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Can You Be Drunk Without Drinking? Turns Out the Answer is Yes

File this one under Strange but True. Researchers have uncovered evidence that people with a certain condition can get drunk without drinking. They’ve dubbed it Auto-Brewery Syndrome, a condition where the body creates alcohol inside the stomach

He was acting drunk but swore he was sober. Turns out his stomach was making its own beer.

So reads a headline in the Washington Post, in a story about a man stopped by the police on suspicion of drunk driving. “His blood alcohol level was 0.2, more than twice the legal limit for operating a car,” but he insisted he hadn’t been drinking.

It sounds hard to believe, but there’s a condition where a person’s digestive system can contain fungi that are fermenting which in turn can produce “super strains of gut bacteria” (as Live Science calls them), that turn carbs into alcohol. The condition is called auto-brewery syndrome, and it occurs more frequently in people who have Crohns disease or diabetes, or who are obese, than in other people.

Not all researchers are sure the condition is real, but researchers at Richmond University Medical Center in New York believe it exists and is underdiagnosed. There are people who have gotten DUI charges dismissed in court by asserting (and surely proving) that they suffer from it.

If the Washington Post article is any indication, there seems to be enough anecdotal evidence to indicate the condition does exist.

Do Carb Heavy Diets Cause the Condition?

Another man arrested for DUI was tested by doctors who gave him a “carb-heavy meal.” They saw his blood alcohol level rise to 0.57, which should be proof that he has the condition, right? He was directed to stay away from carbs, but his BLA rose again, and he fell down, which made doctors think he had been drinking. They also tested his stool and found indications (that vary, depending on which publication you read), which made experts believe he might indeed have the syndrome.

He was prescribed an antifungal medication that cleared up the problem, but then he went back to carbs. It took a combination of treatments to treat him, and he had to have his blood level alcohol checked from time to time to live a normal life. Probiotics helped as well, according to Live Science.

It Can Affect People of All Ages

An older college student dropped out of school his problem was so bad. He suffers from daily bouts of intoxication and a hangover, vomiting, headaches and other symptoms. His wife started videotaping him and found that indeed, he was not drinking.

Antibiotics May Induce the Condition As Well

Even a researcher’s husband exhibited symptoms of the condition.

The condition may be caused by taking antibiotics, which alters fungal growth, but not everyone who takes them gets it. (However, the man in the first example had a traumatic thumb injury and also took antibiotics.) Preservatives in food or environmental toxins may also be a problem.

At the beginning, people suffering from auto-brewery syndrome may be delirious and have mood changes. They may be tired, smell like alcohol, have a problem holding a job. Or, it may seem like they’ve had a stroke or a hypoglycemic event.

It’s not clear how far some sufferers have had to go to be cleared of DUI charges, but it seems they would need to provide medical records, statements from doctors, and the like.

On one hand, auto-brewery syndrome is one of those medical conditions that people might laugh about. On the other, the syndrome may pose a risk of liver problems if not addressed, so hopefully the news about it will get out. Finally, it surely is no fun at all to be accused of drinking and driving when you are not guilty.

Of course, the vast majority of those who register a high BAC level did drink their way towards it. If you or someone you love has a drinking problem, don’t wait until a DUI (or something much worse) is the result. Get the help you need with professional inpatient alcohol rehabilitation treatment from Summit Estate.