Ethanol - plasma or blood

Last updated: Tuesday, 06, April, 2004

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The venepuncture site must not be swabbed with alcohol.

5 mL blood in lithium heparin tube (for plasma) or oxalate (whole blood).

Medico-legal specimens require proof of identity and ethanol is measured in a whole blood specimen.


Gas liquid chromatography or spectro­photometry.

Reference Interval

Not detected in the absence of ethanol ingestion.


To establish recent ingestion. As the estimation of ethanol levels in breath samples is inaccurate a blood sample may be required (eg, in the assessment of possible drug overdose and impaired consciousness after trauma).

InterpretationIntoxicated: 22-33 mmol/L (0.10-0.15 g/100 mL)
Poisoned: 44-66 mmol/L (0.20-0.30 g/100 mL)
Often fatal: >88 mmol/L (>0.40 g/100 mL).

Legal limits vary. For specific information contact local authorities.
Commonly, the legal driving limit is '0.05%' that is, 11 mmol/L or 0.05 g/100 mL. In some regions it is '0.08%' that is, 18 mmol/L or 0.08 g/100 mL.


Montalto NJ and Bean P. Med Sci Monit 2003; 9(12): 285-290.