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EtG Test Accuracy, Detection Window, and Dealing with False Positives

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How accurate is the EtG test?

The EtG test, properly known as Ethyl Glucuronide, is a metabolite produced from drinking alcohol and is used to detect alcohol levels in urine. It’s being used by courts and probation departments as a way of testing if people are drinking.

EtG has earned a bit of a reputation regarding its validity in being both reliable if not a bit inconsistent depending on which side of the fence you’re on – the monitor, or the monitored.

Facing a false positive charge? Unhappy with your current attorney? Request a free consultation now.

How far back in time does EtG test for alcohol?

How long can alcohol be detected in a urine EtG test? EtG has become a reliable indicator of alcohol consumption as the metabolite can be found in urine for up to five days after drinking. While there are variables to consider in using any test (these biomarkers can remain in urine for longer periods of time) EtG’s can show a stronger likelihood of someone drinking than, let’s say other more traditional tools, such as PBTs, blood, or saliva samples.

Because EtG is detectable in a drinker’s system for extended blocks of time – courts, the military, employers, and health professionals are relying on it more now than in the past to show proven abstinence.

“What do you mean positive – but I haven’t been drinking?!”

Does this ring a bell? Questions about use, frequency, amount, and abstinence periods are common. This goes back to the question, “how accurate is the EtG test?”

The EtG alcohol urine test has come under scrutiny for the ‘false positive’ debate with some tested. The false positive problem can have severe consequences including jail time, losing one’s job, denial of professional licensure, and litigation. Drinkers can vary widely in their consumption and frequency rates. The test has been challenged when low levels of EtG are found in urine.

Whether a regular or occasional drinker, testing requirements may ask for higher cutoff levels of the metabolite (perhaps 500 ng/ml as opposed to 100) to get around claims of incidental exposure versus drinking outright. Is there a bright-line test for cutoffs? It’s difficult to say. It may pose a serious problem for those who are “slipping through” versus guilty innocents.

If you’re being EtG tested, be sure to have a conversation with your monitor as to daily use of over-the-counter products that may contain ethanol as exposure can also come from inhalation or topical use in addition to drinking. The test has a high success rate of showing alcohol in the system, but cannot necessarily detect the true source.

Imagine cleaning your bathroom with various cleansers or eating desserts that have vanilla in them – not to mention the almost ever-present hand sanitizers found in public buildings. The EtG test runs into difficulty when answering the question of how much alcohol has been consumed versus any at all.

While the detection of EtG in a person’s system can raise the specter of alcohol consumption when the real culprit may come from another source – it can lead to the sticky area of, “Did they or didn’t they?”

To use this test as the only proof of confirmed drinking is unreliable and can lead to the very difficult problem of overcoming the presumption of drinking, when someone may not be. With a zero-tolerance policy and total abstinence as a potential backdrop for many people, whether at work or in the court system, this can certainly pose significant hardships.


There is a prevailing interest and societal concern to assist those wanting or needing help in achieving long-term sobriety. Problems stemming from alcoholism are both well-known and heavily documented.

While multiple sources of support are encouraged for those in a recovery program, the EtG test along with other forensic testing devices will continue to have to be refined and developed as we move forward in furthering both safe and reliable means in monitoring those who may need it.

Facing a false positive charge? Unhappy with your current attorney? Request a free consultation now.

Barton Morris
Barton Morris has been providing high-quality legal representation in the area of state and federal criminal defense for more than 20 years.
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