Breathalyser-Based eHealth Data Suggest That Self-Reporting of Abstinence Is a Poor Outcome Measure for Alcohol Use Disorder Clinical Trials



To evaluate the efficacy and monitoring capabilities of a breathalyser-based eHealth system for patients with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and to investigate the quality and validity of timeline follow-back (TLFB) as outcome measure in clinical trials and treatment.


Patients (n = 115) were recruited to clinical trials from a 12-step aftercare programme (12S-ABS) and from hospital care with abstinence (HC-ABS) or controlled drinking (HC-CDR) as goal and randomly divided into an eHealth and a control group. The effect of the eHealth system was analysed with TLFB-derived primary outcomes—change in number of abstinent days (AbsDay) and heavy drinking days (HDDs) compared to baseline—and phosphatidyl ethanol (PEth) measurements. Validity and quality of TLFB were evaluated by comparison with breath alcohol content (BrAC) and eHealth digital biomarkers (DBs): Addiction Monitoring Index (AMI) and Maximum Time Between Tests (MTBT). TLFB reports were compared to eHealth data regarding reported abstinence.


The primary outcome (TLFB) showed no significant difference between eHealth and control groups, but PEth did show a significant difference especially at months 2 and 3. Self-reported daily abstinence suffered from severe quality issues: of the 28-day TLFB reports showing full abstinence eHealth data falsified 34% (BrAC measurements), 39% (MTBT), 54% (AMI) and 68% (BrAC/MTBT/AMI). 12S-ABS and HC-ABS patients showed severe under-reporting.


No effect of the eHealth system was measured with TLFB, but a small positive effect was measured with PEth. The eHealth system revealed severe quality problems with TLFB, especially regarding abstinence—should measurement-based eHealth data replace TLFB as outcome measure for AUD?

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