Protein Test Proven Effective in Detecting Alcohol Use

While there are certain signs that a healthcare professional may look for in individuals to determine whether or not they have an alcohol abuse problem, an easier detection would be a test that can make this determination biologically. According to a recent Science Daily post, such a test is closer than ever before.

Penn State College of Medicine researchers have been working in cooperation with Kathleen A. Grant, Ph.D., at the Oregon National Primate Research Center to measure a set of protein changes in the blood linked to alcohol to see if such activity can lead to a more accurate diagnostic test.

"The challenge in alcohol abuse as opposed to substance abuse — things like cocaine or heroin or PCP — is that alcohol is a perfectly legal substance for those over 21," said Willard M. Freeman, Ph.D., department of pharmacology and lead investigator, in Science Daily.

"Unlike routine testing for illicit drugs, you can’t just look for a trace of alcohol because many people enjoy a drink in a responsible manner and alcohol is very quickly metabolized. Discriminating between excessive and responsible levels of drinking makes this a greater challenge."

In their research, these scientists identified a set of 17 proteins in the blood that were able to accurately predict alcohol usage 90 percent of the time in non-human primates. Usage was separated into three categories: no alcohol use, drinking up to two drinks per day and drinking at least six drinks per day. Protein levels rose and declined depending on alcohol consumption.

"We observed that the levels of some proteins increased or decreased with as little as one or two drinks a day," Freeman said. "These same changes occurred with heavier levels of drinking. We also found other proteins that responded only to heavy levels of drinking. Combined, these proteins allow us to classify subjects into non-drinking, alcohol-using, and alcohol-abusing groups."