Protocol - Alcohol Breathalyzer
The purpose of this protocol is to measure the concentration of alcohol (ethanol) in the participant’s breath. After 20 minutes of observation, the participant blows steadily into a device called a breathalyzer used to measure the breath alcohol concentration. The result is measured in grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath, which is used as a proxy for blood alcohol concentration (BAC). A person’s BAC is equivalent to the percent by weight of alcohol in a person’s blood based upon grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.
U.S. law enforcement agencies utilize breathalyzers to quickly and accurately measure BAC for sobriety tests. Some of the most common law enforcement breathalyzers use infrared spectrometry technology. Some models provide results to different numbers of decimal places, which may affect how data are combined across studies. The Working Group does not recommend a particular breathalyzer manufacturer or device but does suggest that a breathalyzer be chosen that is commonly used for field sobriety tests and that the breathalyzer measures the percent BAC to one hundredths.
The participant may have residual alcohol in the mouth which would cause a much higher BAC. This factor is minimized by observing the participant for 20 minutes and ensuring that he/she has not belched, burped, regurgitated, or taken a drink.
The Substance Abuse and Addiction Working Group acknowledges that the following questions may gather sensitive information relating to the use of substances and/or illegal conduct. If the information is released, it might be damaging to an individual’s employability, lead to social stigmatization, or lead to other consequences.
Most researchers assure confidentiality as part of their informed consent process, as required by their institutional review boards. When assessing minors with these questions, it may be necessary to obtain informed consent from a parent of the adolescent. Further assurance of confidentiality may be obtained by applying to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a Certificate of Confidentiality, which helps researchers protect the privacy of human research participants. The procedures for the Certificate of Confidentiality can be found at the Grants Policy website of the NIH: http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/policy/coc/index.htm.
Follow the breathalyzer manufacturer’s instructions.
Explain to the participant that you are about to obtain his/her blood alcohol reading with a breathalyzer device. Also explain that you need to observe him/her for 20 minutes before the test and that he/she should not drink anything including water during that time.
Document the time that the observation began. __ __: __ __ am/pm
Prepare the breathalyzer device. Attach a new mouthpiece to the device. Some devices require calibration or a preliminary test; if so, record the results.
Document the time the observation ended. __ __: __ __ am/pm
(Ask participant) Have you belched, burped, regurgitated, or taken a drink of anything in the past 20 minutes?
1 [ ] Yes - Observe for another 20 minutes.
2 [ ] No - Proceed with breath test.
Ask participant to blow steadily into the breathalyzer.
Do not record this result. Wait 2 minutes.
(Ask participant) Have you belched, burped, regurgitated, or taken a drink of anything in the past 2 minutes?
1 [ ] Yes - Observe for another 20 minutes.
2 [ ] No - Proceed with breath test.
Ask participant to blow steadily into the breathalyzer a second time.
Record this result. 0. _ _ grams per 210 liters of breath.
(If necessary, conduct a third test after waiting 2 minutes and ask the question above.)
Interpretation of Results
A person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is related to a number of factors including the quantity of alcohol consumed, rate of consumption, gender, weight, and prior ingestion of food (Hingson et al., 1999; see Figure 1, p. 32). All states in the United States have adopted 0.08% (80 mg/dl) as the legal BAC limit for operating a motor vehicle for drivers aged 21 years or older (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). However, drivers younger than 21 are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle with any level of alcohol in their system. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) approves "evidential breath testing devices" (EBTs) with reliable results of 0.02% or greater. Although many breathalyzers measure BACs below 0.02% it is considered the lowest positive value. Note: Legal limits do not define a level below which it is safe to operate a vehicle or engage in some other activity. Impairment due to alcohol use can occur at levels well below the legal limit, starting at 0.01% (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1994), and the level of impairment is positively related to BAC level.
