Auto-Brewery Syndrome As A Possible DUI Defense

There's a medical condition making the news lately that is bringing to light a strange disorder known as auto-brewery syndrome. Here's what you should know about this disorder and DUI charges.

What is auto-brewery syndrome?

Someone with auto-brewery syndrome, which is also called gut fermentation syndrome, has a body that automatically traps excess yeast in the small intestine and converts that yeast into ethanol, a form of alcohol. If they consume sugar, white bread, pasta, or virtually any rapidly digestible carbohydrates, sufferers feel and act drunk. Available evidence suggests that the later in the day that it is, the more drunken someone with the syndrome becomes.

Far from being in a giddy state, however, many sufferers often spend their days feeling bloated, sick, nauseous and hungover. They're frequently teetering between the effects of having elevated blood ethanol levels and the aftereffects of the involuntary intoxication. Like long-term alcoholics, the withdrawal symptoms can leave them shaking and sweaty, as well as dehydrated and miserable. Others are essentially functional alcoholics that are able to operate fairly normally even though they have elevated blood alcohol concentration levels that well exceed the legal limits.

Worse, most sufferers have no idea that they have the disorder. It isn't even known for certain how many people likely suffer from the disorder and literature on it is limited, although some Japanese medical reports mention the disorder in  the 1970s. A test case in 2010 was successfully treated with a combination of antibiotics, anti-yeast medication, and dietary controls.

How can auto-brewery syndrome affect a blood alcohol test?

Ethanol is what the breathalyzers used by law enforcement measure. That means that if you suffer from the syndrome, your test results could be the same or higher than someone who has been drinking heavily, even if you've had little or no actual alcohol to drink. Even if you opted for a urine test or an actual blood test, your ethanol levels would likely be quite high, so that wouldn't help establish your innocence either. 

However, if you suspect that you have the syndrome, it is possible to demonstrate that through careful medical testing and documentation of your blood alcohol content under a controlled testing environment, during which your diet would be recorded and testing repeated over several hours. The syndrome would reveal itself as your blood alcohol levels automatically increased as you digest your food.

If you're pulled over and charged with a DUI and you believe that there is no possible way that the blood alcohol test used by the police could accurately reflect the amount of alcohol that should be in your system, talk to your dui attorney. In the case in the news, for example, the woman charged with drunk driving had actually been drinking—but not to the extent indicated by the test used by the police. While still an uncommon defense, legal experts in the U.S. say that it is being used more frequently.