What Are Biomarkers?

There are lots of different approaches to treat alcohol addiction, like using medications (Naltrexone) or the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Or biomarkers.

Biomarker testing have been used to monitor treatment outcomes for quite some time, and lately biomarkers have been linked with genetic testing to facilitate personalized treatment. A recent pilot study done by the Waukesha County of Wisconsin have shown the value of biomarkers in delaying relapse.

With all the news about biomarkers, it’s easy to lose the fundamental concepts: what biomarkers are and how they can help in addiction treatment. So let’s answer these questions.

What are Biomarkers?

Biomarkers sound like what they are: biological markers that develop in the body when you consume alcohol.

A lot of biomarkers are proteins and enzymes that alcohol induces the liver to produce (like the biomarker gamma glutamyltransferase, or GGT). Other enzyme elevations indicate injury and death of liver cells (like the enzymes AST and ALT).

In other words, alcohol leaves little “biological footprints” of its effects on the body. These biomarkers can be detected in the bloodstream weeks–even months–after you have stopped drinking.

Although there are many different biomarkers, as mentioned above, the CDT (Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin) is among the newer ones discovered. The CDT is important because it is an excellent biomarker of relapse to drinking following a period of abstinence (more about this below).

How do Biomarkers Help Alcohol Addiction?

Although small, the pilot study of Waukesha outlines the important points of how biomarker testing can help addiction:

1. Biomarker testing can detect relapse early, thus enabling immediate help.

People tend to underreport their consumption of alcohol, but biomarker testing provides accurate results for long-time recovery.

Pamela Bean, a key researcher in the Waukesha study, said “The biomarker testing improves assessment because it identifies repeat offenders who are in denial of their drinking. Sometimes a single phone call confronting the individual with the results can produce a turnaround. It also can reinforce good behavior.”

2. Regular biomarker testing can identify high-risk individuals, leading to more targeted interventions.

During the pilot program, 250 intoxicated drivers with three or four drunken driving arrests were tested for biomarkers every three months for a year. Those who tested positive for relapse were flagged, so they could be provided with further support, including more frequent testing, treatment options, and A.A. meetings.


Although biomarkers have played various roles in alcohol addiction treatment, there is still much research to be done, and the field continues to be studied today. We are thankful to hear that more accurate and ways to identify and help people earlier are being explored!