Alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, one of which is violence. A large number of incarcerated individuals are serving sentences for involvement in violent alcohol-related crimes. In some countries, the rate of recidivism and alcohol consumption upon release is increasing, prompting the need for more intense and novel approaches at reducing drinking among offenders.
Although many techniques for monitoring alcohol use exist, such as ignition breathalyzers, urine tests and blood tests, they are not always cost effective or feasible. Further, offenders often find ways to falsify results. However, a new method is a transdermal test that measures how much alcohol one has consumed by assessing sweat. This technique involves placing a device on the ankle of the subject. The anklet then records and transmits data from the transdermal test. Even though this type of assessment cannot detect very low levels of blood alcohol, it can measure whether someone has consumed more than the legal limit.
Fergus G. Neville of the School of Medicine at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom recently tested the validity of the anklet on a sample of 60 male college students. His goals were to see if the anklet encouraged students to abstain and if so, how it supported abstinence. Neville placed anklets on one group of participants (A) and instructed them not to drink. The second group (B) was also instructed not to drink, but did not wear anklets. The participants in the third group (C) wore anklets and were instructed to drink as usual. The anklets recorded data every 30 minutes over a two-week period.
At the end of the study, Neville found that the anklets contributed to abstinence as the group A participants consumed the least amount of alcohol. Group B participants reported drinking more than those in groups A or C and participants in group C had the highest levels of alcohol consumption. Neville said, “The results of this pilot study suggest that wearing a continuous alcohol monitor can support individuals who are trying not to consume alcohol.”
Focus groups revealed that participants felt the anklets underscored their commitment to abstaining, made them aware of being monitored, and even acted as a tool for resisting peer pressure in drinking situations. Neville believes that future work should examine the effectiveness of anklets for offenders on parole in order to increase their chances at sobriety and decrease future violent offenses.
Neville, F.G., Williams, D.J., Goodall, C.A., Murer, J.S., Donnelly, P.D. (2013). An experimental trial exploring the impact of continuous transdermal alcohol monitoring upon alcohol consumption in a cohort of male students. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67386. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067386
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