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Obscure medical condition can make people seem drunk

On Behalf of | Jan 19, 2017 | DWI

Police in upstate New York issued DUI charges to a woman in December 2015 after a breath test revealed her blood alcohol level to be .40 percent. The legal driving limit in New York is .08 percent, so the case appeared to be a straightforward one. However, charges against the woman were dismissed when doctors discovered that she suffered from an uncommon medical condition that causes her body to actually produce ethanol. An Erie County judge subsequently determined that her intoxication was caused by her condition and not alcohol consumption.

The rare disease, which is known as auto-brewery syndrome or gut-fermentation syndrome, is found in people with digestive systems that do not process yeast very well. When yeast builds up in the stomach, it can convert carbohydrates into ethanol through endogenous fermentation. This means that those with the condition can become highly intoxicated after eating meals containing large amounts of starchy foods.

While doctors are not yet able to cure auto-brewery syndrome, the condition can be kept in check by following a diet low in carbohydrate laden foods and treated with anti-fungal medications. Major risks facing those who suffer from the disease are drunk driving crashes or other intoxication-related accidents, but alcohol poisoning is possible if an extremely large amount of carbohydrate rich-foods are consumed.

There are a number of medical conditions that could lead police officers to suspect that a motorist is intoxicated, and many of them are far more common than auto-brewery syndrome. Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the United States, and low blood sugar levels can cause those who have it to seem uncoordinated and incoherent. Acetone levels in diabetics can also be extremely high, and the breath testing equipment used by law enforcement agencies may not be able to tell the difference between acetone and ethyl alcohol. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may ask their clients about any medications they are taking or medical conditions they suffer from when preparing a defense to drunk driving charges.