Researchers Using Transdermal Testing to Learn More About Drinking Behaviors
In June, researchers from the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio and Wake Forest University published a study, “Comparing the Detection of Transdermal and Breath Alcohol Concentrations During Periods of Alcohol Consumption Ranging From Moderate Drinking to Binge Drinking” in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, published by the American Psychological Association.
Researchers were focused on the issue of binge drinking as a public health concern, but noted that previous studies of binge drinking used self-reported alcohol consumption to classify binge drinking episodes. Finding the data limited in both detail and accuracy, researchers utilized transdermal alcohol monitors, and compared test data (known as Transdermal Alcohol Concentration, or TAC) to Breath Alcohol Concentration (BrAC) to test the validity of TAC results as a measure of alcohol consumption. The researchers utilized SCRAM technology for the transdermal system and Drager Alcotest portable breathalyzers were used to measure BrAC.
The researchers concluded that TAC data is reliably related to alcohol consumption and has convergent validity with BrAC. Researchers also noted that “TAC monitoring has unique advantages over other methods of monitoring drinking behavior that can improve the quality of data obtained and decrease the interference of monitoring procedures with wearers’ normal behavior.”
From the behavioral perspective, the UT study discussed future behavioral applications for TAC monitors as a way to monitor patterns of problematic alcohol use and alcohol use disorder treatment.
Behavioral models based on transdermal (or continuous) alcohol monitoring are growing in interest in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom. In Scotland, where officials have been conducting pilot studies of CAM to help manage public disorder issues related to alcohol abuse, treatment officials have also been piloting CAM. But rather than using the data to identify “violations” of drinking and respond with sanctions or intervention, treatment researchers have instead used the data to try to help identify triggers that lead patients coping with alcohol abuse to drink. Since CAM will show data from the beginning to end of any drinking event, 24 hours a day, clinicians are working with patients to talk about what happened in their day prior to the drinking, and then help patients identify other ways to cope with those triggers.
SCRAM monitors have tested nearly 250,000 alcohol offenders in the last 8 years, with just under 1.1 billion alcohol tests conducted. In 2011, data analysts at AMS began to cull the billions of data points gathered in that timeframe to identify cycles, trends, and patterns in behavior that can be helpful to both corrections and treatment professionals when dealing with the high-risk alcohol offenders that are generally monitored by CAM.
The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation has launched Phase I of a multi-part study of these trends. Alcohol Monitoring Systems has turned over billions of pieces of data to behavioral analysis researchers for study. Early results are slated for first quarter of 2013.