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Hair Alcohol Testing

  • Hair alcohol testing for members of the public, the legal profession,
    social workers and employers
  • Rapid results
  • History of alcohol use can be established
  • Accredited-laboratory processes
  • In-house toxicology experts available for advice
  • Network of professional sample collectors
  • FREE sample collection for legal tests at our Dublin walk-in centre

Alcohol hair testing explained

Hair alcohol testing – also known as hair strand testing for alcohol or hair follicle testing for alcohol – works by detecting two metabolites of alcohol: ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and the fatty acid ethyl ester (FAEE); ethyl palmitate (EtPa).

These alcohol biomarkers are absorbed into the hair via different routes and their levels can assist in assessing excessive alcohol consumption. Both markers are analysed because they are affected by external factors in different ways.

EtG is produced by the liver and is incorporated into the hair mainly through sweat. It is hydrophilic, meaning that it is water soluble. As such, some EtG may be lost through the use of hair dye and excessive hair washing.

EtPa (FAEE) is produced in the blood and incorporated into hair via sebum. EtPa (FAEEs) are lipophilic and therefore not water soluble, so although not affected by hair washing, the amount detected could be affected by use of hair products containing alcohol including hairsprays, gels and wax.

Because of their respective strengths and weaknesses, both EtG and EtPa tests should be performed in order to determine chronic excessive consumption of alcohol, and their findings should support each other.

Unlike hair drug testing where the metabolites are absorbed through the root of the hair, when an individual consumes alcohol, the alcohol markers are found along the entire length of the hair. Therefore, it is not possible to segment the hair for analysis.

Overview analysis

The minimum length of hair used for a hair strand test for alcohol is a 3cm section. The level of biomarkers found in the hair can help determine if a person has been drinking chronically and excessively, providing an overview of 3 or 6 months of alcohol consumption, depending on the length of hair sampled.

When collecting a sample of head hair for a hair alcohol test, the site of sample collection will depend on the length of hair required for analysis, according to the period for which we have been instructed to test. For example, a longer section of hair would be required for a six-month analysis than for a three-month analysis.

Around 200 individual strands of head hair (about the width of a pencil) need to be cut from the root, as close to the scalp as possible. This will leave a bald patch. The sample collector will always assess the most suitable sample site, based on the testing requirements.  This is usually the rear of the head in line with the top of the ears.  However, the sample collector will always discuss this with the sample donor and, if possible, change the sample site to accommodate the sample donor’s request, as long as the required sample length can still be obtained.

AlphaBiolabs follows Society of Hair Testing (SoHT) guidelines for hair follicle alcohol tests when testing for chronic and excessive alcohol consumption. The result will be considered either above or below the recommended SoHT cut-off levels.

Hair alcohol testing for members of the public, the legal profession, social workers and employers

Other types of alcohol tests

Although head hair is preferred for a hair strand alcohol test, some types of body hair can also be analysed for alcohol.

However, it is only possible to perform EtG analysis on body hair samples collected from the chest, arm, leg and face. The rate at which body hair grows (compared to head hair) also means that the timeframe for body hair alcohol testing is more approximate, and can only be determined when the hair length has been measured.

Although AlphaBiolabs’ hair follicle alcohol testing methods are highly accurate and reliable, we would always recommend that a blood alcohol test be taken to complement the EtPa/EtG tests.

Testing for alcohol biomarkers in blood, in conjunction with clinical assessment, can support the hair alcohol test results and, especially in cases of inconclusive results, provides a greater insight into an individual’s level of alcohol consumption.

AlphaBiolabs’ blood alcohol tests include Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) testing, Carbohydrate Deficient Transferrin (CDT) analysis, a Liver Function Test (LFT), and Mean Corpuscular Volume (MCV) test.

Sample collection network

We have a network of sample collectors that are able to collect hair samples from an address of your choice. This could be your home, office, or anywhere else convenient.

We also offer free sample collection for legally instructed hair strand alcohol testing at our Dublin Walk-in Centre.

AlphaBiolabs provides breath, blood, hair and nail alcohol testing. We also offer round-the-clock testing via SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring®.

For expert advice or further information, please call 01 402 9466 or email us at testing@alphabiolabs.com

Frequently Asked Questions

How accurate is a hair alcohol test?

Our hair alcohol testing is 100% accurate and reliable based on the samples we receive at our laboratory.

We are accredited to the quality technical standard of ISO 17025 (No. 2773) and certified to ISO 9001.

We follow cut-off guidelines for hair alcohol testing as set by the Society of Hair Testing.

Why can alcohol testing only go back a maximum of six months, when drug testing can go back a maximum of 12 months?

One of the fundamental differences between a hair alcohol test and a hair drug test, is the detection window provided by each test i.e. the length of time substances remain detectable in an individual’s sample after consumption.

A drug test using head hair can be used to detect drug use for a period of up to 12 months prior to collection of the hair sample, with two types of analysis offered if the donor has sufficient head hair: segmented (month-by-month) or overview analysis.

