How to Read Alcohol Testing Results

Written by candi lemon
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Doctors, some legal authorities and certain institutions order alcohol testing on individuals to determine the amount of alcohol present in the body, if any. A laboratory performs alcohol testing, also known as ethanol or ethyl alcohol, on blood, urine or saliva samples. A breathalyser uses breath to measure alcohol consumption on site. Alcohol testing for legal authorities follows different guidelines than testing for medical purposes. Legal alcohol testing follows a strictly documented paper trail from the person collecting the sample until the completion of the testing and releasing of results. Medical alcohol testing is part of an overall health evaluation.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Determine if the lab report you have is for a blood, urine or saliva sample. Alcohol results from different samples are not interchangeable and have different normal ranges. The report should clearly identify the sample the laboratory had used for testing.

  2. 2

    Consider the purpose for alcohol testing. If your doctor ordered the test for medical evaluation, a lower than a lab-established cut-off value is considered normal. Every lab has its own cut-off value depending on which analysing methods it uses. The alcohol test value reflects the amount of alcohol the patient consumed; the higher the value is, the more alcohol toxicity it indicates. On the other hand, alcohol testing for legal authorities has a legal range that a person's alcohol value is compared against. An alcohol value that is lower than the legal limit is considered normal. The legal limit for operating a motor vehicle by drivers older than 21 years is 0.08 per cent (or 80 mg per dl) in the United States.

  3. 3

    Know that using breath and urine samples for alcohol testing provide a good estimate of alcohol concentration in the body, but various factors can affect these estimates. Diabetics are prone to higher alcohol values in urine and breath samples because of the possible high glucose and ketones concentrations in their body.

Tips and warnings

  • The most common legal alcohol testing is performed on drivers suspected of driving while intoxicated, and as a part of a pre-employment drug testing panel.
  • Some health and life insurance companies may order alcohol testing on prospective clients to determine drinking habits. The laboratory treats those as legal samples.

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