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Will Polyethylene Glycol Test Positive for Alcohol?

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a compound that is made from ethylene glycol, which in itself is derived from petroleum. It is an extremely versatile compound and is used in the manufacture of numerous products. It is the main ingredient in antifreeze but is also used extensively in the manufacture of medicines and cosmetics. No laboratory worth its salt will ever be caught without a supply. It is even used in the preservation of wood. It is found in toothpaste and it is used as an ink solvent for inkjet printers. The list is almost endless.

Scaremongers say that PEG is dangerous but numerous studies have found it to minimally toxic and that it poses no harm to human health or the environment. It is even approved by the FDA. It is true that a very small minority of people can develop an allergic reaction to PEG. One thing is for certain: you are exposed to PEG every day of your life!

Alcohol Test and the Substances It Looks For

There are quite a number of different tests that can be used to measure your alcohol level. However, in essence all these tests are looking for ethyl glucuronide. This is a substance that is a break down product of ethanol. Ethanol is the intoxicating agent found in alcohol.

So, if all the various tests are looking for the same substance, why not just settle on one? The answer is that the purpose of the various tests differs. People are not just tested for alcohol because they are suspected of driving under the influence. Alcohol tests are routinely part of rehabilitation programs, the treatment of certain medical conditions, drug screening tests of employees or potential employees and to safeguard the health of individuals constantly exposed to ethanol.

Another reason why different tests are used is the fact that alcohol tends to linger longer in certain parts of the body and the different tests focus on those parts of the body. Consider the fact that alcohol can be detected for wildly different periods after consumption:

  • In the blood, for 24 hours;
  • In the breath, often no longer than 12 hours.
  • In the hair follicles, up to three months!
  • In the urine, for up to 80 hours.

Now that is why traffic officers and employers, for example, will opt for a breathalyzer or blood test. They are not concerned about alcohol consumed days or even months ago! Rehab centers and medical specialists, on the other hand, may very well be concerned with finding out if there is any trace of alcohol at all, even if the consumption took place long ago.

Then there is the need for results. A breathalyzer test, or a urine test, for example, will give an almost instant reading while hair follicle tests and blood tests involve a waiting period. Traffic officers testing suspected DUI cases need quick results but physicians and researchers may need more accurate results and they can wait for them.

With all that said and done, alcohol tests are all but conclusive. There are numerous factors that can have an influence on the alcohol level of any individual at any given time. Gender, weight, age, diet, medical conditions and many other factors can play a role, influencing the test results one way or the other.

Can Polyethylene Glycol Trigger a Positive Result for Alcohol?

The short answer is “no”! Alcohol tests look for ethyl glucuronide and there is absolutely no scientific evidence that PEG breaks down in this substance. The same is true for propylene glycol also.

But there is a but… The point is this: an absence of solid scientific evidence is definitely not a definitive answer to any question if no scientific research on the subject has been done! This is indeed the case when it comes to the possibility that polyethylene glycol can indeed break down into ethyl glucuronide. Nobody has seen it fit or necessary to explore this hypothesis with a formal scientific empirical study.

So, perhaps the most honest answer to this question is “who knows?” The jury is still out on this one.

What Can Trigger False-Positive Alcohol Tests, If Not Polyethylene Glycol?

There are a lot of things that can have a triggering effect upon alcohol tests, causing false-positive results! Let’s have a look at some of them:

  • Medication. An astonishing number of medicines contain alcohol and they can all contribute towards a false-positive test for alcohol. Cough medicine, cold and flu liquids, most allergy tablets and asthma inhalers all have an influence on an alcohol test. Scented products such as aftershaves and mouthwash can cause a false-positive breathalyzer test too. If you are being subjected to an alcohol test you need to inform the testing team if you are using any medication containing ethanol.
  • Medical conditions. Did you know that if you suffer from diabetes very high levels of acetone will be present in your breath at all times? This can lead to a false-positive alcohol test even if you consumed no alcohol at all. Hypoglycemia can also mimic all the symptoms of intoxication.
  • Food. If you eat out regularly you may be ingesting alcohol without even realizing the fact. Alcohol is routinely used in the preparation of food. Even food prepared without using alcohol directly, such as preparing a pizza, can contain ethyl glucuronide that can cause a false-positive alcohol reading. If yeast was used in the preparation of any meal the chances are good that at least some ethyl glucuronide will be present.
  • Your work environment. If you work with or in the vicinity of volatile substances they may cause a false-positive result in an alcohol test. The big culprits here are glues, cleaning chemicals, paints and lacquers.

A Final Thought

Let us face the facts: alcohol tests are often by no means conclusive. There are just to many outside factors that can have a decided influence on the outcome. There has been some concern about polyethylene glycol causing false-positive tests but there are no conclusive studies to say either “yes” or “no”.