A Different Kind of Bling: Bracelet Tracks Alcohol Consumption

An ankle bracelet recently put on Lindsay Lohan records alcohol levels.

February 10, 2009, 9:32 PM

July 17, 2007 — -- Strapping on stiletto heels just got a little bit harder for celebrity starlet Lindsay Lohan.

Lohan is now donning an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet along with her usual designer duds, her publicist Leslie Sloane Zelnick told ABC News.

The bracelet, which will track and record even the slightest trace of alcohol Lohan consumes, is being worn voluntarily by the star in an effort to prove she's serious about staying sober. Lohan recently completed a 45-day in-patient program at the ritzy rehabilitation facility Promises in Malibu, Calif.

While this bracelet is certainly less glamorous than the rest of her bling, it is a device that may be the answer for people like the actress who just can't cut booze out of their lives.

The 8-ounce bracelet tracks the user's alcohol level through a process called "transdermal alcohol testing," which essentially takes samples from the hard-to-see layer of sweat that is on everyone's skin.

"It will detect just about any level of drinking event," says Kathleen Brown, spokesperson for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (SCRAM), which makes the bracelet. "But we will not confirm any event until it reaches a 0.02 blood alcohol content."

For a home installation fee of just $60, the device records the level of alcohol either every 30 minutes or every hour, depending on the offender's probation guidelines, explained Brown.

How does it work? The offender must be within 30 feet of a wireless modem once a day, allowing the collected data to be transmitted onto a secure Web site where probation officers can be alerted of any alcohol consumption. If an offender fails to download the information once a day, courts are notified and it's considered a breach of the offender's probation.

Tampering with the device is nearly impossible, thanks to an infrared laser beam that measures the distance between the person's leg and the bracelet. If an offender tries to slip something in between the bracelet and their skin, the distance the beam travels changes and a tampering alarm is recorded and reported to authorities.

"I've had people use business cards, saran wrap, duct tape and even bologna, thinking that it looks like skin," says Larry Vanderwoude, president of Recovery Healthcare Corporation, a substance abuse treatment facility that currently monitors more than 500 bracelets.

Simply detaching the bracelet is not an option either, as it has to be secured by a professional and is bound by a security screw and a tamperproof clasp.

"It's like a 1980s pager on either side of your ankle," says Cassie, 22, who has worn the bracelet for more than five months after being caught drinking and driving on three separate occasions.

Cassie, who is one of 5,347 people wearing the bracelet in the United States, described the bracelet as "big and noticeable" and "very uncomfortable." Her skin gets irritated under the bracelet and she can no longer wear her "cute boots" because of the bulky hardware.

When asked if she's tried to get away with drinking while wearing the bracelet or whether she's tried to tamper with the device, Cassie says she hasn't because she knows "they'd know no matter what."

Cassie, who doesn't want to reveal her last name for privacy reasons, says that before she was given the bracelet she would drink until she blacked out every night of the week.

"It's a constant reminder of the dumb things I've done to get in this position," says Cassie. She says she has become the designated driver for her friends. p>

And as for any advice Cassie can offer Lohan on her new accessory: "She'll get used to it.

She should take [the bracelet] to heart and know that she has it for a reason."

Health experts say that for the most part, these bracelets are good tools to help people who drink in excess.

"If you look at the drug court literature it shows that monitoring and support together is more effective than either one alone," says Keith Humphrey, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. "Traditionally it's been harder to detect drinking than drugs because drugs stay in your system longer and you can get them with a urine sample. With this you can detect it right away and it's harder to hide."

It's also a good testament to someone's sobriety, Humphrey added. If a person is in a car accident and is wearing the device, the electronic records can serve as foolproof evidence that they were not under the influence.

Users beware, though. The bracelet, some experts say, can be a false security blanket for offenders who rely solely on them – and not additional therapy – to address their drinking problem.

"It can actually set someone up to have an illusion of success and then once the bracelet is off the ankle nothing has been addressed and she'll go off the deep end again," says Dr. Andrew Tatarsky, a clinical psychologist who specializes in harm reduction psychotherapy.

If offenders only use the bracelet to please probation officers and judges instead of using it as a tool to address the reasons why they drink the way they do, the tool will be rendered useless, says Tatarsky.

The question remains: Has party girl Lohan really traded in cocktails for Red Bulls for good?

Thanks to this technologically savvy piece of jewelry, Lohan, along with other bracelet wearers nationwide, will likely find it increasingly difficult to dodge questions regarding alcohol abuse.

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