However, a hair alcohol test can only be used to provide a three- or- six-month overview of alcohol consumption.

This is because drugs and alcohol find their way into the hair in different ways.

When a person consumes drugs, they are broken down by the liver, and a proportion of the parent drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream.

These drugs then enter the hair follicle and become trapped in the medulla, the innermost layer of the hair shaft.

As the hair grows, the drugs remain in the hair, meaning segmentation analysis can be used on head hair to determine a pattern of drug use over a defined period, depending on the length of hair selected (1cm of hair = one month of growth).

Alternatively, overview analysis can be used to obtain a more general insight into a person’s drug use. This is because episodes of drug use are averaged out over the period being tested.

Head hair or body hair can be used to provide an overview of up to 12 months of drug use.

When a person consumes alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream, and around 90% of it is broken down in the liver.

The remainder is then passed out of the body in a variety of ways including in sweat and exhaled breath.

Unlike drugs, which become trapped in the hair, alcohol biomarkers are deposited onto the hair via sweat and diffusion and are present along the entire length of the hair.

This means it is not possible to segment the hair for alcohol testing – it is only possible to perform three- or six-month overview analysis.

The level of biomarkers on the hair can also be impacted by external factors such as hair treatments or the use of hair products containing alcohol.

Why isn’t it possible to segment hair on a month-by-month basis for the purpose of alcohol testing?

This is due to the way in which alcohol metabolites find their way into the hair.

Unlike drugs and drug metabolites, which when consumed enter the hair follicle and become trapped in the medulla, the innermost layer of the hair shaft, alcohol biomarkers are deposited onto the hair via sweat and diffusion and are present along the entire length of the hair.

This means it is not possible to segment the hair for alcohol testing – it is only possible to perform three- or six-month overview analysis.

According to the Society of Hair Testing (SoHT), if a sample is less than 3cm or greater than 6cm:

“…the results should be interpreted with caution, and the results could be challenged in court as there is no industry standard for lengths other than 3cm and 6cm

AlphaBiolabs adheres to the guidelines set by the SoHT for hair alcohol testing, which is the industry standard.

What can affect the results of a hair strand test for alcohol?

Ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and ethyl palmitate (EtPa), both alcohol biomarkers that can be detected in a hair sample during hair alcohol testing, can be affected by different external factors.

EtG is water soluble and is deposited onto the hair via sweat glands. This means that hair treatments such as bleaching, dyeing, perming, straightening, and excessive washing all have the potential to reduce the levels of EtG found on the hair.

EtPa is a fatty acid ethyl ester (FAEE) and is lipophilic (fat soluble). Although styling methods such as bleaching, perming, dyeing etc. will not significantly affect EtPa levels (unless aggressively used), hair styling products that contain alcohol such as hairspray, gel and wax can increase the levels of EtPa found during laboratory analysis.

The sample collector will always ask the donor to disclose details of any recent hair treatments that have the potential to impact the results.

This information will be considered when preparing the results.

The donor is also advised not to use any alcohol-based styling products for at least one month prior to sample collection, to reduce the likelihood of an elevated EtPa result.

What is classed as a positive result in alcohol testing? What is considered chronic and excessive?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Society of Hair Testing (SoHT), chronic and excessive alcohol consumption corresponds to an average consumption of 60 grams of pure ethanol (alcohol) per day, over several months. This is the equivalent of 7.5 units of alcohol; approximately three pints of beer, or 2-3 large glasses of wine per day, over a prolonged period.

  • If both EtG and EtPa are above the cut-off levels, the results suggest that alcohol has been consumed chronically and excessively.
  • If EtG is above the cut-off level, but EtPa is below the cut-off level, the results are suggestive of chronic and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • If EtG is below the cut-off level, but EtPa is above the cut-off level, the results are not suggestive of chronic and excessive alcohol consumption. However, excessive alcohol consumption cannot be excluded, particularly if the donor has applied cosmetic treatments to their hair prior to sample collection.
  • If both EtG and EtPa are below the cut-off levels, the results suggest that alcohol has not been chronically and excessively consumed.

How much does a hair alcohol test cost?

The cost of a hair alcohol test varies depending on the requirements of the instructing party.

If you have received a quote for hair alcohol testing from another testing laboratory, we will match their price and reduce it by a further 5%. This makes AlphaBiolabs the most cost-effective solution for your legal alcohol testing needs.

To request a quote for hair alcohol testing, simply complete our online form, and a member of our Legal sales team will be in touch to discuss your needs.

You can also call 01 402 9466 or email testing@alphabiolabs.com for more information.

How can I get a quote for a hair alcohol test?

It’s easy to request a quote online now. Simply complete our online quote form and a member of our Legal team will be in touch to discuss your requirements.

Alternatively, call us on 01 402 9466 or email testing@alphabiolabs.com and a member of the Legal team will be happy to discuss your case and provide a quote.

Call us on 01 402 9466 to discuss legal alcohol testing options