Auto Brewery Syndrome

What is it?

Auto Brewery Syndrome (ABS) is a rare medical condition where alcohol can be produced through fermentation within the stomach or bladder.

If a person has the condition it means that if they eat a certain variety of foods containing cereals and bacteria, such yeast and yoghurt, it can ferment alcohol within the stomach and physically make people drunk.

On rare occasions ABS occurs only within the bladder, so people won’t appear drunk but they will show as having alcohol within urine specimens.

Why is it important to drink driving cases?

If ABS occurs within the stomach then the effect can be no different from drinking and people may feel drunk even though they haven’t touched a drop. It also means that alcohol may show on a breath, blood or urine specimen. If ABS occurs in the bladder only it will only show on a urine specimen.

It’s possible that somebody who is saying they have not consumed any alcohol but has this condition could have an argument to avoid disqualification.

When could it apply?

The starting point is that it is a medical condition. So if someone is putting this forward as a defence, usually they would be aware of their pre-existing condition and would get medical report to back that up for Court purposes.

If somebody is saying that they haven’t drunk alcohol but think they may have the condition, it’s unlikely an argument in Court would succeed so we would recommend visiting your GP for tests to see if you have it.

It is likely that an expert report from a toxicologist would also be needed to confirm that but for the alcohol created by the condition the person would not have been above the limit.

So if the defendant can show that:
a) They had the condition; and
b) Without the alcohol created by the condition they would not have been above the limit,
there may be an argument to raise.

What arguments could be raised in Court?

The starting point is that we would argue that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute if a person clearly has diagnosed ABS and hadn’t actually drunk any alcohol.

If that was unsuccessful then it could be a special reason not to disqualify. We would not necessarily be challenging the alcohol content in the specimen of breath/blood/urine, but clearly the amount of alcohol in the specimen would not be reflective of the amount of alcohol drunk by the defendant.

However, there is the added risk that if even if this is argued successfully and disqualification is avoided, the DVLA might want to get involved and medically revoke the licence anyway, if the defendant is potentially going to be unknowingly and consistently drink-driving.

If you’re concerned this condition having an effect on a specimen or have any questions about this type of offence, click here to ask a free question or call us for free advice.