“Officer I didn’t have anything to drink my stomach just turns carbs into alcohol!” Sounds like the funniest excuse one could give to an officer when pulled over for drunk driving, however, the actual medical implications behind this are no laughing matter. Auto-Brewery Syndrome just recently began making headlines in 2014 but has been publicized more throughout the past couple of years. The rare syndrome is caused by a fermenting fungi found in the digestive system. This fungi or gut bacteria produce ethanol through the fermentation process as your body digests carbs. The syndrome is most common in individuals with Crohn’s disease or diabetes, but can rarely affect individuals without any preexisting health conditions, according to Boston Magazine, who recently covered an auto-brewery syndrome case.
Recently the syndrome made headlines when police pulled over a Boston man whose blood alcohol level was at .2, twice the legal amount for operating a vehicle. Police took the man to the hospital where he kept insisting that he hadn’t had anything to drink that night, but doctors weren’t so easily convinced. After rigorous testing they discovered that the man did in fact have this illness. The disease itself has rarely been diagnosed due to the fact that it’s rarely studied, however, with more and more cases appearing of this truly horrible illness doctors are studying and developing more ways to help treat it.
According to CNN, “The condition made news in 2014, when the driver of a truck that spilled 11,000 salmon onto a highway claimed to have auto-brewery syndrome. The next year, a New York woman was charged with driving under the influence after she registered a blood alcohol level that was more than four times the legal limit.”
As previously stated the treatment for this really depends on the individual and their specific case of ABS. Regular blood alcohol level checks are a must, and anti-fungal/bacterial medications are also used which can sometimes work well enough to allow the person to continue their life with a fairly regular diet. Unfortunately there still is so little research and knowledge about this illness that treating it really is a game of trial and error.
ABS should be taken just as seriously as any other major illness, as it can cause major accidents to occur without the individual even being fully aware of what they’re doing and why. The diagnosis just sounds so incredibly unbelievable that often doctors don’t treat patients because they just seem like they’re drunk.
According to Barbara Cordell, a researcher of auto-brewery syndrome and the author of ‘My Gut Makes Alcohol,’ “Auto-brewery syndrome seems to be caused by antibiotic use altering a person’s fungal growth, but researchers don’t know why few people who take antibiotics contract the condition. Other drugs, environmental toxins or preservatives in foods also could cause auto-brewery by disrupting the body’s normal balance of bacteria.”
While the cause is still not totally known for ABS, luckily Cordell also provided a lot of warning signs to look out for if you or someone you know is acting intoxicated but you know for a fact that they’re not a heavy drinker, they haven’t had anything to drink, or is on antibiotics of any kind. Symptoms of ABS include brain fogginess, mood swings, or delirium. Cordell mentioned that these symptoms normally appear before the person will seem truly intoxicated, but other symptoms can also mimic that of a stroke, so it’s of extreme importance to go to a hospital and test your blood alcohol levels whenever any symptoms begin arising. Additionally, individuals with ABS can reach a blood alcohol level five times that of the legal limit, so it’s important to treat patients for alcohol poisoning first and foremost in any situation.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.