“Auto-brewery” syndrome (ABS), also known as gut fermentation syndrome, is a rare medical condition in which a person’s digestive system produces its own ethanol. The technical term for this is “endogenous fermentation.”
Ethanol is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. It is also referred to as ethyl alcohol.
Our Las Vegas, NV criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. What is auto-brewery syndrome?
- 2. Can self-produced alcohol “fool” a Nevada DUI breathalyzer?
- 3. Is auto-brewery syndrome a complete defense to a Nevada DUI?
- 4. Is it the same as a medical DUI defense?
1. What is auto-brewery syndrome?
ABS is the medical condition where you have an excessive amount of yeast in your intestines. This yeast transforms the carbohydrates (or carbs) that you consume into ethanol.1
Ethanol is the same type of alcohol that is found in alcoholic drinks.
Auto-brewery syndrome is a rare medical condition with limited information regarding diagnosis and treatment.2
A few symptoms of the condition include:
- altered mood,
- brain fog, and
Note that there are reports of people with auto-brewery syndrome becoming drunk.4
However, for reasons that are poorly understood, it appears that it may take more than .08% of self-produced alcohol to make people with ABS intoxicated.
For example, one New York woman with ABS was arrested for drunk driving and gave a breath test with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .40%, which is five times the legal limit in Nevada for an adult. However, according to the woman’s defense attorney, she exhibited no signs of intoxication until she reached a blood alcohol level of between 0.30% and 0.40%.5
2. Can self-produced alcohol “fool” a Nevada DUI breathalyzer?
There are DUI cases where people with ABS have been arrested for drunk driving and the breathalyzer test results showed an excessively high BAC.
But you need to keep in mind how Nevada DUI breath tests work.
They work by measuring the amount of alcohol in your breath. The breath testing device then mathematically converts this quantity to an equivalent BAC figure.
But while breath testing devices collect a breath sample, they are supposed to measure “deep lung” air. This is because some of the alcohol absorbed by the bloodstream when we drink alcoholic beverages passes from our capillaries (tiny blood vessels) into the lungs.
When we exhale this deep lung air, it can be captured by a breath testing device. The device can then measure the alcohol in our breath and come up with a reasonable (though not strictly accurate) approximation of the amount of alcohol in our blood.
However, before deep lung air can pass into a breath testing device, it must pass through our throat and our mouth. If there is any alcohol there (for example, an amount produced by an alcohol-brewery condition), the device will assume it came from deep within our lungs.
So, there is an argument that ABS can lead to inaccurate or erroneous BAC levels. But breath testing device manufacturers claim their equipment can tell the difference between the alcohol in deep lung air and mouth alcohol.6
3. Is auto-brewery syndrome a complete defense to a Nevada DUI?
ABS may serve as a valid defense to Nevada drunk driving charges. This is provided that a physician officially diagnosis you of the condition.
But keep in mind that ABS is a rare medical condition. This means that auto-brewery syndrome as a DUI defense will have its limitations.
If you were arrested for DUI and believe you suffer from ABS, you should get legal advice regarding the effectiveness of the defense from a Nevada DUI attorney.
4. Is it the same as a medical DUI defense?
Using ABS as a legal defense is similar to raising a medical DUI defense, but they are not the same.
You can sometimes raise a medical DUI defense if you suffer from such conditions as:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),
- acid reflux,
- hiatal hernia, or
These conditions cause stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the “food pipe” that connects the stomach with the throat.7
If there is any alcohol in your stomach, this can create a phenomenon called “mouth alcohol.” This in turn can lead a DUI breath test to measure a higher BAC than you actually had.
A medical DUI defense, then, asserts that you blew an excessively high BAC because of a medical condition like GERD or heartburn.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Las Vegas Defense Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
- See Auto-Brewery Syndrome: A Schematic for Diagnosis and Appropriate Treatment, Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology, Series #212.
- See same.
- See same.
- See, for example, DailyMail.com, “The man who gets drunk on FRIES: Rare syndrome means carbohydrates turn into alcohol inside Nick’s stomach (and left his wife thinking he was an alcoholic),” (September 2015).
- See CNN.com, “Woman claims her body brews alcohol, has DUI charge dismissed,” (January 2016).
- See Jeanne Swartz, “Breath Testing for Prosecutors: Targeting Hardcore Impaired Drivers, American Prosecutors Research Institute,” American Prosecutors Research Institute (2004).
- See Mayo Clinic website, GERD: Definition.