Potential New Test For Alcohol Use

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Measuring changes in certain protein levels in the blood was found to accurate predict heavy levels of drinking in animals.

The Study

Working with non-human primates, medical researchers have identified 17 proteins in the blood that rise and decline based on alcohol consumption. Measuring the protein levels allowed the researchers to place the animals in one of three categories: non-drinking, alcohol-using (up to 2 drinks per day), and alcohol abusing (at least 6 drinks per day). The researchers plan to look for additional proteins and test their results on humans.

Why Is This Important?

Because alcohol is a legal drug, finding trace amount of alcohol during a drug test doesn't automatically signal a problem like trace amounts of illegal substances like cocaine or heroin. Researcher are hoping the identification of these proteins will help develop a diagnostic test for alcohol consumption that will indicate whether an individual abuses alcohol.

Lead investigator William Freeman, of Penn State College of Medicine, explained that the test would not be able to diagnose alcoholism, but may serve as an indicator:

"In a strictest use of the words, alcoholism is a psychological diagnosis as opposed to a level of drinking," he said. "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual really classifies alcohol abuse and alcoholism based on how alcohol is interfering with your life. Obviously we can't use a blood test to say yes, your drinking is interfering with your home life. But the amount of drinking and the amount of problems it causes in your life are tightly correlated.

"We envision, a number of years down the line if this becomes a diagnostic test, that if the test indicates that you're drinking a lot, it would prompt a referral to a specialist in alcohol abuse and alcoholism. This test could provide an objective indicator to help people begin addressing what may really be a problem in their lives."

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