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Drinking Habits

What Is an Alcohol Tether? How Does It Work?

Published:
June 5, 2024
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12 min read
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Written by
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.
June 5, 2024
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12 min read
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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.
June 5, 2024
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12 min read
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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.
June 5, 2024
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12 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 5, 2024
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12 min read

Alcohol Tethers Help With Recovery 

  • Alcohol tethers are transdermal ankle monitors used by law enforcement and treatment centers to track alcohol intake. They work by detecting traces of alcohol in perspiration.
  • To avoid violations, you can avoid triggers and temptations by urge surfing, learning new things, and counting all the reasons to make a change.
  • Ride out temptations and reduce your dependence on alcohol with Reframe’s science-backed programs, 24/7 support network, and daily motivation.

Before mechanical alcohol monitors came to be, alcohol monitoring relied heavily on self-reporting and periodic check-ins with professionals. As you can imagine, that left a lot of room for inaccuracies and dishonesty, but technological advancements were a long time coming. In 1938, Rolla Harger invented the “Drunkometer,” which paved the way for the first portable “Breathalyzer” in 1954. This became increasingly important for law enforcement as cars became more common, heavier, and more dangerous. Since then, the breathalyzers have become more reliable and accurate. Electronic breathalyzers hit the market in the 1960s, making them even easier to use roadside. In the decades since, continuous monitoring devices, such as alcohol tethers, have emerged not only to assist law enforcement but also to assist individuals in their recovery journeys. 

What exactly are alcohol tethers? And how do they work? We’ll cover all that and more, so buckle up for the ride.

Alcohol Tethers 

A person wearing black shoes and an ankle monitor

Also known as continuous alcohol monitors, alcohol tethers are devices worn around the ankle to track alcohol intake. They work by measuring the amount of alcohol present in our sweat — pretty sophisticated! Every 30 minutes, the device automatically samples the user’s perspiration and analyzes it for ethanol vapors — a byproduct of alcohol consumption. The results are then transmitted to the monitoring center, providing real-time monitoring of our alcohol levels. 

Tethers are often assigned as a condition of probation or parole for people with alcohol-related offenses like DUI or public intoxication, but they can also be used as part of an alcohol recovery program. 

The Role of Alcohol Tethers in Recovery

Recovery is tough, and sometimes we need a little extra help and accountability to recognize and work through our addictions. Breathalyzers are not convenient for continuous monitoring, and phone apps leave room for error, which is where alcohol tethers come in. Alcohol tethers, like the SCRAM bracelet, can be helpful for several reasons. 


  • Accountability. Rather than relying on our tracking every drink we take, forgetting some, or conveniently leaving one out, a tether tracks alcohol intake for us — all day, every day. 

  • Rebuilding trust. If we are trying to build trust with loved ones, a tether can help assure the other party that we are staying sober as we promised.

  • Legal requirements. If alcohol dependence has led us to legal troubles, a tether can be part of the process of fulfilling legal obligations. This can often be a wake-up call that our drinking has reached a dangerous level. 

One way or another, an alcohol tether can help us overcome alcohol dependence, misuse, or addiction. Still, it comes with some challenges. 

Alcohol Tether Challenges

There’s nothing inherently difficult about wearing the tether. It might get itchy, sure, and it might take some time to get used to, but wearing the device itself is not the main challenge. The real struggles are much bigger.

Stigma

When we see someone with a black device strapped around their ankle, many of us assume parole and wonder what they did. It might attract uncomfortable stares or questions from neighbors and coworkers.  An alcohol tether can easily be concealed with long pants, but when summer comes around, the tether is tougher to hide. For women, it can be especially difficult to find styles that cover it.

Accountability

Perhaps the reason the ankle bracelet is useful is because it is so cumbersome. If we’re having trouble cutting out alcohol completely and might be tempted to drink, we could be put off by the tether as a consequence.



While we might be tempted to think, “Surely, it won’t detect just one drink,” we could be surprised. These monitors can detect a minimum of 0.02 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from just one standard drink.

How to Avoid Alcohol Tether Violations

How to Avoid Alcohol Tether Violations

If we are wearing a tether and do give in to the urge to drink, we run the risk of an alcohol tether violation, meaning the device detects the alcohol and reports it to the agency that assigned us the device. If that agency is law enforcement, the violation could have legal consequences. If the agency is a treatment center, it could prolong treatment. In either case, the misstep could disappoint family members and friends who are cheering us on. So how can we avoid violations? Let’s explore a few options. 

  • Remove all alcohol from our space. We’re much less likely to give in to urges if alcohol is out of our reach. Get rid of all the alcohol in our living space. Pour it out or give it away. This will make all the difference when the hankering hits. 

  • Urge surf. If we feel an urge coming on, we can distract ourselves with another activity for at least 10 minutes or until the urge passes. This is part of a mindfulness practice called “urge surfing,” in which we ride the waves of temptation instead of trying to avoid them. 

  • Boost dopamine naturally. When our body craves alcohol, it’s craving dopamine. Fortunately, there are other ways to boost our dopamine without alcohol. Exercise, listen to upbeat music, or eat dopamine-boosting foods like protein-rich turkey, eggs, beef, dairy, and legumes. If we crave something sweeter, berries are also a great option!
  • Learn something new. Novelty can also activate dopamine. A list of things we’ve always wondered about or wanted to learn how to do can come in handy. When the urge to drink strikes, we can pick something off that list and start learning. We can watch a video, have a chat with AI, pick up a book, or go down the rabbit hole as far as our interest takes we. Our brain will appreciate the exercise!

  • Manage stress. Stress can be a major trigger that makes us turn to alcohol for relief. Avoid people and/or topics that stress us out, and practice breathing exercises and meditation. And, not to sound like a broken record, but exercise is great stress reliever as well. 

  • Count your reasons. Most of us have at least one reason to quit alcohol for good. Remembering and counting those reasons can help us power through an urge. Look through photo albums. Think of the legal consequences. Think of the future. Let the desire to change be stronger than the urge to drink. 

Every time we successfully overcome an urge to drink, we gain a little more resilience and confidence that we’ll be able to do it again the next time. 

Making the Most of Alcohol Tethers

An alcohol tether can seem like a punishment, but it can be a great tool to overcome alcohol dependence once and for all. It can help us build trust with the law, with family, and with ourselves. It can keep us accountable and give us time to think more carefully about every sip we take. While we wear it, we can devote time to healthy new habits, learn new things, and self-reflect. If we do, we can discover the best, healthiest version of ourselves. 

Break Free From Alcohol With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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