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10/31/2008

The Hairy Truth about Alcohol Consumption

Many people think that hair conveys a lot about a person’s personality; others see it as just this nuisance growing out of the top of one’s head requiring maintenance. But now, hair holds the secret to what can be anything from a social habit to a serious addiction.

hair_sample.jpg

That’s right: there is now a test that can provide an extended history of alcohol consumption, says WSJ’s Market Watch. The AbuseCheck(TM) by Consumer Genetics uses a hair sample to detect the level of fatty ethyl esters in one’s hair. The more you have, the longer you have been drinking.

A few hiccups: the longer the hair, the better the test as the hair has time to build up these esters while it grows. Sinead O’Connor would not be a good candidate for AbuseCheck. Like looking at the rings of a tree trunk, scientists can use long strands of hair to measure the amount of these esters present as the hair grew–thus determining how long and how much one has been consuming alcohol.

The problem with this kind of testing, besides the “Barber Defense”, as a means of determining whether employees or recovering alcoholics are alcohol free is that hair grows somewhat slowly. Even a long hair sample could appear ester-free, but that person could be downing scotch hand over fist in the last week or the morning before the test for that matter. If all the testing requires is a period of abstaining from alcohol until one’s hair is “clean” (Consumer Genetics’ website says it can detect alcohol consumption for 6 months to 1 year), then it would seem to me that this method is no better at preventing fraud in drug testing than any other.

Only if a company instituted yearly AbuseCheck testing would this work–and at $495 per test, this is an expensive endeavor for any company.

In any case, it’s a creative idea. Maybe it will work. Or maybe the companies who are known to do this kind of testing will suddenly have a 100% increase in the number of bald applicants coming into their HR departments.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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