Pilot Investigation of a Phosphatidylethanol-Based Contingency Management Intervention Targeting Alcohol Use
Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) can be detected in blood from 14 to as many as 28 days after alcohol consumption, depending on the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed. PEth may have utility for verifying abstinence in a contingency management (CM) intervention for alcohol use, particularly in settings where frequent verification of abstinence is impossible or impractical. Five nontreatment-seeking heavy drinkers (40% men) participated in an 11-week, ABA-phased within-subject experiment for which they submitted blood spots for PEth measurement, urine samples for ethyl glucuronide (EtG) testing, and self-report drinking data weekly. Participants received reinforcers for submitting samples throughout the A phases. During the B phase (CM phase), they received additional reinforcers when their PEth level was reduced from the previous week and was verified by a negative EtG (<150 ng/ml) urine test and self-report. PEth, EtG, and self-report outcomes were compared between A phases (Weeks 1–3, 8–11) and B phases (Weeks 4–7). During the A phases, 23% of PEth results indicated alcohol abstinence, whereas 53% of PEth samples submitted during the CM (B phase) indicated alcohol abstinence. Participants were more likely to submit EtG-negative urine samples and report lower levels of drinking and heavy drinking during the B phase, relative to the A phases. We also explored the ability of PEth to detect self-reported drinking. The combined PEth homologs (16:0/18:1 and 16:0/18:2) predicted self-reported drinking with area under the curve from 0.81 (1 week) to 0.80 (3 weeks). Results support the initial feasibility of a Peth-based CM intervention.