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Drinking Habits

Alcohol Monitoring Bracelet: What It Is and How It Works

May 6, 2024
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 6, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
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The Mechanism and Purpose of Alcohol Ankle Monitors

  • Alcohol monitoring bracelets are useful devices that detect alcohol consumption. They are mainly used in criminal justice applications. 

  • Setting limits on alcohol intake and seeking support are some things you can do to stay safe and avoid the need for an alcohol monitoring bracelet in the future. 

  • Reframe can help you develop mindful drinking practices no matter where you are in your relationship with alcohol!

You may have seen ankle monitors for individuals who are under house arrest. But did you know that some ankle monitors can also detect alcohol consumption? Unlike other alcohol tests we may be familiar with such as breath or urine tests, alcohol monitoring bracelets have a unique mechanism that makes them highly useful within the criminal justice system.

While many of us may never need an alcohol monitoring bracelet, learning how the device works sheds light on how alcohol is metabolized in our body. To encourage us to make more intentional drinking decisions, let’s get a better understanding of how alcohol monitoring bracelets work and what they’re used for.

What Is an Alcohol Monitoring Bracelet?

Close-up of a person's ankle secured with an electronic monitoring device

An alcohol monitoring bracelet is an electronic device that is used to monitor the alcohol content in our body. The bracelets are commonly worn around the ankle to avoid inhibiting daily activities. Alcohol monitoring bracelets are attached to the ankle and can't be self-removed, distinguishing them from other handheld alcohol monitoring devices such as breathalyzers. The devices are also known by other names:

  • Alcohol ankle monitor
  • Alcohol monitor bracelet
  • SCRAM bracelet 
  • SCRAM continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM)

SCRAM systems are the most popular alcohol monitoring bracelets used today. Let’s learn more about how SCRAM bracelets work and how they came to be.

Development of the SCRAM Bracelet

The first SCRAM bracelet was developed in the 1990s by an electrical engineer named Jeff Hawthorne. He was inspired to create a continuous monitoring system after his college friend tragically died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver with multiple DUIs. 

SCRAM, short for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring bracelets, were the first transdermal alcohol monitoring devices that were designed to be a solution for 24/7 monitoring and drinking prevention around testing schedules. In 2003, SCRAM bracelets were introduced to the criminal justice market. Today SCRAM bracelets are critical devices used by courts to monitor alcohol consumption. The monitors are placed strategically placedon the ankle, but how are they able to detect alcohol consumption?

How Do SCRAM Alcohol Monitoring Bracelets Work?

SCRAM bracelets detect alcohol transdermally, meaning through the skin. This is possible due to the way alcohol is metabolized. Our liver breaks down over 90% of alcohol and the rest is metabolized and eliminated through our breath, urine, and sweat. SCRAM bracelets monitor alcohol consumption through our sweat, but what if we’re not sweating?

The monitoring system samples insensible perspiration, which is present on our skin even though we may not feel it. The bracelet provides an effective way to ensure continuous monitoring that is also noninvasive and automatic. 

Every 30 minutes, the SCRAM bracelet samples perspiration to detect alcohol consumption and sends a report to the monitoring agency. SCRAM CAM bracelets are also equipped with a GPS tracker. If alcohol consumption is detected, the information is sent to the court or supervising officer. Let's look more closely at what exactly they're used for and how.

What Are Alcohol Ankle Monitors Used For?

Alcohol ankle monitors are most commonly used in the criminal justice system. They may also be used in connection with alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder treatment, most of the time when a crime has been committed. Certain specific cases commonly require the use of alcohol ankle monitors:

  • Driving under the influence (DUI). DUIs are the most frequent situations in which alcohol ankle monitors are used. A DUI is a serious crime and one of the leading causes of traffic crashes and fatalities. Continuous alcohol monitoring is effective in preventing reoffense, as it alerts law enforcement if alcohol consumption is detected.
  • Probation. Alcohol ankle monitors are also commonly used during probation, especially for crimes that are alcohol-related. Offenders on probation or parole often wear ankle monitors to track their location. SCRAM bracelets are able to monitor location and alcohol consumption, killing two birds with one stone.
  • Alternative sentencing program. In some cases, alcohol monitoring bracelets can be used as an alternative sentencing program. Instead of serving jail time, an offender will be released on the condition they wear an alcohol monitoring bracelet. If this option is available, the time length it must be worn varies depends on the crime and its severity. It is often used in conjunction with court-ordered substance use treatment.

Other methods of detecting alcohol consumption include breathalyzers, hair tests, blood tests, and urine tests. These can be used to determine specific BAC levels, consumption habits, and prove short-term sobriety for other forensic applications or employment screening. Alcohol monitoring bracelets are most applicable in the criminal justice realm due to their continuous monitoring mechanism. As the devices are used for such important purposes, how can we be sure that they're accurate?

Is an Ankle Monitor for Alcohol Detection Reliable?

Alcohol ankle monitors, specifically SCRAM systems, are used due to their effectiveness and accuracy. According to the official website, SCRAM bracelets are available in 48 states and used by thousands of courts and agencies throughout the country.

SCRAM systems are designed to detect transdermal alcohol content (TAD) and can distinguish between alcohol consumed and alcohol vapor that may be present in the vicinity. Ethanol vapor may be recorded as a spike, but it’s reported differently — according to the alcohol consumed. SCRAM systems, the parent company attests, are able to detect even minimal amounts of alcohol under .02% BAC, which speaks to the sensitivity of the device. 

Research that looks at transdermal alcohol monitoring devices more generally found that the devices may not be able to correctly identify the exact BAC in comparison to a breathalyzer, but they were able to detect alcohol consistently. Since the main purpose of an alcohol monitoring bracelet is to detect alcohol consumption, they work as intended. A study evaluating the SCRAM system's ability to detect different levels of alcohol consumption found that the device has reliable detection and found low false-positive rates. But are alcohol ankle monitors actually beneficial?

