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Digestive-Health

30 October 2019

This man has a rare condition where he gets drunk without drinking a drop of alcohol

Imagine being pulled over and arrested for being over the limit without having had a single sip of alcohol?

Stumbling, slurring, blacking out, feeling dizzy… if you've ever had a little too much to drink, you may be familiar with these symptoms.

But for a 46-year old man, these symptoms of drunkenness occurred for six years – although he never touched a drop of alcohol.

A drunken episode

Eventually, the mystery was solved when he was diagnosed with a rare condition called auto-brewery syndrome (ABS). According to a report published in the journal BMJ Open Gastroenterology, bacteria in the gut cause carbohydrates to ferment, creating alcohol.

Doctors wrote in the report that whenever people with ABS consume sugary or carb-rich food, they experience a drunken episode, similar to someone who had too many beers.

Dr Fahad Malik, co-author of the report told the Today Show that the man was mostly unable to function after meals. The condition started in 2011 after receiving antibiotics for a thumb injury.

According to the report, the antibiotics most likely disrupted the gut microbiome, which caused the bacteria to ferment carbohydrates.

A news report on Live Science states that the man experienced constant brain fogs and aggressive behaviour and was even once arrested for drunk driving, with blood alcohol level twice the legal limit.

An extreme event

It was only after the man’s aunt read a report on an Ohio patient with ABS who went through a similar ordeal that doctors agreed to do stool tests for microbiomes. The tests uncovered strains of Saccharomyces boulardii and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as brewer’s yeast.

To confirm the diagnosis, the man was given carbs – and eight hours later his blood-alcohol concentration spiked.

Doctors prescribed an anti-fungal treatment and a no-carb diet, but the man kept on experiencing these episodes. After an extreme event with an almost lethal blood-alcohol concentration of 0.4% and a head injury, medical staff were reluctant to believe his story, according to the report.

Finally, at the Richmond University Medical Center in State Island, New York, he man received antibiotics and was constantly monitored to rid his gut of the microbes. Then, with the help of probiotics, he could eventually reintroduce carbs into his diet, and now he can even have the occasional slice of pizza without getting drunk. 

Image credit: iStock