UMass Chan Medical School Faculty Publications

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Department of Emergency Medicine

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Biomedical Devices and Instrumentation | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology | Substance Abuse and Addiction


Biosensors enable observation and understanding of latent physiological occurrences otherwise unknown or invasively detected. Wearable biosensors monitoring physiological constructs across a wide variety of mental and physical health conditions have become an important trend in innovative research methodologies. Within substance use research, explorations of biosensor technology commonly focus on identifying physiological indicators of intoxication to increase understanding of addiction etiology and to inform treatment recommendations. In this review, we examine the state of research in this area as it pertains to treatment of alcohol use disorders specifically highlighting the gaps in our current knowledge with recommendations for future research. Annually, alcohol use disorders affect approximately 15 million individuals. A primary focus of existing wearable technology-based research among people with alcohol use disorders is identifying alcohol intoxication. A large benefit of wearable biosensors for this purpose is they provide continuous readings in a passive manner compared with the gold standard measure of blood alcohol content (BAC) traditionally measured intermittently by breathalyzer or blood draw. There are two primary means of measuring intoxication with biosensors: gait and sweat. Gait changes have been measured via smart sensors placed on the wrist, in the shoe, and mobile device sensors in smart phones. Sweat measured by transdermal biosensors detects the presence of alcohol in the blood stream correlating to BAC. Transdermal biosensors have been designed in tattoos/skin patches, shirts, and most commonly, devices worn on the ankle or wrist. Transdermal devices were initially developed to help monitor court-ordered sobriety among offenders with alcohol use disorder. These devices now prove most useful in continuously tracking consumption throughout clinical trials for behavioral treatment modalities. More recent research has started exploring the uses for physical activity trackers and physiological arousal sensors to guide behavioral interventions for relapse prevention. While research has begun to demonstrate wearable devices' utility in reducing alcohol consumption among individuals aiming to cutdown on their drinking, monitoring sustained abstinence in studies exploring contingency management for alcohol use disorders, and facilitating engagement in activity-based treatment interventions, their full potential to further aid in understanding of, and treatment for, alcohol use disorders has yet to be explored.


alcohol use disorder, contingency management, transdermal alcohol content, treatment, wearable biosensors

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Copyright © 2021 Davis-Martin, Alessi and Boudreaux. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

DOI of Published Version



Davis-Martin RE, Alessi SM, Boudreaux ED. Alcohol Use Disorder in the Age of Technology: A Review of Wearable Biosensors in Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment. Front Psychiatry. 2021 Mar 22;12:642813. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.642813. PMID: 33828497; PMCID: PMC8019775. Link to article on publisher's site

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Frontiers in psychiatry

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.