Comprehensive alcohol tests for the family law courts

Casey Randall AlphaBiolabs

By Casey Randall, Head of Genetics at AlphaBiolabs

Last reviewed: 03/07/2019

AlphaBiolabs has worked with solicitors and local authorities, and members of the public, for over 15 years. Our legal alcohol testing is recognised and admissible in UK courts.

We understand that alcohol testing is relied upon to help make decisions in cases that can have far-reaching effects. You need to be confident that the decisions you make are backed by scientific evidence. Knowing the level and pattern of alcohol misuse can help assess the risk, whether to an individual, an employee, their workplace or even a family unit. In child protection cases, for example, one or both parents may have an addiction issue that needs proving. Or abstinence may need to be confirmed.

AlphaBiolabs has a comprehensive range of alcohol testing services that provide answers depending on the alcohol detection period you require. This includes instant breath tests, blood analysis, 3- or 6-month hair analyses to show alcohol consumption over a period of time, nail clippings and continuous results using an innovative alcohol monitoring bracelet called SCRAM CAM®.

Your account manager will be able to advise you on which test is right for your case, saving you time and money, and importantly providing the answers you need to stand up in court. This article provides a summary of the tests we offer.

Hair alcohol testing

AlphaBiolabs follows the consensus on hair alcohol testing for chronic excessive alcohol consumption published by the Society of Hair Testing (SoHT). The level of biomarker found in head hair can help determine if a person has been drinking chronically and excessively, and will show an overview of 3 or 6 months.

Head hair testing works by looking at two markers of alcohol: ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs). The level of alcohol consumed will determine the level of these markers in the hair. Both types of markers are absorbed via different routes and their levels can assist in assessing excessive alcohol use by an individual.

EtG is produced by the liver and incorporated into the hair, mainly through sweat. It is hydrophilic, meaning that it is water soluble. As such, some EtG may be lost through the use of hair dye and excessive hair washing. FAEEs are produced in the blood and incorporated into hair via sebum (an oily substance secreted by glands in the skin). FAEEs are lipophilic and therefore not water soluble, so although not affected by hair washing, the amount detected could be affected by use of hairsprays, gels and wax.

Head hair is preferred over body hair for alcohol testing. However, chest, arm, leg and beard hair can be analysed for EtG when head hair is not available, and can provide up to a 12-month overview.

Blood alcohol testing

Blood testing can determine whether an individual may have drunk to excess over the course of the last 4 weeks. AlphaBiolabs offers four blood tests: liver function test (LFT), carbohydrate deficient transferrin (CDT), mean corpuscular volume (MCV) and phosphatidylethanol (PEth) analysis.

Liver function test (LFT)

The liver function test (LFT) assesses the variation of liver-produced proteins in the blood. Alcohol can be toxic to the liver. A person who consumes excessive amounts of alcohol will damage their liver and may experience decreased liver function. LFT measures various enzymes in the blood that are produced by the liver. We test a panel of five markers including total bilirubin, aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT) to ensure the result is as accurate as possible.

An abnormal result indicates a problem with the liver. For example, an elevated AST value is a biochemical indicator of possible alcohol abuse.

Carbohydrate deficient transferrin (CDT)

Transferrin is a protein largely made in the liver. Its function is to transport iron in the blood. When someone drinks too much alcohol, it increases certain types of transferrin that are carbohydrate-deficient. When carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) increases, it can be measured in the bloodstream and is therefore a biomarker of alcohol abuse.

People who do not drink, or drink moderately, will have lower CDT levels in their blood. But, people who drink four or more drinks a day, at least five days a week for 2 weeks prior to the test will have CDT at significantly greater levels. The CDT test can thus detect heavy alcohol consumption over a long period of time and is a measure of chronic alcohol consumption. If a person stops drinking, the CDT levels will decrease, but if they start drinking again, the levels will once again rise.

Mean corpuscular volume (MCV)

Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) refers to the size of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen in blood to all parts of the body. Heavy drinking over longer periods damages the bone marrow where the red blood cells are produced. The effect is that the red blood cells do not develop properly and become abnormally large. As a result, MCV gives an indication of abnormally large red blood cells caused by heavy drinking. This means that the MCV index becomes higher than normal, which persists as long as drinking continues.

MCV takes 6–8 weeks of heavy drinking to become elevated. However, alcohol-induced bone marrow damage is reversible. Although, it may take several months before MCV returns to a normal level after abstinence.

