Biomarker For Alcohol Use Is Especially Heightened In Binge Drinkers

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A biomarker found in the blood of regular alcohol drinkers is much higher in binge drinkers than in those who consume moderately, according to a new report by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The researchers believe the findings could lead to the biomarker phosphatidylethanol (PEth) being used to screen young adults for dangerous drinking habits such as binge drinking.

Mariann Piano, professor and head of the department of biobehavioral health science in the UIC College of Nursing, says extensive research has linked PEth with alcohol consumption, but no research had been done on its levels in young adults.

“Binge drinking is pervasive on college campuses and among young adults,” Piano said. “More alarming, though, is the regularity of binge drinking episodes: one in five students report three or more binge drinking episodes in the prior two weeks.”

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 or above. This level is typically reached when men consume five or more drinks in about two hours, or four or more drinks in the same time period for women.

According to the report published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, Piano and co-investigator Shane Phillips, associate professor of physical therapy, measured PEth in blood samples from student participants attending two large Midwestern university campuses. The participants were part of a larger ongoing study focused on the cardiovascular effects of binge drinking.

Participants in the study were asked to complete a 10-question self-assessment survey to determine their drinking patterns, then they were divided into three groups based on the results: abstainers, moderate drinkers, and binge drinkers.

The abstainers group reported not having more than one drink per month in the past two to three years. Moderate drinking was defined for men as consuming three drinks or less per sitting one to two times per week in the past five years. The number of drinks for women was two. Binge drinkers were defined as having at least two episodes of heavy drinking in one sitting in the last month.

The majority of participants were Caucasian females, which also made up the majority of moderate and binge drinkers. Abstainers were predominantly Asian.

After the questionnaire, blood was drawn from all participants to evaluate blood alcohol levels and PEth. Five blood spots were dried on cards and measured against the whole blood samples in an off-site drug testing laboratory.

“We discovered a significant correlation between PEth levels in both the whole blood and dried blood samples and the number of times subjects consumed four to five drinks in one sitting within the last 30 days,” Piano said.

The PEth levels in the blood also positively correlated with the self-assessment survey scores, Piano said.

“Using a biomarker of heavy alcohol consumption such as PEth along with self-reporting could provide an objective measure for use in research, screening and treatment of hazardous alcohol use among young adults,” she said.

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