Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Martin & Kent, L.L.C.

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Medical condition causes intoxication without drinking

Illinois residents may have little sympathy for motorists who get behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level five times the legal driving limit, but drunk driving charges filed against a New York woman were dismissed in early 2016 because she suffered from an obscure medical condition known as auto-brewery syndrome. A judge dismissed the case after learning that those afflicted with the condition can become intoxicated without consuming any alcohol at all.

Auto-brewery syndrome is also known as gut-fermentation syndrome, and it affects people who have digestive systems that process yeast inefficiently. Yeast is a kind of fungus, and it can convert carbohydrates from starchy foods like bread, pasta and potatoes into ethanol. Yeast accumulates in the stomachs of auto-brewery syndrome sufferers, and meals rich in carbohydrates can cause them to display all of the signs of intoxication even if they have not consumed any alcohol.

The condition has been known to go undetected for years, and this places those who have it at risk of being involved in drunk driving accidents or suffering other intoxication-related injuries. Particularly heavy carbohydrate consumption could also lead to alcohol poisoning. Doctors are not yet able to provide a cure, but treatments include anti-fungal medicines and diets that strictly limit carbohydrate intake.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys will likely be familiar with a number of medical conditions that could make motorists seem impaired, and most of them are far more common than gut-fermentation syndrome. Millions of Americans suffer from diabetes, and low blood sugar levels can cause individuals to be unsteady on their feet and act incoherently. Diabetics may also have abnormally high acetone levels, and the breath testing equipment used by police departments is not always able to distinguish between ethyl alcohol and acetone. With this in mind, attorneys may ask their DUI clients about the medications they take and the medical issues they have before formulating their defense strategies.

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