Phosphatidylethanol (PEth)

Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) is an abnormal phospholipid, which is produced after alcohol exposure in red blood cell membranes. It requires ethanol for its production and is formed on the surface of a red blood cell when the alcohol reacts with phosphatidylcholine. It is the most accurate blood test to determine alcohol abuse. This is because PEth is a direct marker of alcohol, which means that it can only be detected when alcohol has been consumed. Its high specificity (48–89%) and sensitivity of 88–100% is because it is directly related to alcohol consumption.

Nail alcohol testing

Nail clipping analysis is an alternative to hair testing when an individual has insufficient head or body hair. People can go to dramatic lengths to hide their alcohol consumption when called upon for a legal test. Parents may shave their hair off if their family is at risk. In addition, as discussed above, excessive hair washing, bleaching, dyeing, and hair preparations such as gels and wax can affect alcohol metabolites in hair.

Like hair, nails are made from keratin, which is a fibrous protein. As the nail grows, substances can pass from the blood vessels below the nail into the keratin fibres where they become trapped. Biomarkers from alcohol can thus be detected in the nails.

Our nail alcohol testing analyses samples for ethyl glucuronide (EtG). These EtG biomarkers become trapped within the keratin fibres along the length of the nail providing a detection period of up to 6 months.

Either fingernails or toenails can be used for the test, but not a mixture. Approximately 10 mg of nail is required in total.

Instant alcohol tests

Breath alcohol test devices show the level of alcohol in the breath at the time the test was taken. It does not measure historical use of alcohol. This means that this method of testing is ideal to check for current alcohol consumption. The portable breathalyser also means that it can be used to prove sobriety as and when needed.

The person being tested for alcohol use blows into a breath alcohol device, and the results are given as a digital readout. The readout is a number, known as the breath alcohol concentration (BAC).

AlphaBiolabs can provide a number of devices for breath alcohol testing dependent on your individual needs. The compact device is used by UK police for roadside drink-driving checks, and by social workers for point-of-care testing when evaluating child protection issues.

Real-time results with SCRAM alcohol testing

An easy way to show the frequency and pattern of alcohol consumption is available with SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring® (SCRAM CAM®). This alcohol testing bracelet is worn on the ankle and monitors alcohol consumption by testing for the presence of alcohol in perspiration every 30 minutes. It is the first device of its kind to detect the drinking of alcohol in real-time.

Results are automatically gathered and uploaded without the need for an individual’s participation. Continuous monitoring has been proven to enforce participant sobriety, compliance and accountability. As such, SCRAM CAM® is popular among child-protection agencies as a tool to change behaviours in higher-risk alcohol-dependent parents.

The bracelet can be fitted by AlphaBiolabs at a client’s home, your office or at one of our nationwide Walk in Centres. A wireless base station automatically uploads the results without the need for an internet connection or phone line.

Combined comprehensive alcohol testing package

We also offer a Comprehensive Alcohol Analysis Package that provides the best insight into an individual’s level of alcohol consumption. It also saves money than the costs of performing the individual alcohol tests. The package includes:

  • Two head hair tests for EtG and FAEEs
  • Three blood tests: LFT, CDT and MCV. PEth testing can also be added for an additional fee.
  • A Statement of Witness report, which includes all the details of the tests performed, the results in full and a conclusion based on the evidence. The reports work within the framework of Family Law and follow Part 25 of the Family Procedure Rules (2010).
  • Sample collection from an address of your choice. This could be your office, client’s home, place of work, or anywhere else convenient.

You can find out more about our legal alcohol testing on our website. We also have information about our alcohol testing services in free PDF info sheets. To get a quote, please complete our easy online form here, call 0333 600 1300 or email us at

Legal Alcohol Testing

AlphaBiolabs is an award winning Alcohol & Drug testing lab. Get a quote for legal alcohol testing today

Casey Randall AlphaBiolabs

Casey Randall

Head of Genetics at AlphaBiolabs

Casey joined the AlphaBiolabs team in 2012 and heads up both the DNA and Covid-19 testing teams.

An expert in DNA analysis and a member of the International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG), Casey holds an MSc with Distinction in DNA Profiling and a First-Class BSc with Honours in Forensic Science.

Casey is responsible for maintaining the highest quality testing standards, as well as looking for ways to further enhance the service that AlphaBiolabs provides and exploring new and innovative techniques in DNA analysis.

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