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Intoxicated Driving Convictions for Non-Drinking Drivers

by Ed Lyon

The human body is an incredible machine. It heals itself from many injuries and illnesses. It turns food into calories that help build muscles and store fat for lean times. In some cases, a person’s body may even metabolize certain yeasts, sugars, and carbohydrates into alcohol, actual distilled spirits that really cause drunkenness with all of that state’s attendant behavior and hangovers afterward. Some sufferers of this medical condition incur drunken-driving charges, despite the fact that none of them actually drank alcohol. 

This inebriated state is referred to as Auto-brewery syndrome (“ABS”), or perhaps more accurately, gut fermentation syndrome. A February 2019 paper published by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes for Health provides an excellent thumbnail understanding of this rare phenomenon. A type of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae (“SC”), used in many commercial products, is named as the primary pathogen. It also is a byproduct of Crohn’s disease in many adults. Another associated chemical found in waste cultures from affected persons is Candida Kefyr, a byproduct of Candida albicans (“CA”) or Candida tropicalis (“CT”) yeasts. 

The amounts of ethanol alcohol at 24- and 48-hour measuring benchmarks are suggestive of patients visually exhibiting symptoms of drunkenness caused by ABS. 

Alcohol produced in this manner is referred to as endogenous ethanol. In some rare cases, a diet high in carbohydrates, coupled with the SC yeast variant, have resulted in alcohol levels as high as 80 milligrams per deciliter in the affected person’s blood supply, well over the amount needed to sustain an intoxicated driving charge in most, if not all, states. 

Sugars, as well as carbohydrates, are another accelerant in the body manufacturing endogenous ethanol. This is especially prevalent when the use of antibiotics upsets the naturally beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. 

While the paper’s pathophysiology section states, “The notion that intoxication of a motorist was a direct result of endogenously produced ethanol has as yet not been scientifically demonstrated,” the paper’s evaluation section states “Because of the significant alcohol levels, people can test over the legal driving limit [of intoxication] without having consumed any alcohol.” These opposite conclusive statements should be taken with caution as real world incidents show there is a basis for ABS in more and more ABS-related problems occurring in the present. 

A recovering alcoholic in the Midwest had adopted orange juice as her beverage of choice and drank copious amounts of it. Stopped by police, she scored over a .10 on a breathalyzer. After discovering the sugars in the fruit juices caused her ABS, the charge was alternatively handled. However, it nearly cost the woman her job and cost $25,000 to fight the charge. 

A young high school student in New Jersey struggled with bouts of afternoon drunkenness and hangovers for three years before being properly diagnosed with ABS. A diet of meats and vegetables was all it took to control the teenager’s ABS. 

Ohio Dr. Anup Kanodia runs a clinic that specializes in diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering from ABS. She has certified 25 ABS sufferers since 2013; not all have faced legal problems because of the condition. 

ABS was a defense a suspected drunken driver recently tried to introduce in Maine. It failed and was affirmed by reviewing courts up to and including the Maine Supreme Court. This was not because the courts rejected such a defense or the syndrome but because it was not properly testified to as required by the rules of evidence by an expert or experts like Dr. Kanodia. 

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Sources: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, reason.com, usnews.com

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