AMUK Healthy Living Blog


Can You Be Drunk Without Alcohol?

Author : Hazel Econs

A fascinating programme on BBC2, in the series World’s Weirdest Events with Chris Packham, this week, interviewed and filmed a man who gets drunk without touching a drop of alcohol.

Dr Barbara Cordell, a doctor in the USA, researched the subject because a tee-total friend of hers was suffering similar symptoms.  The friend was hospitalised and given a high carbohydrate diet and no alcohol for 24 hours.  It was observed that his blood alcohol level raised, without any alcohol.

How is alcohol made, for instance, vodka?   The main ingredient potato, is a carbohydrate.  Carbohydrates are essentially sugars and when you add yeast to sugar they ferment, producing alcohol.

Normally the liver stores the sugar but in those rare cases of “auto-brewery syndrome”, if there is too much it spills over into the intestine. The intestines, which contains yeast, then turns the yeast and sugar into alcohol.

It was found that Dr Cordell’s friend had more than 400% more yeast than normal, so add the sugar and you have - a “drunk” person.

The problem is that the ‘drunkenness’ can come on suddenly and at any time, such as at work or while driving.

Once given a carbohydrate-free diet and getting the yeast under control, the symptoms improved.

Auto-brewery syndrome is a problem that we have treated in our clinics for some years.  Dr Econs has been approached by individuals who had been charged for drink driving and yet insist they have not drunk alcohol.  Dr Econs has prepared reports for court hearings explaining this unusual, but possible, phenomenon.  It has not been generally recognised by the medical profession.


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