Up to 30% of all hospital admissions and health-care costs may be attributable to alcohol abuse. Ethanol, its oxidative metabolites, acetaldehyde and ROS (reactive oxygen species), non-oxidative metabolites of alcohol [e.g. FAEEs (fatty acid ethyl esters)] and the ethanol–water competition mechanism are all involved in the deregulation of glycoconjugate (glycoprotein, glycolipid and proteoglycan) metabolic processes including biosynthesis, modification, transport, secretion, elimination and catabolism. An increasing number of new alcohol biomarkers that are the result of alcohol-induced glycoconjugate metabolic errors have appeared in the literature. Glycoconjugate-related alcohol markers are involved in, or are a product of, altered glycoconjugate metabolism, e.g. CDT (carbohydrate-deficient transferrin), SA (sialic acid), plasma SIJ (SA index of apolipoprotein J), CETP (cholesteryl ester transfer protein), β-HEX (β-hexosaminidase), dolichol, EtG (ethyl glucuronide) etc. Laboratory tests based on changes in glycoconjugate metabolism are useful in settings where the co-operativeness of the patient is impaired (e.g. driving while intoxicated) or when a history of alcohol use is not available (e.g. after trauma). In clinical practice, glycoconjugate markers of alcohol use/abuse let us distinguish alcoholic from non-alcoholic tissue damage, having important implications for the treatment and management of diseases.

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