Imagine being pulled over on suspicion of driving drunk even though you hadn’t had a drop of alcohol. Now imagine a blood alcohol test showing you were at twice the legal limit – again, even though you hadn’t drunk any alcohol.
Such was the case of a North Carolina man, who insisted he hadn’t drunk despite his blood alcohol level being 0.2%, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08%. He was pulled over but refused to take a breathalyzer, so he was taken to a hospital, where his BAC was determined.
He continued to say he hadn’t touched alcohol but, naturally, no one believed him.
It wasn’t until he was studied by researchers at the Richmond University Medical Center in New York that he found out what was causing his alleged drunkenness – a medical condition.
CNN reported the man was discovered to have a rare condition known as auto-brewery system (ABS) or gut fermentation syndrome. The condition causes his body to convert carbohydrates into alcohol.
The doctors that studied him published a study in BMJ Open Gastroenterology about his condition and what they did to treat him. The study’s lead author, Fahad Malik, chief internal medicine resident at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, told CNN what happens to a person with the condition.
“These patients have the exact same implications of alcoholism: the smell, the breath, drowsiness, gait changes,” Malik told the outlet. “They will present as someone who’s intoxicated by alcohol, but the only difference here is that these patients can be treated by antifungal medications.”
The man didn’t have the condition his entire life. It wasn’t like he was falling down “drunk” in grade school. The condition developed after he took antibiotics to treat an injury to his thumb.
“His personality started to change, researchers wrote in the study, and he experienced episodes of depression, ‘brain fog,’ memory loss and aggressive behavior that was out of character for him,” CNN reported.
Three years after his drunk driving arrest, doctors in Ohio found two strains of yeast and told him to cut carbs out of his diet and take supplements. He seemed fine at first, but a few weeks later he began acting drunk again.
Nothing seemed to help the condition, and at some point the man fell down due to his blood alcohol level, leading to brain bleeding. Eventually, after finding an online support group, the man was directed to the Richmond University Medical Center. The researchers there found that, possibly due to the antibiotics he had taken for his thumb, his “gut microbiome” had been altered, leading to ABS.
The man was given probiotics and treated with antifungal therapies, which helped his condition. After a year and a half – except for one time when he ate pizza and beer – he appears to be nearly cured.
“Approximately 1.5 years later, he remains asymptomatic and has resumed his previous lifestyle, including eating a normal diet while still checking his breath alcohol levels sporadically,” the study’s authors wrote, as reported by CNN.
This man is not the only one with this condition. It has been studied since the early part of the century, and researchers hope their method of treating the North Carolina man can help others with the condition.