already has a damaged liver, it is advisable to reduce his alcohol intake. By doing so, it allows the liver to recover and become healthy again.

On the other hand, if the test results show abnormalities and the person is still persistent in alcohol drinking, it can cause permanent and more severe liver damage.  

Mean Cell Volume (MCV) 

MCV is a type of blood test that measures the person's RCB size. Red blood cells work as the carrier of oxygen through a person's blood delivered throughout his body. 

Too much exposure to alcohol for an extended period can damage a person’s bone marrow that helps in producing red blood cells.

This could lead to an insufficient number of RBC, which usually turn its size into an abnormally large. Aside from that, the test results for MCV will become higher than normal.  

If a person suffers from damaged bone marrow, he should stop drinking and recover his organs. After a few months, his MCV level will turn back to normal.  

Phosphatidyl Ethanol (PEth) 

PEth is the only type of blood test that measures direct alcohol abuse. Phosphatidyl Ethanol is a substance produced by a person’s body who ingested alcohol.

It has a higher sensitivity rate than the indirect alcohol abuse types of tests. It has more than 99 per cent sensitivity rate, making it the most accurate and more reliable type of blood testing.  

There are several PEth levels a professional can use to determine binge drinking or excessive alcohol consumption.

What's great about this alcohol blood test is that it can determine if a person is an extreme alcoholic within one month and can still provide accurate results.  

What to Expect During a Blood Alcohol Test? 

All the blood tests are stored in a clear and clean lab setting, such as in hospitals or other lab testing sites. 

A blood alcohol test is done by injecting a needle into your arm to get blood samples. Overall, the entire process can be less than or within five minutes only.  

How Much Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages Can Affect Someone’s Health?

Alcoholic beverages pose stress to a person’s nervous system. It affects how someone’s brain functions and the speed of the brain to learn or understand something.

It is not news for anyone that drinking too much alcohol can damage or even put someone's life at risk.  

How alcohol affects a person’s health will vary depending on the different factors, including: 

  • How much alcohol a person drinks in a day 
  • How fast a person drank it 
  • Family or relatives that have experienced alcohol-associated health issues 
  • The person’s overall health 
  • The person’s ethnicity, race, sex, and age 
  • How much and what type of food a person eats before exposing himself to alcohol drinking 

The following are the possible health consequences a person may get because of too much consumption of alcohol.  

  • Heart attacks and other heart-related diseases 
  • Strokes 
  • Hallucinations and paranoia 
  • Anxiety and depression 
  • Different alcohol withdrawal symptoms 
  • Nerve damage 
  • Brain damage and mental issues 
  • Stomach ulcers 
  • Liver problems, such as cirrhosis and fatty liver 
  • How Much Alcohol Should a Person Drink? 

    Males and females should follow a recommended drinking limit. This is because their bodies have different ways to absorb alcohol.

    In general, males have leaner and larger body mass compared to females. This means that their body can accommodate larger amount of alcohol compared to women.  

    Drinking in moderation could help a person to prevent possible health-damaging effects of alcohol.

    For women, they are recommended to consume at least one standard amount of alcohol per day. On the other hand, men should take not more than two standards of alcohol per day.

    In the United States, their standard amount of alcohol is 14 grams of natural alcohol that are available in: 

    • 1.5 oz. of distilled liquor or spirits, which usually contain 40 per cent of alcohol content 
    • 5 oz. of wine, which usually contains 12 per cent of alcohol content 
    • 12 oz. of beer, which contains 5 per cent of alcohol content

    How Can Professionals tell that a Person is Drinking Heavily? 

    Heavy drinking and binge drinking are two different types of excessive drinking. The two terms are defined by the following: 

    Binge Drinking is a person who consumes alcohol all at once, making their BAC or blood alcohol concentration level is more than 0.07 per cent.

    Males are considered binge drinkers if they have drunk more than five alcoholic drinks in just a few hours. For females, binge drinking usually occurs after they consume four standard drinks in just a few hours.  

    On the other hand, heavy drinking refers to drinking more than 14 alcoholic beverages in one week.

    This is applicable for men, while women can be considered heavy drinkers if they consume more than eight drinks in one week.  

    Binge drinkers are usually susceptible to alcohol poisoning, car accidents, and even injuries. 

    Meanwhile,  heavy drinkers are often the ones who start an argument with persons inside their home. It may also affect their professional lives.

    Fortunately, binge and heavy drinking are treatable if the person will cooperate with the professionals.  

    Final Thoughts 

    People who are exposed to excessive alcohol drinking are probably looking for someone who can help them.

    One of the best ways to completely stop alcoholism is to enrol in a rehabilitation programme. Most countries offer several services that help a person treat their alcohol addiction.  

    Aside from treating alcohol drinking symptoms, the medical professionals in rehabilitation programmes want to help an alcoholic person improve.

    Keep in mind that alcohol abuse is one of the issues that should be taken seriously. Individuals who will enrol themselves on a rehabilitation programme will be provided with customized treatments that will give them their needs.  

    Aside from treating alcohol addiction, people who decided to enter rehab will expect that professionals will give them their spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental needs.

    Rehabilitation programmes make sure that persons will complete each recovery stage before jumping onto another step.  

    People who considered themselves as an alcoholic most likely to perform their best in a rehabilitation programme that offers inpatient treatments

    This strategy requires a person to spend a certain amount of their life in a rehabilitation area. This helps them find new people and breathe new air to help them through their recovery process.  

    Medical professionals also do alcohol blood tests to ensure whether a person's liver is still healthy or not.

    By doing so, they can recommend a person the proper treatment for their liver's health to go back to normal.

    For those who find it hard to isolate themselves from alcohol drinking, enrolling themselves in a rehabilitation programme would be a nice move.  

    Whether you're looking to have your blood tested for alcohol content, or planning to enrol in a rehabilitation programme, our Abbeycare clinics in Gloucester and Scotland are always ready to help you.

    Last Updated: July 11, 2021

    About the author

    Peter Szczepanski

    Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.