Protocol Name from Source
Virginia Department of Forensic Science. (2005, September). Breath alcohol section. Breath test operator instructional manual
Personnel and Training Required
Use of a breathalyzer requires training on how to administer the device and maintenance and calibration.
Commonly used breathalyzer for field sobriety tests, preferably a breathalyzer that measures alcohol via infrared spectrometry
Maintenance and calibration log
|Specialized requirements for biospecimen collection||No|
|Average time of greater than 15 minutes in an unaffected individual||No|
Mode of Administration
Adolescent, Adult, Senior
Adolescents and adults aged 13 years and older
A breathalyzer is used by law enforcement officers throughout the United States for field sobriety tests. If used correctly, it is an accurate method to quantify the concentration of alcohol in the breath and serves as a proxy for blood alcohol concentration.
|Common Data Elements (CDE)||Alcohol Breathalyzer Gram Alcohol Per 210 Liter Breath||3332422||CDE Browser|
|Human Phenotype Ontology||Alcoholism||HP:0030955||HPO|
Process and Review
The Expert Review Panel #3 (ERP 3) reviewed the measures in Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Substances, and Substance Abuse and Addiction domains.
Guidance from ERP 3 includes:
• No significant changes to measure
Back-compatible: NA no changes to Data Dictionary
Virginia Department of Forensic Science. (2005, September). Breath alcohol section. Breath test operator instructional manual.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2011). Alcohol and public health - Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#legalLimit
Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Highway Safety Programs. (2010). Conforming products list of evidential breath alcohol measurement devices. Federal Register, 75(47), 11624-11627.
Godley, S. H., Godley, M. D., Wright, K. L., Funk, R. R., & Petry, N. M. (2008). Contingent reinforcement of personal goal activities for adolescents with substance use disorders during post-residential continuing care. American Journal on Addictions, 17(4), 278-286.
Hingson, R. W., Heeren, T., & Winter, M. R. (1999). Preventing impaired driving. Alcohol Research & Health, 23(1), 31-39.
Kaminer, Y., Burleson, J. A., & Burke, R. H. (2008). Efficacy of outpatient aftercare for adolescents with alcohol use disorders: a randomized controlled study. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 47(12), 1405-1412.
Moskowitz, H., Burns, M. M., & Williams, A.F. (1985). Skills performance at low blood alcohol levels. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 46(6), 482-485.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (1994, July). Alcohol-related impairment. Alcohol Alert, 25(PH 351). Retrieved from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa25.htm
Norman, A. L., Pulido, C., Squeglia, L. M., Spadoni, A. D., Paulus, M. P., & Tapert, S. F. (2011). Neural activation during inhibition predicts initiation of substance use in adolescence. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. [Epub ahead of print]
Swift, R. (2003). Direct measurement of alcohol and its metabolites. Addiction, 98(Suppl 2), 73-80.
Virginia Tech University. (2011). Students: Alcohol’s effects.
|Variable Name||Variable ID||Variable Description||dbGaP Mapping|
|PX510501030000||Have you belched, burped, regurgitated, or more||N/A|
|PX510501040000||(Ask participant) Have you belched, burped, more||N/A|
|PX510501060000||(Ask participant) Have you belched, burped, more||N/A|
|PX510501050000||Ask participant to blow steadily into the more||N/A|
|PX510501070000||Ask participant to blow steadily into the more||N/A|
|PX510501010200||Document the time that the observation began. time||N/A|
|PX510501010100||Document the time that the observation more||N/A|
|PX510501020200||Document the time that the observation ended. time||N/A|
|PX510501020100||Document the time that the observation more||N/A|
February 24, 2012
Bioassay used to detect and quantify recent alcohol use.
This assay is used to detect whether the participant has recently used alcohol, and it is a quantitative assay that can be used to measure the concentration of alcohol in breath.
Alcohol, BAC, Bioassay, Blood Alcohol Concentration, Breathalyzer, SAA, Substance Use, Assessment of Substance Use and Substance Use Disorders