BACKGROUND: Research on alcohol consumption mostly relies on self-reported data, which are subject to recall bias. Wearable transdermal alcohol concentration (TAC) monitors address this limitation by continuously measuring the ethanol excreted via the skin. This systematic review aims to provide an overview of TAC monitors' reliability to detect alcohol consumption and methods to estimate Breath Alcohol Concentration (BrAC) and number of standard drinks consumed in a given timeframe. METHODS: The databases Medline, PsycINFO, SCOPUS, Engineering Village and CINAHL were systematically searched to identify 1048 empirical research papers published from 2013 onwards, of which 13 were included after full-text screening. The selected studies included three TAC monitors: SCRAMTM, WristTASTM and SkynTM. RESULTS: TAC measures of SCRAM, WrisTAS and Skyn are found to be positively correlated to BrAC (r=0.56-0.79) and/or self-reports (r=0.62). Using the AMS criteria for detection results in low sensitivity, adjusted criteria can increase the sensitivity of the SCRAM from 39.9-68.5%. The WrisTAS and an early prototype of the Skyn showed high failure rates (17-38%). Recent advances towards transforming the TAC data into more clinically relevant measures have led to the development of mathematical models and the BrAC Estimator Software. Using TAC data, both approaches produce estimates explaining 70-82% of actual BrAC and self-reported drinking or to highly correlate with the actual BrAC measures (beta=0.90-0.91). CONCLUSIONS: Transdermal alcohol monitors offer an opportunity to measure alcohol consumption in a valid and continuous way with mathematical models and software estimating BrAC values improving interpretation of TAC data. However, the SCRAM seems unable to detect low to moderate drinking levels using the thresholds and criteria set by the manufacturer. Moreover, the WrisTAS and the Skyn prototype show a high failure rate, raising questions about reliability. Future studies will assess the validity of new-generation wristbands, including the next Skyn generations.
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