Although alcohol use disorders rank among the leading public health problems worldwide, hazardous drinking practices and associated morbidity continue to remain underdiagnosed. It is postulated here that a more systematic use of biomarkers improves the detection of the specific role of alcohol abuse behind poor health. Interventions should be initiated by obtaining information on the actual amounts of recent alcohol consumption through questionnaires and measurements of ethanol and its specific metabolites, such as ethyl glucuronide. Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin is a valuable tool for assessing chronic heavy drinking. Activities of common liver enzymes can be used for screening ethanol-induced liver dysfunction and to provide information on the risk of co-morbidities including insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and vascular diseases. Conventional biomarkers supplemented with indices of immune activation and fibrogenesis can help to assess the severity and prognosis of ethanol-induced tissue damage. Many ethanol-sensitive biomarkers respond to the status of oxidative stress, and their levels are modulated by factors of life style, including weight gain, physical exercise or coffee consumption in an age- and gender-dependent manner. Therefore, further attention should be paid to defining safe limits of ethanol intake in various demographic categories and establishing common reference intervals for biomarkers of alcohol use disorders.
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