Practical experiences in application of hair fatty acid ethyl esters and ethyl glucuronide for detection of chronic alcohol abuse in forensic cases

Forensic Sci Int. 2012 May 10;218(1-3):82-91. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2011.10.006. Epub 2011 Oct 27.


This article presents results from 1872 hair samples, which were analyzed for fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) and ethyl glucuronide (EtG). The results were evaluated in the context of self-reported drinking behavior, the use of hair cosmetics, the gender of the sample donors and hair sample length. For comparison, CDT and GGT in serum were available in 477 and 454 cases, respectively. A number of alcohol abstainers or low moderate drinkers and excessive drinkers were selected for assessment of cut-offs for FAEEs in the proximal 6cm hair segments and for EtG in the proximal 3cm hair segments. Cut-off values were assessed by ROC analysis. It was found that the cut-offs of 1.0ng/mg FAEE and 30pg/mg EtG presently used for excessive drinking lead to a low portion of false positives (4% and 3% respectively) but to a higher portion of false negatives (23% and 25% respectively). Comparison of the mean and medium concentrations in samples without any reported hair cosmetics (N=1079) and in samples with reported use of hair spray (N=79) showed an increase by the factor of about two for FAEE but no significant difference for EtG. Mean values of EtG were decreased by 80% in bleached samples (N=164) and by 63% in dyed samples (N=96). There was no significant effect of bleaching and dyeing on FAEE. Hair gel and hair wax, oil or grease showed no significant effect on both FAEE and EtG. With respect to gender and investigated hair length ambiguous results were obtained because of major differences in the compared subpopulations of male with higher alcohol consumption and mainly shorter hair, and less drinking female with longer hair. For excessive drinkers FAEEs in the 0-6cm hair segment and EtG in the 0-3cm segment decreased with increasing time of reported abstinence before sample collection. These drinkers attain the level of teetotalers only after more than 10 months of abstinence. In comparison to scalp hair, FAEEs recovered from armpit hair and leg hair were lower and from chest hair were higher. EtG in armpit hair was lower and in leg hair higher than in scalp hair. It is concluded that the combined use of FAEE and EtG essentially increases the accuracy of interpretation since both markers complement each other by a different sensitivity to sources of error.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Ethyl Ethers / analysis*
  • False Negative Reactions
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Fatty Acids / analysis*
  • Female
  • Glucuronates / analysis*
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Hair Preparations / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • ROC Curve
  • Self Report
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sex Factors
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods


  • Biomarkers
  • Ethyl Ethers
  • Fatty Acids
  • Glucuronates
  • Hair Preparations
  • ethyl glucuronide