International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 127, Issue 3, pp 611–619 | Cite as

Ethyl glucuronide concentration in hair for detecting heavy drinking and/or abstinence: a meta-analysis

  • Rafael Boscolo-Berto
  • Guido Viel
  • Massimo Montisci
  • Claudio Terranova
  • Donata Favretto
  • Santo Davide FerraraEmail author
Original Article


In both clinical and forensic settings, hair analysis for ethyl glucuronide (HEtG) has been increasingly employed for diagnosing chronic excessive drinking and, more recently, for monitoring abstinence. This paper aims at meta-analysing published data on HEtG concentrations in teetotallers, social drinkers and heavy drinkers in order to evaluate the use of this marker in hair for identifying chronic excessive drinking and for monitoring abstinence. In May 2012, a systematic multi-database search retrieved 366 records related to HEtG and further screened for relevant publications in the field. Fifteen (4.1 %) records matched the selection criteria and were included in the meta-analysis. The mean and 95 % confidence intervals (CI) of HEtG concentrations in social drinkers (mean 7.5 pg/mg; 95 % CI 4.7–10.2 pg/mg; p < 0.001), heavy drinkers (mean 142.7 pg/mg; 95 % CI 99.9–185.5 pg/mg; p < 0.001) and deceased subjects with a known history of chronic excessive drinking (mean 586.1 pg/mg; 95 % CI 177.2–995.0 pg/mg; p < 0.01) were calculated. The ranges of mean values and 95 % confidence intervals for single studies involving teetotallers/social or social/heavy drinkers showed a partial overlap with a down-trespassing of both the 7 and 30 pg/mg thresholds for social and heavy drinkers, respectively. Although larger and well-designed population studies are required to draw any definitive conclusion, our data show that the cut-off of 30 pg/mg limits the false-negative effect in differentiating heavy from social drinkers, whereas the recently proposed 7 pg/mg cut-off value might only be used for suspecting an active alcohol use, and not for proving complete abstinence.


Alcohol abuse Chronic excessive drinking Abstinence Ethyl glucuronide EtG Hair Meta-analysis 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rafael Boscolo-Berto
    • 1
  • Guido Viel
    • 1
  • Massimo Montisci
    • 1
  • Claudio Terranova
    • 1
  • Donata Favretto
    • 1
  • Santo Davide Ferrara
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Molecular Medicine, Section of Legal Medicine, Forensic Pathology, Forensic Toxicology and AntidopingUniversity Hospital of PadovaPadovaItaly

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