Can you get drunk without drinking?
As strange as it sounds, it is possible for the body to naturally produce alcohol in the body, which is exactly what happened to a woman in New York this past December.
You may have read stories in the past about individuals who were picked up for drunk driving and later had their drunk driving (OWI, DUI, DWI, BAC or PAC) charges dropped because they had not actually consumed any alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

In these rare cases, the drivers' bodies naturally produced alcohol due to a condition known as Auto-Brewery Syndrome. We took a deeper look into the science behind these stories and this medical condition as it relates to OWI law in Wisconsin.
Let's start with the basics:

What is Auto-Brewery Syndrome?

In Auto-Brewery Syndrome, an overabundance of candida or yeast in the system causes the gut to act as a mini distillery. When carbohydrates are ingested by individuals with this condition, their bodies ferment the sugars into endogenous ethanol.
Sugar is food for yeast. So, when carbohydrates (which turn to sugars) are consumed, the yeast consumes the sugar and the end result is a form of alcohol. 
The National Center for Biotechnology Information on the US National Library of Medicinesection of the National Institutes of Health website supports this by explaining,
"Endogenous ethanol appeared to have been produced after they [individuals with Auto-Brewery Syndrome] had eaten carbohydrate-rich foods." 
If an individual with Auto-Brewery Syndrome consumes high levels of carbohydrates, their bodies could naturally produce enough alcohol to, in essence, become drunk.

The medical and legal implications of Auto-Brewery Syndrome 

The implications of this medical discovery could provide insight into a number of other health conditions. For individuals suffering from Candidiasis, an abnormally-high level of intestinal flora or yeast in the gastro-intestinal tracts, Auto-Brewery Syndrome may be of particular interest.

Already considered by some to be a factor in Autism, yeast in the gut and diet can impact the brain. In describing how imbalanced digestion and biochemistry due to yeast can impact the brain, Autism nutrition specialist, Julie Matthews explains toxins produced in the GI tract enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain, and can cause "spaciness, foggy thinking, and drunken behavior."
Imagine someone with Auto-Brewery Syndrome or other condition having a single beer or cocktail with a carbohydrate-rich meal. The alcohol, which is very high in sugar, would create an even greater surge for the candida, producing even more alcohol in the body.
As the body metabolizes the sugars from themeal and the single alcoholic drink, the individual's blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) could later test higher than anticipated—through no conscious fault of his or her own. 

Auto-Brewery Syndrome and Wisconsin OWI

While research on Auto-Brewery Syndrome is scarce, it's garnering more attention as the impact of our diet and nutrition on our health is further explored.
The recent story out of New York shows this condition has been used as a valid OWI defense in other states, however its impact here in Wisconsin is still unknown. As such, we'll continue to follow the research as more studies are conducted to determine whether or not this can in fact hold up as a valid OWI defense in court. 

As we explained before, we're well aware that individuals suffering from diabetes and other health conditions that cause hypoglycemia can experience symptoms which could cause driving behaviors often misinterpreted by law enforcement as indicators of OWI or drunk driving and recognize the impact of Auto-Brewery Syndrome could play an even bigger role.

Facing OWI charges in Wisconsin?

If you're facing an OWI charge in Wisconsin, or have questions or concerns regarding another legal matter, you need to contact an experienced Wisconsin defense attorney who can contribute specialized insight when examining the specifics of your case and provide you the legal assistance you need.

Click here for a free consultation with Madison attorney, Pat Stangl.