Validating transdermal alcohol biosensors: a meta-analysis of associations between blood/breath-based measures and transdermal alcohol sensor output

Jiachen Yu, Catharine E. Fairbairn, Laura Gurrieri, Eddie P. Caumiant

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background and aims: Transdermal alcohol sensors carry immense promise for the continuous assessment of drinking but are inconsistent in detecting more fine-grained indicators of alcohol consumption. Prior studies examining associations between transdermal alcohol concentration (TAC) and blood/breath alcohol concentration (BAC) have yielded highly variable correlations and lag times. The current review aimed to synthesize transdermal validation studies, aggregating results from more than three decades of research to characterize the validity of transdermal sensors for assessing alcohol consumption. Methods: Databases were searched for studies listed prior to 1 March 2022 that examined associations between transdermal alcohol sensor output and blood and breath-based alcohol measures, resulting in 31 primarily laboratory-derived participant samples (27 precise effect sizes) including both healthy and clinical populations. Correlation coefficients and lag times were pooled using three-level random-effects meta-regression. Independent raters coded study characteristics, including the body position of transdermal sensors (ankle- versus arm/hand/wrist-worn device) and methodological bias (e.g. missing data). Results: Analyses revealed that, in this primarily laboratory-derived sample of studies, the average correlation between TAC and BAC was large in magnitude [r = 0.87, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.80, 0.93], and TAC lagged behind BAC by an average of 95.90 minutes (95% CI = 55.50, 136.29). Device body position significantly moderated both TAC–BAC correlation (b = 0.11, P = 0.009) and lag time (b = −69.41, P < 0.001). Lag times for ankle-worn devices were approximately double those for arm/hand/wrist-worn devices, and TAC–BAC correlations also tended to be stronger for arm/hand/wrist-worn sensors. Conclusions: This meta-analysis indicates that transdermal alcohol sensors perform strongly in assessing blood/breath alcohol concentration under controlled conditions, with particular promise for the newer generation of wrist-worn devices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2805-2815
Number of pages11
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Alcohol biosensors
  • blood alcohol concentration
  • body location
  • meta-analysis
  • temporal sensitivity
  • transdermal
  • validation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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