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Evidence of heavy drinking can be found months later.

Tests which can show how much someone has drunk in previous weeks and months and not just in the past few days are being developed.

The research revealed last night is likely to benefit not only doctors but police investigating a crime and could attract the interest of employers and insurance companies.

The tests could let a GP know if someone is a light or heavy drinker and tell investigators if a driver or worker involved in an accident was drunk at the time, even if they were not tested until days later, reported the New Scientist magazine.

Most existing techniques rely on finding indirect evidence of drinking like measuring liver enzymes in the blood. But because other toxins and even pregnancy can cause similar changes they are not very reliable.

One of the new tests measures ethyl glucuronide (EtG) a breakdown product unique to alcohol that starts accumulating in the blood as alcohol levels decline.

EtG lasts for up to five days in urine, and confirms beyond all doubt that someone has had a drink in that time.

Another test that looks for phosphatidyl ethanol (PEth) provides an intermediate measure. PEth lasts for up to three weeks in the blood of people who consume more than three beers a day, or the equivalent.

Looking at the combined levels of four fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) in hair provides an even longer-term measure of alcohol consumption.

FAEEs appear in blood within 12 to 18 hours of alcohol being consumed, but end up stored in hair.

In a recent study a team of scientists monitored around 40 drinkers and teetotallers, and showed that FAEE levels in hair can distinguish between light and heavy drinkers.

Friedrich Wurst of the University of Basel in Switzerland said, 'The only way to remove the evidence is to shave all body hair.'
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 12, 2004
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