 Benefits of Alcohol Monitoring Bracelets

Benefits of Alcohol Ankle Monitors

  • Automated sampling. The device samples our perspiration every 30 minutes automatically. This reduces human error during sampling and is much more efficient than having the wearer collect a sample or requiring staff to collect a sample every 30 minutes around the clock. 
  • Continuous monitoring. Automated sampling of the device occurs every 30 minutes 24/7. The continuous monitoring mechanism prevents drinking around testing schedules and makes them suitable for crime-related applications.
  • Noninvasive testing. Blood tests to detect alcohol consumption require a blood draw and are much more invasive than sweat samples. Other detection methods such as urine tests or breathalyzers are also less invasive but require intentional sampling. 
  • Dual application. Many alcohol ankle monitors are also equipped with GPS trackers. This dual mechanism makes them highly useful in situations such as parole in an alcohol-related crime.

SCRAM systems were developed with the intention of monitoring alcohol consumption continuously in relation to crime. Twenty years after they were first introduced to the criminal justice market they are still in use. The alcohol monitoring bracelets continue to have benefits that have made many courts largely dependent on them in the case of alcohol-related crimes. 

We’ve acknowledged the device’s many benefits, but how does it make a positive impact?

Impact of Alcohol Monitoring Bracelets 

Alcohol monitoring bracelets are beneficial in reducing alcohol consumption and preventing repeat alcohol-related crimes

Experiences with the SCRAM bracelet were tracked in a study consisting of 100 alcohol treatment outpatients. After wearing the monitors for 12 weeks, the users' experiences were documented. The study found that 81% of participants indicated that wearing the SCRAM bracelet helped them reduce their drinking, and 75% of participants reported they would continue wearing it. An alcohol monitoring bracelet is a physical reminder to prevent alcohol consumption, but may also suggest that increased awareness may be a helpful tool for those who are looking to quit or cut back on alcohol. Not only do alcohol monitoring bracelets help reduce alcohol consumption, but they also may be helpful in preventing crimes that are alcohol-related.

A study looking at DUI recidivism rates found an average reoffense rate of 24.3% per 1000 first offenders. This compares to another study that examined DUI recidivism with the use of SCRAM bracelets. The study found a much lower reoffense rate of 3.5% — suggesting that the device is a useful monitoring tool. Despite the positive impact of the device, users have reported some drawbacks, including discomfort. 

To help us prevent the need to be monitored using a SCRAM system, let’s explore some strategies for developing a healthy relationship with alcohol.

Preventing the Need for Alcohol Monitoring Bracelets

Alcohol monitoring bracelets are often used as a last resort as wearing a clunky device on our ankle isn't exactly pleasant. While they’re useful within the criminal justice system, we may be able to prevent the need for an alcohol ankle monitor by implementing mindful drinking practices:

  • Intervene early. If we’re concerned about our drinking habits, early intervention is the best way to prevent further harm. Even identifying that we have concerns is a great first step in developing a healthier relationship with alcohol. 
  • Set limits. Excessive drinking can cause short- and long-term harm to our well-being. Setting limits for ourselves helps us minimize potential consequences. Designating an accountability partner or tracking alcohol consumption can help us achieve mindful drinking.
  • Avoid DUI. Driving under the influence is one of the leading alcohol-related crimes. It’s also one of the crimes that commonly requires continuous monitoring through alcohol ankle bracelets. Plan to enlist a designated driver or schedule a ride home using a rideshare app to avoid driving under the influence on a night out.
  • Seek support. An unhealthy relationship with alcohol can be difficult to change, but we don’t have to do it alone. We can seek support a number of ways, including opening up to close friends and family, exploring alcohol reduction apps, and participating in traditional treatment programs.
  • Quit or cut back. Quitting or cutting back on alcohol doesn’t have to be just for those of us who may be required to wear an alcohol ankle monitor. Either step can benefit anyone ready to change their relationship with alcohol.

For those of us who aren’t required to wear an alcohol monitoring device, these strategies can help us practice more mindful consumption. If we’re looking for alternatives to detect alcohol in our system, we can utilize more obtainable options such as a breathalyzer or urine test. 

Key Takeaways

Alcohol monitoring bracelets have proven to be useful detection devices, especially within the criminal justice system. They can detect alcohol consumption through our sweat 24/7 — making them practical for continuous monitoring needs. Although they may be effective in decreasing alcohol consumption and recidivism, alcohol monitoring bracelets aren’t the most comfortable or cost-efficient option for those of us who don’t require one. But they show us that increased mindfulness may be beneficial and can encourage us to address any concerns we have with our alcohol consumption before it becomes a bigger issue. Quitting or cutting back on alcohol can help us avoid the need to wear an alcohol monitoring bracelet.

Summary FAQs

1. What is a SCRAM bracelet?

A SCRAM bracelet — short for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring bracelet — tracks our BAC every 30 minutes continuously while the device is worn.

2. How do ankle monitors work in detecting BAC?

Ankle monitors detect BAC through our sweat. Sweat is one way that alcohol is metabolized — making it a reliable marker for alcohol consumption.

3. What are alcohol ankle monitors used for?

Alcohol ankle monitors are most commonly used for AUD treatment and within the criminal justice system. 

4. Is an ankle monitor for alcohol detection accurate?

Alcohol ankle monitors are regarded as highly accurate. However, false positives may still occur (at a low rate).

5. What are alternatives to ankle monitors to test my BAC?

Breathalyzers are another way to test BAC, although they are not continuous.

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