Is auto-brewery syndrome a real thing?
You might have missed this interesting court ruling that came down over the holidays: a lady from Hamburg, New York who had been charged with DWI had all charges against her dismissed after her lawyer proved it was not the three drinks she had had earlier that day that made her drunk, but the bacteria in her gut. A lot of our DWI clients have been sending us links to news stories about this case asking if this might have been the situation in their case, so we decided to take a closer look.
The Buffalo News reports the facts of the case as follows:
The woman, a Hamburg resident, was stopped at around 7:15 p.m. on Route 5, near the Ford plant. Hamburg Officer Daniel Gallardo reported that he pulled the woman over after another driver called 911 to report that the driver’s 2010 Toyota Corolla was “weaving all over” the road.
Gallardo reported that he noticed the Corolla’s right front passenger tire was flat and the vehicle was producing “a large amount of smoke and a noticeable smell of burning rubber.”
The driver had alcohol on her breath and “exhibited glassy-bloodshot eyes and slurred speech,” Gallardo reported. The officer said the driver told him she had about three cocktails earlier in the day while visiting her parents in Buffalo.
Although the driver was able to recite the alphabet at the officer’s request, she had trouble with several other sobriety tests, including standing on one foot and talking and turning heel-to-toe, Gallardo reported.
The driver’s BAC was measured at .33 percent by the Breathalyzer and .30 percent in a later blood test administered in the Erie County Medical Center.
How could someone with such a high BAC (.33 is over four times the legal limit, and is in the range where medical professionals are usually called in to make sure the person doesn’t suffer alcohol poisoning or other health problems from their drinking) be functioning well enough to drive a car? And why was her BAC so high after having only three drinks, over several hours, earlier in the day?
Her attorney did some research and found out there is a rare intestinal disorder called “Auto-Brewery Syndrome” (ABS) that can turn ordinary food and beverages into alcohol in a person’s body. The attorney had the client tested for ABS, and sure enough, yeast in her guts was found to be cranking out the booze.
The judge handling the case dismissed it after evidence of the accused’s ABS was introduced. This has a lot of people wondering whether ABS could have played a role in their DWI citations.
The answer to that question is it’s possible, but unlikely. ABS is a relatively new disease that is not widely recognized by the medical community or the courts. In addition to this women from New York, there have only been two other widely publicized cases.
Because this disease is so rare, diagnosing it is not something your local doc is going to be doing on a regular basis. So, if you think you have ABS, you are probably going to have to spend a substantial amount of time and money getting properly diagnosed.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on the case from Hamburg as it is appealed and reviewed by higher New York courts since whatever the higher courts say about this case will become the law of the land here in Eastern Upstate New York despite the fact that this case is from the Western part of the state.
We will also be monitoring the medical research in this area so that we can properly assist people who have been charged with DWI/DUI/and other alcohol-related offenses who think they may be suffering from ABS.