Other names: Ethyl Alcohol; EtOH; Alcohol

Ethanol is the scientific name for alcohol; the ethanol test measures the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. Ethanol effects the body is many different ways and can affect some people much more than others. A small amount of ethanol tends to make people excited, giggly, confident and relaxed, while slightly larger volumes can cause problems with judgement and eyesight, problems with coordination and movement and slurred speech and very large amounts can cause breathing difficulties, confusion, loss of consciousness and even death.

When a person drinks alcohol, it is carried to the liver in the bloodstream; a small amount of ethanol is removed by the kidneys but the liver is responsible for breaking down most of the ethanol. Alcohol is poisonous for the liver and it struggles to break it down; the liver can break down roughly one drink per hour and if people drink more than this, they are likely to damage their liver, as ethanol will start to build up in the blood and the liver will be put under pressure to break it down.

When is the test used?

The test is used for both legal and medical purposes; if the sample is required for legal purposes, strict regulations must be followed and anyone who comes into contact with sample must sign a document known as ’chain of custody’. For medical purposes, the test is usually ordered when a doctor suspects a patient has ethanol poisoning; this test is usually ordered by doctors in accident and emergency departments for patients who are admitted with signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning, including breathing difficulties, confusion, lack of coordination, changes in behaviour, loos of conscience and vomiting.

A test may be ordered in the event of an accident or incident which may have been associated with or linked to excessive drinking; for example, a car accident, which was caused by a driver who had been drinking.

How is the test performed?

If the test is being carried out for legal purposes, the sample must be handled very carefully and strict rules must be followed. Additional samples, such as saliva, breath and urine samples may also be ordered.

The blood test is done by collecting and analysing a sample of blood from a vein in the arm; the sample is collected by inserting a needle into the vein, drawing out the blood and then collecting it in a syringe. Once the doctor has a sufficient sample, the blood will be bottled, labelled and sent away to the laboratory for evaluation.

What do the test results mean?

If ethanol is present in the blood sample it is very likely that the patient has been drinking; the amount of ethanol in the blood will give an idea of how much they have been drinking. Some people have a much better tolerance of alcohol than others; people who drink heavily on a regular basis may show no symptoms of toxicity even when they have drunk far more than the recommended intake.

In legal cases, the amount of ethanol in the blood may determine whether or not a person is guilty of being under the influence; for example, if somebody was driving and had a blood test result of over 80 milligrams/100mL, this would mean that they were breaking the law.

Specific Blood Tests

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