Hair ethyl glucuronide levels as a marker for alcohol use and abuse: a review of the current state of the art

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Jan 1;134:1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.10.008. Epub 2013 Oct 30.


Background: Ethyl glucuronide (EtG) is a minor alcohol metabolite that has been proposed as a stable marker in hair to detect and quantify alcohol consumption over long time periods.

Methods: We provide an outline of currently available techniques for EtG hair sample analysis and highlight the pitfalls related to data interpretation. The literature of EtG analysis has been reviewed from January 1980 up to August 2013. In addition, we present an overview of the clinical and forensic studies which have used EtG quantification in hair as a marker for alcohol consumption/abstinence and we provide suggestions for future research.

Results: EtG is a stable marker in hair that can be used to detect and quantify alcohol consumption over long time periods. This alcohol metabolite remains in hair after complete elimination of alcohol. Currently, there are three main analytical techniques used to quantify EtG in hair: gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS), and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). No standardized protocols are yet available for the analysis of EtG levels in hair samples, and the current protocols vary in sample preparation and extraction procedures. Variables such as hair length, cosmetic treatment, gender, and pathophysiological conditions influence the final results and should be taken into account.

Conclusions: EtG quantification in hair is a useful tool for the objective detection of alcohol consumption over extended time periods, but care should be taken when interpreting the results.

Keywords: Alcohol; Ethyl glucuronide; Gas chromatography; Hair; Liquid chromatography; Mass spectrometry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism*
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biomarkers / chemistry
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry / standards
  • Glucuronates / analysis
  • Glucuronates / metabolism*
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Hair / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods
  • Substance Abuse Detection / standards*


  • Biomarkers
  • Glucuronates
  • ethyl glucuronide