31 July 2008

Blood test spots heavy drinking

A simple blood test to identify heavy drinking in the previous four to six weeks is being used as an objective, non-judgmental way to identify problem drinkers and intervene.

A simple blood test which identifies the odds of heavy drinking in the previous four to six weeks is being used as an objective, non-judgmental way of identify problem drinkers and intervene, a researcher told the annual meeting of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) this week.

"The test for heavy drinking works by measuring the changes in blood chemistries due to the effect of heavy drinking on various organ systems in the body," said AACC presenter Dr James Harasymiw, Director of Alcohol Detection Services in Big Bend, Wisconsin.

It's estimated that about 100 000 Americans die each year from alcohol abuse, including more than 17 000 people who die annually in alcohol-related traffic accidents.

"We defined heavy drinking as a woman having more than three drinks a day or a man having more than four drinks a day or binge drinking at least two times a week," Harasymiw said. "The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has data showing that medical problems and psychological and social problems start to occur at this level of drinking."

Drug and family courts using test
The test is currently being used in several different settings, Harasymiw said. "It is being used in alcoholism treatment centers and we have a pilot project in one county in Wisconsin with repeat offense drunk drivers to see if we can see if we can reduce the rate of recidivism," he explained.

Drug courts are using the test to monitor individuals and the family courts in Wisconsin are using it where there are concerns about child safety, he said. "We've used the test for heavy drinking to allow people to rebuild credibility after they've gone through treatment and are able to demonstrate that they are staying sober and that's allowed some women to get their children back."

Los Angeles County uses the test in some of their pre-employment screening. The next proving ground for the test is doctor's offices. "We are hoping in time to have doctors use it; doctors have been resistant to screening for heavy drinking but we are trying to get a pilot going in medical settings to see if it can be integrated into office practice," Harasymiw said.

Doctors could show patients test results to help convince them that their drinking is causing "serious damage" to their body, he added. – (Reuters Health, July 2008)

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