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USDTL Research

Ethyl glucuronide in hair and fingernails as a long-term alcohol biomarker

Lisa BergerMichael FendrichJoseph JonesDaniel FuhrmannCharles PlateDouglas Lewis
PMID: 24524319 | PMCID: PMC3927158 | DOI: 10.1111/add.12402


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Aims: This study aimed to evaluate the performance of ethyl glucuronide (EtG) in hair and fingernails as a long-term alcohol biomarker.

Design: Cross-sectional survey with probability sampling.

Setting: Midwestern United States.

Participants: Participants were 606 undergraduate college students between the ages of 18 and 25 years at the time of selection for potential study participation.

Measurements: EtG concentrations in hair and fingernails were measured by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry at three thresholds [30 picograms (pg) per milligram (mg); 20 pg/mg; and 8 pg/mg]. Any weekly alcohol use, increasing-risk drinking and high-risk drinking on average during the past 12 weeks was assessed by participant interview using the time-line follow-back method.

Findings: In both hair and fingernails at all three EtG thresholds, sensitivity was greatest for the high-risk drinking group [hair: 0.43, confidence interval (CI)=0.17, 0.69 at 30 pg/mg, 0.71, CI=0.47, 0.95 at 20 pg/mg; 0.93, CI=0.79, 1.00 at 8 pg/mg; fingernails: 1.00, CI=1.00-1.00 at 30, 20 and 8 pg/mg] and specificity was greatest for any alcohol use (hair: 1.00, CI=1.00, 1.00 at 30 and 20 pg/mg; 0.97, CI=0.92-0.99 at 8 pg/mg; fingernails: 1.00, CI=1.00-1.00 at 30, 20 and 8 pg/mg). Areas under the receiver operating characteristic curves were significantly higher for EtG concentration in fingernails than hair for any weekly alcohol use (P = 0.02, DeLong test, two-tailed) and increasing-risk drinking (P = 0.02, DeLong test, two-tailed).

Conclusions: Ethyl glucuronide, especially in fingernails, may have potential as a quantitative indicator of alcohol use.

Keywords: Alcohol biomarkers; alcohol drinking patterns; ethyl glucuronide; fingernails; hair.

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Published by: United States Drug Testing Laboratories on

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