DUI lawyers often report that some people are arrested who have not been drinking, but who blow positive in a breath test. The reasons vary from person to person, with some having odd medical conditions and others having taken medication which simulates alcohol.
A man in Texas was reported recently being “drunk” on a regular basis, even though he hadn’t been drinking. He didn’t get caught for DUI but his wife was so concerned that she actually went out and bought a breathalyzer, worried that he would “drink” and drive. According to his wife he would regularly show symptoms of being drunk after going to church on Sunday, or “at any time”.
The condition that the man was suffering from was revealed eventually when he felt so ill that he went to the hospital, complaining of dizziness. Doctors at first thought that he was a secret alcoholic as he tested five times the legal limit for alcohol (0.08% in Texas and here in Florida) despite claiming he hadn’t been drinking.
It took a more detailed look at what was happening before a rare condition was diagnosed. It appeared that the man had a surplus of brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces) in his stomach. The yeast was naturally fermenting any sugars or other carbohydrates that were accumulating in that part of his digestive system. The alcohol produced by this unseen fermentation was giving the man the symptoms of drunkenness that he and his wife had been noticing.
According to a report in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine, the condition is known as auto-brewery syndrome or Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It doesn’t happen very often, simply because the particular strain of yeast which ferments any surplus carbohydrate is not normally present in the gut.
One of the reasons that many DUI lawyers are cautious about DUI arrests is that breathalyzers and other chemical tests do not necessarily only test positive for the alcohol in alcoholic drinks. In fact, they can respond to a small number of other chemical substances that trigger similar results in the machine, despite not making someone drunk. In some medical conditions, substances called ketones are released by the body and can be found in the breath. Ketones can be mistaken for alcohol by the breathalyzer machine and someone can be arrested for DUI despite them not having had a drink.
In other cases of testing error, solvents used in certain medications may have a certain amount of alcohol in them and if taken orally not long before the person is stopped by police, may indicate they have a “blood alcohol” content which is over the limit. Another source of error can come from sanitary wipes which are routinely used in cleaning equipment, including the equipment used in testing for alcohol content. These wipes have a small amount of ethanol – the same alcohol in alcoholic drinks – and if used too liberally can mean that a test result is inaccurate.
Stories like the auto-brewery syndrome in Texas may make for humorous reading, but for those few people who have been arrested for DUI because of a false alcohol test, the situation is serious. DUI penalties are severe here in Florida and it takes a knowledgeable and tenacious DUI lawyer to unravel what has gone wrong when someone is wrongly arrested.