Transdermal alcohol biosensors offer a promising method for unobtrusively collecting continuous alcohol levels in naturalistic settings over long periods of time. Devices are now available to reliably measure transdermal alcohol concentration (TAC), the amount of alcohol diffusing through the skin, but an often overlooked yet critical issue for making these biosensors valuable is that TAC does not consistently correlate with the easily interpretable measures of breath and blood alcohol concentrations (BrAC/BAC) across individuals, environmental conditions, and devices. The goal of this study is to produce software to convert TAC data into estimates of BrAC/BAC (eBrAC/eBAC). We will meet this goal by 1) developing mathematical models to produce quantitative eBrAC from TAC data, 2) examining alternative options for calibrating these models, 3) testing the model fits using varied types and amounts of very precise data, and 4) packaging the models into a comprehensive data assimilation software program. Specifically, we will enhance the fidelity of the models by integrating advanced physics/physiological-based models with statistical methods and data-driven machine- learning techniques. To reduce the burden currently required to calibrate the models for each individual, we will test a number of calibration procedures, including the replacement of the laboratory alcohol administration session with more varied drinking protocols as well as with population-based parameter estimates. We will test our models and protocols using detailed consumption data collected 1) on two of the investigators, 2) on 40 participants who will each participate in four controlled laboratory drinking sessions, and 3) on 40 participants who will each participate in a field trial and laboratory sessions. We will examine model fits across drinking patterns when using varying amounts of individualized alcohol data (e.g., breath analyzer, drink diary) to calibrate the models, and within and across individuals with differing characteristics (e.g., gender, weight) and under variable conditions (e.g., humidity, heart rate) that may affect model fit. We will create a data assimilation software system, the BrAC Estimator software, that incorporates all available data to produce the most accurate eBrAC measures. The software output will include the identification of drinking episodes, continuous eBrAC signal, and eBrAC summary scores (e.g., peak eBrAC, time of peak eBrAC, area under the drinking curve) with confidence bands. The software will be platform-portable to run alone or to be integrated into other mobile health technologies or precision medicine protocols. This proposal is innovative, technologically sophisticated, and feasible, and would result in the first tool to accomplish the TAC-eBrAC conversion, finally making it possible to obtain interpretable quantitative measurement of naturalistic alcohol consumption in the field. The anticipated result of this study is the expanded utility of TAC biosensors for researchers, clinicians, and individuals to monitor naturalistic alcohol consumption and easily understand the results.

Public Health Relevance

This research program will advance mathematical models and methodological techniques to make it possible to obtain quantitative estimates of breath and blood alcohol concentration levels from the data produced by transdermal alcohol sensors. By making these methodological advancements available in software programs for use by non-mathematicians, the proposed study has the capability of widely enhancing the alcohol research community?s ability to investigate a variety of alcohol-related research topics that cannot be captured retrospectively or in laboratory settings, including naturalistic patterns of consumption, individual differences in response to alcohol, real-time drinking behavior and decisions, clinical intervention outcomes, and the prevention and treatment of alcoholism. More broadly, the software can be integrated with personal health monitoring systems for general public use and provide easily interpreted personalized alcohol consumption feedback.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Initial Review Group (AA)
Program Officer
Zha, Wenxing
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Southern California
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Los Angeles
United States
Zip Code