Electronic Monitoring with Alcohol Monitors: The Evolution and Efficacy in Addressing Alcohol-Related Offences


The technological advancements of the 21st century have significantly transformed multiple sectors, including the justice system, thereby reshaping societal norms and operations. One area where this effect is conspicuously evident is in the arena of alcohol monitoring devices, where technology has led to the development of increasingly sophisticated alcohol monitors that promise a sea-change in addressing alcohol-related offences.

Electronic alcohol monitors, or Transdermal Alcohol Monitoring (TAM) devices, are non-invasive tools employed by authorities to monitor an individual’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) continuously. This article aims to shed light on these devices’ evolution, workings, and the effectiveness in managing and reducing alcohol-related offences.

History and Evolution of Electronic Alcohol Monitoring

Electronic alcohol monitoring dates back to the 1990s, when researchers began developing technologies capable of detecting alcohol consumption. Initial devices were large, cumbersome, and often unreliable, presenting numerous logistical and practical issues.

Over the past three decades, advancements in technology have led to the production of more reliable and less intrusive alcohol monitors. Modern devices are small, lightweight, and worn on the ankle like a bracelet. These monitors employ transdermal alcohol monitoring technology, which allows them to detect alcohol consumption by analyzing sweat and vapor that escapes from the wearer’s skin.

Mechanics of Electronic Alcohol Monitoring

Today’s TAM devices work by sampling the perspiration on the skin of the wearer at regular intervals. Alcohol consumption results in ethanol being diffused into the bloodstream, a portion of which is eventually expelled from the body via sweat and vapor. TAM devices capture and analyze these excretions to detect the presence of alcohol.

Most modern alcohol monitors use fuel cell technology to measure BAC levels, similar to the technology used in most handheld breathalyzer tests conducted by law enforcement. Once ethanol is detected, the fuel cell oxidizes it, generating an electrical current proportional to the alcohol level.

A key advantage of this system is that it allows for continuous, 24/7 monitoring. Data can be collected and transmitted in real-time, allowing for immediate intervention if necessary.

Efficacy in Addressing Alcohol-Related Offences

Studies conducted on the effectiveness of electronic alcohol monitoring devices have been largely positive. In a 2013 study by Kilmer et al., participants using alcohol monitoring bracelets demonstrated significantly reduced heavy drinking days. A more recent study in 2017 by Flango and Cheesman further reported lower recidivism rates among individuals mandated to use TAM devices compared to those under traditional probation.

These monitoring devices provide several key benefits. Firstly, they can deter individuals from consuming alcohol, particularly when tied to legal consequences. Continuous monitoring may also support individuals seeking to abstain from drinking, providing a tangible reminder and incentive to resist temptation.

The use of these devices also allows for greater freedom and mobility for individuals under supervision. Rather than being confined to a detention facility or being required to make regular visits for breathalyzer tests, individuals can go about their daily lives while still being effectively monitored.


While these devices are not without limitations—false positives or negatives due to environmental factors, the potential for tampering, and privacy concerns, to name a few—the balance of evidence suggests that they can be a highly effective tool in the fight against alcohol-related offences.

As technological advancements continue to drive improvements in accuracy and reliability, electronic alcohol monitoring devices will likely play an increasingly prominent role in addressing alcohol misuse. Future studies should focus on determining the optimal use scenarios for these devices, such as determining the length of use that produces the most substantial behavioral changes, and on addressing the challenges that remain.

In conclusion, electronic alcohol monitoring represents a transformative application of technology in the justice system, demonstrating the immense potential that this technology offers.