Alcohol is a naturally occurring chemical which is a byproduct of an organic process. As we put organic substances together and they break down, various chemicals are left behind. Similarly, the fermentation process happens naturally in nature as leaves and organic material compost and create a changed substance. Byproducts of this process are substances such as Nitrogen, Hydrogen Sulfide and other ammonia-like substances. It happens in controlled environments as well, such as when we brew beer or wine. Inside the human body, a physiological process which allows us to use organic material for fuel, also leaves behind a variety of chemicals as byproducts. These chemicals differ depending on our diet, exercise level and certain factors in our genetic makeup that differentiate how we metabolize our fuel. One of the byproducts that has been gaining exposure in social media recently are Ketones. These are created in the body as an alternative form of fuel when glucose is unavailable due to certain processes in the body of a type 1 diabetic, or those on a low carb or very low calorie diet. When the body uses ketones as fuel, one of the byproduct of this process is acetone. Acetone can be further broken down in the body to Isopropanol. A form of alcohol which can be detected in our breath.
There have been court cases in which this process has been used as a defense when the defendant was a type 1 diabetic and had high levels of ketones in their blood, which therefore were producing this effect where acetone or potentially Isopropanol was detected in the breathalyzer test causing a false positive. “If ketoacidosis develops, the diabetic person may experience a myriad of symptoms including dry-mouth or fruity breath odor, and keytones on the breath could theoretically register as ethyl alcohol on BAC breath tests. Brick, Diabetes, Breath Acetone and Breathalyzer Accuracy: A Case Study, 9(1) Alcohol, Drugs and Driving (1993). In Michaels v. State ex rel. Dep’t of Transp., the defendant, a type 1 diabetic, claimed his blood-alcohol levels may have been affected by ketoacidosis. 2012 WY 33, ¶ 8, 271 P.3d 1003, 1006 (Wyo.2012).” Supreme Court of Wyoming. ANDERSON v. The STATE of Wyoming, 2014.
There are other circumstances where this chemical process will happen in the body of people without a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Diets that are very low carb or no carb “ketogenic” diets, which are rapidly becoming a norm for use in weight loss can trigger this same chemical reaction in the body, producing a buildup of ketones (or ketoacidosis) leaving byproducts that look like alcohol to a breathalyzer machine. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the USA has found that dieters and diabetics may have acetone levels which are hundreds and even thousand of times higher than those in others. Acetone is one of the many substances that can be falsely identified and measured as ethanol by some breathalyzer machines.” Tazhmoye V., Crawford Donovan, A. McGrowder, Joan M. Rawlins: An assessment of falsely convicted type 1 diabetics in Jamaica by using the breathalyzer test, 2011.
Low calorie diets that may still utilize carbs for fuel can also cause this process, (Very Low Calorie Diet) “VLCD treatment leads to ketonemia with high concentrations of acetone, acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate in the blood. The interlock device determines alcohol (ethanol) in breath by electrochemical oxidation, but acetone does not undergo oxidation with this detector. However, under certain circumstances acetone is reduced in the body to isopropanol by hepatic alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH)”. Int J Obes (Lond). 2007 Mar;31(3):559-61. Epub 2006 Aug 8.False-positive breath-alcohol test after a ketogenic diet.Jones AW1, Rössner S.
Based on the factors above which highlight the possibility for the human body to naturally produce certain chemicals that would be mistaken for ethanol in a breathalyzer test, one might conclude that with a growing population struggling with an obesity epidemic, an increasing amount of people adopting a low carb or no carb, “ketogenic” diet, and he possibility of an extreme low calorie diet as a result of poverty, that the incidents of false positive breathalyzer tests in defendants who have consumed under the legal limit of alcohol, (or no alcohol at all) but may present with this metabolic picture, could be greater than law enforcement take into account. That being said, there is no reason to trust a breathalyzer as the only evidence that a driver was intoxicated. A defense attorney, who practices in DUI should take into account the variety of physiological factors that have been scientifically tested more recently, which may indicate an error in the current system for testing a driver’s BAC on the roadside.