Two separate medical reports from independent institutions have found that the 40-year-old driver has "auto-brewery syndrome", a condition in which the body automatically converts sugar into alcohol.

According to Belgian public broadcaster VRT, the driver, who was first found to have a high level of alcohol in his blood during a traffic control in 2019, claimed he had not been drinking.

The driver, whose license was confiscated and fined by the police, was found guilty of 'driving under the influence' two more times in April and May 2022.

The Belgian driver was found to have 2.09 promille per thousand of alcohol in his blood, equivalent to about 8 to 14 drinks.

The Belgian driver, who works in a brewery, claimed that he had not gotten behind the wheel under the influence. 

The driver, whose driver's license was suspended for 15 days each time, was prosecuted in Bruges Court. The driver repeated his defense that he had not drunk alcohol.

Nevertheless, the driver was found to have a high level of alcohol in his blood during traffic controls and consulted a doctor to determine the cause.

After an examination by two different doctors, it was determined that the Belgian driver had a condition called "auto brewery syndrome".

This rare condition, also known as "intestinal fermentation", automatically turns sugar in the body into alcohol.

In other words, these people can get drunk even if they don't drink at all.

In pre-trial medical tests carried out by two independent physicians, the Belgian driver was fed sugary foods and did not drink alcoholic beverages for 24 hours.

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'There are about 20 patients worldwide'

The examination showed that the 40-year-old driver's body converted a large proportion of carbohydrates into alcohol.

A third doctor, appointed by the court, found the same results.

The court then acquitted the Belgian driver on the grounds of "force majeure", stating that he was suffering from a condition he did not know existed, could not foresee or prevent.

The Bruges Court judge also emphasized that the driver did not experience any signs of alcohol intoxication, such as fatigue or cognitive problems.

Anse Ghesquière, the Belgian driver's lawyer, told VRT: "The question is actually what are the effects of such a situation. There is very little to say about it because medical science knows almost nothing about it. Only about twenty cases are known worldwide."

The court also rejected the prosecution's request to ban the driver from driving altogether.

The judge ruled that the male driver must take measures such as a special diet with lots of protein and few carbohydrates or a voluntary alcohol interlock.

What is Drunk Patient Syndrome?

According to Belgian toxicologist Jan Tytgat, the intestines are not a sterile environment. In some people, yeasts and bacteria that ferment in the gut can be more dominant. As a result, the sugar they take in turns into alcohol in the body.

Tytgat emphasizes that a normal human body always contains very small amounts of alcohol, not exceeding 0.003 per thousand.

In diabetics or people with cirrhosis of the liver, this amount is slightly higher, but the alcohol limit is still below the legal limit.

"We have been doing tests for police courts for 30 years and I have never come across a case like this," said Tytgat, who described the case at the Bruges Court as "exceptional".

Lisa Florin, a clinical biologist, also told VRT that no distinction can be made between alcohol absorbed through drinking and alcohol produced by the body.

"Because it is so difficult to pinpoint, it can happen more often than we realize. It can be missed in people who have no complaints," he said.