Comparing the detection of transdermal and breath alcohol concentrations during periods of alcohol consumption ranging from moderate drinking to binge drinking

Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2012 Oct;20(5):373-81. doi: 10.1037/a0029021. Epub 2012 Jun 18.


Binge drinking is a public health concern due to its association with negative health outcomes as well as increased legal and social consequences. Previous studies have frequently used self-reported alcohol consumption to classify binge drinking episodes; however, these measures are often limited in both detail and accuracy. Some researchers have begun using additional measures such as blood (BAC) and breath (BrAC) alcohol concentrations to supplement self-report data. Transdermal alcohol testing, or the detection of alcohol expiration through the skin, offers advantages over BAC and BrAC measures by allowing for continuous and noninvasive monitoring of an individual's drinking behavior in real time. Despite these advantages, this technology has not been widely used or studied outside of forensic applications. The present research compares transdermal alcohol concentration (TAC) and BrAC readings during the consumption of alcohol ranging from moderate drinking to binge drinking in 22 adult regular drinkers in order to investigate the sensitivity and specificity of the TAC monitors. We observed that BrAC and TAC measures were broadly consistent. Additionally, we were able to develop an equation that could predict BrAC results using TAC data, indicating TAC data would be an appropriate substitute in research and clinical contexts where BrAC readings are typically used. Finally, we were able to determine a cutoff point for peak TAC data that could reliably predict whether a participant had engaged in moderate or more-than-moderate drinking, suggesting TAC monitors could be used in settings where moderate or reduced drinking is the goal.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / diagnosis*
  • Binge Drinking / diagnosis*
  • Breath Tests
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / pharmacokinetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Ethanol