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New Products Help Drinkers Monitor Their Blood Alcohol Levels


New products on the market are helping people monitor their blood alcohol levels. Some devices link to a smartphone, NPR reports.

One device, called the Vio, is a key chain alcohol test about the size of a lighter. It sells for $50. A person blows in the device, which then determines whether their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is around or over the legal limit for driving.

Keith Nothacker, the CEO of BACtrack, which makes Vio, told NPR the device might help reduce drunk driving rates. “Previously there was a stigma with alcohol testing, and we’ve been fighting that stigma,” he said. “We want people to talk about their BAC and not be embarrassed.”

Another device, the Breathometer, plugs into the audio jack of a smartphone, and connects with an app. It also sells for about $50. Both the Vio and Breathometer can help a person determine how long it will take them to reduce their BAC back down to 0. “So if you’re drinking late, you’ll see that you won’t sober up until the next day in a lot of cases,” Nothacker said.

The devices are not as accurate as those used by police, the article notes. But they can still be useful in helping people decide they shouldn’t be driving, said Michael McDonell, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington. “In study after study, we see that just objectively tracking your use of [a substance] will reduce your use,” he says.

McDonell added, “If the outcome is to help a person stop using or reduce their use of alcohol, accuracy is less important. And those expensive devices are never going to get out there to everybody.”

4 Responses to this article

  1. Maj. Mark Willingham / July 31, 2014 at 9:51 am

    As a retired State Police Major, I was concerned about the public safety implications of next drink and driving after drinking decisions based on the use of inexpensive BAC devices such as that described in this article. I conducted a study funded by the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association in conjunction with the Institute of Police Technology and Management in which 28 of these types of devices ranging in price from $10 to $350 were tested against the results from a certified police breath test device. The volunteer drinkers were dosed to between 0.08 to 0.10 g% BAC.

    The overall finding was that the principal value of these devices was to determine that the person had consumed ethyl alcohol (which the drinker would already know). Only three of these devices were within a reasonable range of accuracy to be useful in making critical decisions. Almost half of the devices reflected a higher BAC than the control device which may tend to cause the drinker to believe they were more intoxicated than they were. However, almost as many devices reflected a lower BAC level creating a significant public safety risk in that the user may feel he or she could safely consume more alcohol or drive after drinking. Some of the devices were just too complicated for an intoxicated person to master. In addition, Antidotal evidence suggests these devices are more often used as party games with drinkers trying to obtain a higher BAC value than their fellow drinkers.

    Until such a device can be shown to be efficacious I believe the best method to limit public safety alcohol risk is for drinkers and bartender to engage in drink counting based on the drinkers alcohol consumption, drinking time, gender, and body weight. A simple BAC chart and an understanding of standard drink units can save lives.

  2. Ross Fishman, Ph.D. / July 29, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Any device to assess even an approximation of a person’s BAC, if used properly, can be an effective tool to prevent negative consequences such as driving under the influence. Unfortunately, they can be used for further detrimental effects. For example, many years ago a breathalyzer machine installed in a bar to help people monitor their BAC became a tool for drinkers to see how high a BAC they could “blow” compared to the other drinkers participating in what became a contest. These devices may become popular but I hope not for the wrong reason.

  3. Ramy / July 29, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Unfortunately, a lot of people will use this to see if they are enough under the limit to be “safe” to drive. If the limit is .08 and their device shows .07, are they okay to drive? I don’t think so, but they might.

  4. Benny / July 29, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    These devices are a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of a DUI, accident, insurance or court costs. The smart phone just got smarter!

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