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Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
Chemical testing picks out alcoholics

Blood tests can spot alcoholics
Tests can show whether patients have ongoing alcohol problems - but some uses could prove controversial.

"Biomarkers" are left in the bodies of people with alcohol problems who have started drinking again, and there are a variety of tests to which can detect these changes.

But a US psychiatrist has suggested that the tests could be used by health insurance companies, or even to decide whether a patient "deserves" a transplant organ.

Professor Martin Javors, professor of psychiatry from the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, said: "Physicians might want to be sure that people who are going to get liver transplants are not drinking."

He added that courts or probation officials might also find a use for the tests - to make sure defendants are sticking to agreed anti-addiction programmes.

A more recently discovered "biomarker" is carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT). This is a protein secreted by the liver which transfers iron around the body.

Professor Javors said that this test would hopefully be offered by his laboratory "within the next few months".

Binge drinking

He said he hoped that the markers would eventually help tell the difference between heavy drinkers who drank every day, and those who had occasional binges.

"It is likely that binge drinking will be more difficult to detect. A lot of studies on the effectiveness on biochemical markers have been done on the basis of reported drinking."

Chip Summers, who runs a treatment programme for people with drug and alcohol problems, said that it was a good idea to use a routine alcohol test to make sure his clients were abstaining from alcohol.

But he said: "Using it for other reasons feels a bit intrusive to me, and I would be very much against saying that alcoholics cannot have certain treatments.

"It seems the thin end of the wedge to me, and where do you draw the line? You could apply similar conditions to exclude people who smoke cigarettes, or who are overweight."

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See also:

05 Mar 99 | Health
Alcohol abuse targeted
10 Sep 99 | Health
Drug helps dry out alcoholics
24 Nov 99 | Health
Scientists' alcohol brainwave
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