Smartphones can tell when you're drunk by analyzing your walk

August 18, 2020

PISCATAWAY, NJ - Your smartphone can tell when you've had too much to drink by detecting changes in the way you walk, according to a new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Having real-time information about alcohol intoxication could be important for helping people reduce alcohol consumption, preventing drinking and driving or alerting a sponsor for someone in treatment, according to lead researcher Brian Suffoletto, M.D., who was with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine when the research was conducted and is now with Stanford University School of Medicine's Department of Emergency Medicine.

"We have powerful sensors we carry around with us wherever we go," Suffoletto says. "We need to learn how to use them to best serve public health."

But for Suffoletto, this research is much more than academic. "I lost a close friend to a drinking and driving crash in college," he says. "And as an emergency physician, I have taken care of scores of adults with injuries related to acute alcohol intoxication. Because of this, I have dedicated the past 10 years to testing digital interventions to prevent deaths and injury related to excessive alcohol consumption."

For the study, Suffoletto and colleagues recruited 22 adults ages 21 to 43. Volunteers came to a lab and received a mixed drink with enough vodka to produce a breath alcohol concentration of .20 percent. They had one hour to finish the alcohol.

Then hourly for seven hours, participants had their breath alcohol concentration analyzed and performed a walking task. For this task, researchers placed a smartphone on each participant's lower back, secured with an elastic belt. Participants walked a straight line for 10 steps, turned around, and walked back 10 steps.

The smartphones measured acceleration and mediolateral (side to side), vertical (up and down) and anteroposterior (forward and backward) movements while the participants walked.

About 90 percent of the time, the researchers were able to use changes in gait to identify when participants' breath alcohol concentration exceeded .08 percent, the legal limit for driving in the United States.

"This controlled lab study shows that our phones can be useful to identify 'signatures' of functional impairments related to alcohol," Suffoletto says.

Although placing the smartphone on the lower back does not reflect how people carry their cell phones in real life, the research group plans to conduct additional research while people carry phones in their hands and in their pockets.

And although it was a small investigation, the researchers write that this is a "proof-of-concept study" that "provides a foundation for future research on using smartphones to remotely detect alcohol-related impairments."

"In 5 years, I would like to imagine a world in which if people go out with friends and drink at risky levels," Suffoletto says, "they get an alert at the first sign of impairment and are sent strategies to help them stop drinking and protect them from high-risk events like driving, interpersonal violence and unprotected sexual encounters."

Going forward, Suffoletto and his colleagues plan to not only build on this research detecting real-world signatures of alcohol-related impairment but also identify the best communication and behavioral strategies to influence and support individuals during high-risk periods such as intoxication.
-end-
Suffoletto, B., Dasgupta, P., Uymatiao, R., Huber, J., Flickinger, K., & Sejdic, E., (2020). A preliminary study using smartphone accelerometers to sense gait impairments due to alcohol intoxication. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 81, 505-510. doi:10.15288/jsad.2020.81.505

To arrange an interview with Brian Suffoletto, M.D., please contact Mandy Erickson at +650-245-8491 or merickso@stanford.edu.

The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (http://www.jsad.com) is published by the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. It is the oldest substance-related journal published in the United States.

To learn about education and training opportunities for addiction counselors and others at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies, please visit https://education.alcoholstudies.rutgers.edu/education-training.

The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs considers this press release to be in the public domain. Editors may publish this press release in print or electronic form without legal restriction. Please include proper attribution and byline.

Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

Related Alcohol Articles from Brightsurf:

Alcohol use changed right after COVID-19 lockdown
One in four adults reported a change in alcohol use almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued: 14% reported drinking more alcohol and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink and those whose use stayed the same.

Changes in hospitalizations for alcohol use disorder in US
Changes over nearly two decades in the rate of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths from alcohol use disorder in the US were examined in this study.

Associations of alcohol consumption, alcohol-induced passing out with risk of dementia
The risk of future dementia associated with overall alcohol consumption and alcohol-induced loss of consciousness in a population of current drinkers was examined in this observational study with more than 131,000 adults.

New alcohol genes uncovered
Do you have what is known as problematic alcohol use?

Does estrogen influence alcohol use disorder?
A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that high estrogen levels may make alcohol more rewarding to female mice.

Sobering new data on drinking and driving: 15% of US alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol under the legal limit
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, found that motor vehicle crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below the legal limit of 0.08 percent accounted for 15% of alcohol-involved crash deaths in the United States.

Alcohol-induced deaths in US
National vital statistics data from 2000 to 2016 were used to examine how rates of alcohol-induced deaths (defined as those deaths due to alcohol consumption that could be avoided if alcohol weren't involved) have changed in the US and to compare the results by demographic groups including sex, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

Cuts in alcohol duty linked to 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England
Government cuts to alcohol taxes have had dramatic consequences for public health, including nearly 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012, according to new research from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).

Integrated stepped alcohol treatment for people in HIV care improves both HIV & alcohol outcomes
Increasing the intensity of treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) over time improves alcohol-related outcomes among people with HIV, according to new clinical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The Lancet:Targets to reduce harmful alcohol use are likely to be missed as global alcohol intake increases
Increasing rates of alcohol use suggest that the world is not on track to achieve targets against harmful alcohol use, according to a study of 189 countries' alcohol intake between 1990-2017 and estimated intake up to 2030, published in The Lancet.

Read More: Alcohol News and Alcohol Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.