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Rare Medical Condition Serves as DUI Defense

In Oregon, a man was charged with drunken driving after he crashed his truck and spilled 11,000 salmon onto the highway. In another case, a man's wife recorded him secretly, believing he had a drinking problem. In Belgium, a brewery worker was pulled over and given a breathalyzer test, which showed his blood alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit for drivers. However, it turns out that none of these men had been drinking. Instead, they all were diagnosed with a rare condition known as auto-brewery syndrome, in which a person’s gut ferments carbohydrates into ethanol, effectively brewing alcohol inside the body, The New York Times reports. This week, the Belgian individual was acquitted of the DUI charge. The court determined that he wasn't a habitual drinker; rather, his body was essentially brewing its own alcohol. Most instances involve allegations of drunken driving, as individuals with the disorder, referred to as A.B.S., operate vehicles believing they are sober.


The condition has been studied for more than a century. While only a few dozen people across the world have been formally diagnosed with the condition, recent studies suggest that the condition is probably overlooked in others. The process begets all the normal effects of inebriation — lack of coordination, memory loss, aggressive behavior — without alcohol consumption. The disorder can cause blood-alcohol levels in people that would be lethal if achieved conventionally. While many people with the condition do exhibit the more traditional effects of alcohol consumption, others have been known to behave mostly sober, even when tests show they are not. In Belgium, the brewery worker, a 40-year-old man who wishes to remain anonymous, according to his lawyer, was pulled over by the police in April 2022 and registered a blood-alcohol reading that was more than four times the legal limit. A month later, he was pulled over again and registered more than three times the limit. It was the third time the man had been cited, he had been pulled over and fined for driving under the influence in 2019. He was unaware that he had A.B.S. until his latest charge, tests administered by three doctors confirmed that he had the condition and validated his claim in court.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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