The human body is an amazing machine, particularly since no two bodies are exactly alike. Some bodies perform quite differently from the rest, such as those afflicted by a rare medical condition known as auto-brewery syndrome (sometimes referred to as “gut fermentation syndrome”). This strange medical issue causes the body to produce alcohol as it digests carbohydrates, which can cause some individuals to be drunk all day, every day. As you can imagine, it’s common for those suffering from auto-brewery syndrome to face DUI charges even when they haven’t had a single drink.
What is Auto-Brewery Syndrome, and What are the Symptoms?
The type of alcohol humans drink, ethanol (or ethyl alcohol), is created when yeast causes the sugars in fruits, vegetables, and grains to ferment. Those suffering from auto-brewery syndrome produce alcohol in their own bodies as yeast in their digestive tract converts the sugars from the carbohydrates they eat into alcohol. Patients diagnosed with the condition typically report having a high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diet, meaning their bodies convert large amounts of food into alcohol.
Symptoms may vary based on the severity of the condition. Most patients demonstrate signs of alcohol intoxication, including:
- lost coordination
- mood changes
- difficulty concentrating (brain fog)
- memory problems
- irritated bowels
The effects on individuals may vary significantly, just like alcohol intoxication. For some individuals, this means walking around with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal drinking limit. For others, it means alcohol will stay in their system for as much as twelve hours or so after consumption, and their BAC may continue to increase hours after their last drink.
There’s a Lot of Interest in this Health Issue
From a medical standpoint, those with gut fermentation syndrome are not only fascinating because they brew alcohol in their bodies but also because they can have a blood alcohol content (BAC) that would leave most people with deadly alcohol poisoning while they suffer only minor symptoms. For that same reason, those with auto-brewery syndrome are fascinating to DUI attorneys as these individuals can often have BAC levels as high as four times the legal limit without demonstrating any bad driving habits.
How Common is Auto-Brewery Syndrome?
While auto-brewery syndrome is rare, doctors suspect this condition is wildly underdiagnosed. It is logical to assume most sufferers are unaware of their condition because they eat fewer carbs and drink less frequently than those who are diagnosed by doctors. Typically, people do not seek a diagnosis for the issue unless they are accused of being drunk after consuming no alcohol or because they feel severely intoxicated for no apparent reason. Those who do not find themselves in these situations go on with their lives without ever seeking a diagnosis.
Can a Breathalyzer Detect Auto-Brewery Syndrome?
To be clear, a breathalyzer cannot determine whether someone has a high BAC related to alcohol consumption or auto-brewery syndrome. However, a breathalyzer is a helpful tool for those who suspect they may have auto-brewery syndrome, as it can allow them to take a breath test to measure their BAC before and after eating, allowing them to detect any spikes in their blood alcohol levels after consuming carbohydrates.
Can I Use this as a DUI Defense?
Auto-brewery syndrome is rare, so you shouldn’t immediately conclude that you suffer from the condition just because the breathalyzer showed you had a higher BAC than expected. But, if you find your BAC was shockingly high despite only having one or two cocktails hours before you were tested, or if you did not drink anything at all and still had alcohol in your system, you should share this information with your doctors —and your attorney if you were charged with drunk driving.
To use auto-brewery syndrome as a DUI defense, you must obtain medical proof that you have the condition. To receive a diagnosis, you will need to spend the better part of a day in a lab having your BAC tested to show it does rise without the consumption of alcohol. If you can prove you have auto-brewery syndrome and were unaware of the condition, you may be able to beat your drunk driving charges since you did not knowingly or willingly drive under the influence of alcohol.
You Only Get One Pass
Once you are diagnosed though, you will be required to make some dietary and lifestyle changes so you do not drive with a BAC over the legal limit in the future. Knowing you have auto-brewery syndrome does not excuse you from driving drunk, but instead means that you will need to take precautions to avoid driving under the influence.
If you have any questions about auto-brewery syndrome and drunk driving, call your lawyer as soon as possible. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with attorney Peter M. Liss.