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Updated on July 31, 2023
4 min read

Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) Testing for Alcohol Use

What is an Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) Test?

The ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test is used to detect alcohol consumption.2 EtG tests date back to 1997.6 Researchers have used them in clinical settings for decades.

EtG tests for ethyl glucuronide, a byproduct of ethanol, commonly known as drinking alcohol. Glucuronide is also a compound the liver makes.

Glucuronide binds toxins and drugs in the body so you can excrete them via the urinary tract.1 This means that alcohol comes out of your urine.


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Why is an EtG Test Used?

An EtG test detects alcohol consumption. A doctor might administer an EtG test on someone recovering from alcohol misuse or alcohol addiction to ensure they are not drinking.

EtG tests may be a routine part of an addiction treatment plan, alongside therapy, medication, and other resources. Additionally, certain jobs, such as government or law enforcement, may require employees to test for levels of EtG in their urine. 

An EtG may also be required for the following reasons:

  • As part of a liver transplant protocol
  • For school or the military
  • In court cases and court-mandated parenting programs
  • By probation offices

However, an EtG test isn’t used if someone is suspected of drinking while working or driving. A breathalyzer is better in these situations. 

How Does an EtG Test Work? Is it Effective? 

EtG test results are considered adequate for detecting recent alcohol consumption. However, they're not specific enough.3

Higher amounts of EtG in the urine indicate significant amounts of alcohol consumption.1 Other factors, such as when the person consumed alcohol, influence how much EtG is detectable. The more time that passes, the lower the EtG level in the urine will be.

Some drinkers may also convert more alcohol into EtG, and others may excrete it faster.1 Drinking water may also dilute levels of EtG in urine.7 EtG can be detected even at levels below 100 ng/ml, and light drinking can result in a positive EtG test.

What the Research Says

In one study, participants were asked to report their drinking data and urine samples thrice a week for 16 weeks. The researchers looked at low (100 ng/ml and 200 ng/ml) and moderate (500 ng/ml) EtG-I cutoffs for each. They also calculated light and heavy drinking over 1 to 5 days.

They found that EtG testing can detect 76% of light drinking for 2 days with a 100 ng/ml cutoff. The same cutoff detects 66% of light drinking after 5 days. As for heavy drinking, EtG testing can detect 84% in a day and 79% after 5 days.5

Another study found that EtG tests are always positive at the 100 ng/ml and 200 ng/ml cut-offs within 12 hours. They become less effective at 24 hours with light alcohol use and 48 hours with heavier alcohol use.4

However, there is a maximum amount of measurable EtG. Drinking above the limit may not raise EtG levels more than can be detectable. Therefore, an EtG test effectively detects drinking but is not effective in detecting the amount of alcohol consumed.1


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How to Interpret EtG Test Results

EtG test results are simple. A positive EtG test detects a metabolite of alcohol in the urine and suggests that alcohol was consumed within the last few days.

A negative EtG test suggests the person has not consumed alcohol within the previous few days. Keep in mind that false positives are possible. 

Sometimes, you can still get a positive result, even if you haven't consumed alcohol. For example, mouthwash and hand sanitizers containing alcohol might give positive results.


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How Long Can EtG Be Detected in Urine?

EtG can be detected in the urine for much longer than it can be detected in the blood or breath. In fact, it can be detectable in urine for up to 48 hours after having just a few drinks. In some cases of heavy drinking, it can be detected for up to 72 hours or more.1

It is possible to dilute levels of EtG in urine by hydrating with a lot of water and urinating often. The more time that passes, the less EtG can be detected. For example, after 2 days, sensitivity drops for six or fewer drinks.4

How Much Do You Have to Drink to Fail an EtG Test?

Because EtG is a metabolite of alcohol, EtG tests can pick up even small traces of alcohol. You may not even need to drink alcohol for EtG to show up in your urine.

As mentioned before, rinsing your mouth with mouthwash can result in a positive EtG test. Even one drink can show up on your EtG test. Other factors like how often you urinate and when you stop drinking can also affect the test results.

The more alcohol you drink, the more likely it is to appear on an EtG test. Heavy drinking is more detectable than moderate alcohol consumption.

How Long Before an EtG Test Should You Stop Drinking?

An EtG test can detect alcohol within just a few days of drinking. Depending on how much alcohol you consume, an EtG test can detect it for about 3 days after drinking. 

Alcohol abstinence for at least a few days is necessary to clear an EtG test urine sample. If you need to pass an EtG test for work, do not drink alcohol within a few days of taking the test. If you're required to abstain from alcohol for work or legal reasons like probation, don't drink at all.

Updated on July 31, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. About Urine Ethylglucuronide (Etg) Testing.” MUSC.
  2. Detection Times for Urinary Ethyl Glucuronide and Ethyl Sulfate in Heavy Drinkers during Alcohol Detoxification.” United States Drug Testing Laboratories Inc.
  3. Grodin, Erica N., et al. “Sensitivity and Specificity of a Commercial Urinary Ethyl Glucuronide (Etg) Test in Heavy Drinkers.” Addictive Behaviors Reports, Elsevier, 17 Jan. 2020.
  4. Jatlow, Peter I, et al. “Ethyl Glucuronide and Ethyl SULFATE Assays in Clinical Trials, Interpretation, and Limitations: Results of a Dose Ranging Alcohol CHALLENGE Study and 2 Clinical Trials.” Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2014.
  5. McDonell, Michael G, et al. “Using Ethyl Glucuronide in Urine to Detect Light and Heavy Drinking in Alcohol Dependent Outpatients.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Dec. 2015.
  6. Wojcik, Mark H., and Jeffrey S. Hawthorne. “Sensitivity of Commercial Ethyl Glucuronide (Etg) Testing in Screening for Alcohol Abstinence.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 21 Mar. 2007.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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