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Diabetes and DUI Impairment


Cases involving diabetes and DUI impairment can be complicated. Criminal defenders from Scrofano Law PC can provide information and advice. Contact us today!

Can My Diabetes Affect My Blood Alcohol Levels?


Diabetic people can unfairly face driving under the influence or DUI charges due to the similarity between the symptoms of diabetes and alcohol intoxication. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and diabetic ketoacidosis produce effects similar to those of alcohol impairment.

As a result, it can be easy for law enforcement to confuse your diabetes symptoms with intoxication if your DUI breath tests come out positive. If the police officer isn’t aware of how intoxication and diabetes relate, you could be subject to a DUI arrest.

If you are facing a DUI charge, consider hiring a trusted DUI defense lawyer to help build a solid defense for your case, even if it’s a first-time DUI offense.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis and DUI Arrest


People with diabetes can be falsely charged with DUI even if they aren’t intoxicated, but why does this happen?

Usually, people with diabetes suffer from absolute or relative insulin hormone deficiency, which decreases or prevents the use of glucose in the body. As an alternative, the body turns to fatty acids to produce energy. However, the breakdown of fatty acids produces ketones, which can accumulate in the body in severe cases. The buildup of ketones leads to a life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, with symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication.

Symptoms include frequent urination, a dry mouth, slurred speech, confusion, vomiting, facial flushing, sweet-smelling breath that can be mistaken for alcohol, and reduced alertness. Ketoacidosis can also give false positive DUI breath test results.


What Should I Do If I Have Diabetes and Am Charged with DUI?

If you have diabetes and are facing a DUI charge, your DUI lawyer can help explain your diabetes symptoms might have contributed to your arrest. Describing the effects of your diabetes could reduce your punishment or dismiss the charge altogether.

Diabetes and Breathalyzers


During a traffic stop, a police officer may ask you to take a DUI breath test using a breath testing device. These checks are voluntary. If you are over 21 and not on DUI probation, you can decline an alcohol impairment test without facing any consequences.

Breath testing devices measure breath alcohol content. However, it does not necessarily mean you’ve consumed alcohol if you test positive. Diabetes-related acetone and ketones in the breath can register in the breath test reading the same way other alcoholic beverages do.

Following a misdemeanor DUI arrest, the driver will have to take a breathalyzer as part of the legal process. There is a mandatory one-year license suspension if the driver refuses to submit to the required tests, and in Virginia a restricted license is not available if the driver refuses to submit.


Can a Diabetic Pass a Breathalyzer?

People with diabetes can have a false positive alcohol test. One of the components of ketone is isopropyl alcohol. This alcohol is different from ethyl alcohol in alcoholic drinks. Although breathalyzer manufacturers claim their products can distinguish between the two, they are not perfect.

Thus, a breathalyzer may detect isopropyl alcohol if you produce excessive ketones, as in diabetic ketoacidosis. A false positive in breath tests may subsequently lead to an arrest on DUI charges.

Does Diabetes Affect Blood Alcohol Levels?


In contrast to an alcohol breath content, diabetes does not affect blood alcohol concentration (BAC) if the sample is collected, stored, and processed appropriately.

There are no false positives in BAC because blood tests only detect ethyl alcohol. They do not detect acetone or other chemical byproducts of diabetes.


Alcohol Before Blood Sugar Test


Drinking alcohol can affect your blood sugar because both are metabolized in the liver. Alcohol can block glucose-producing pathways in the liver, leading to low blood sugar levels. Moreover, it can increase insulin production and facilitate glucose entry into the cells, which also causes low blood sugar. So if you are going for a blood sugar test, refrain from drinking alcohol.

Diabetes False Positive Blood Alcohol Test


People with diabetes can receive false positive alcohol blood tests if the test is carried out inappropriately. As said earlier, blood tests only detect ethyl alcohol, which is different from the isopropyl alcohol caused by ketoacidosis. However, false positives may occur due to any of the following reasons:

  • Wrong sample collection time

  • Poor blood sample processing

  • Contamination during processing

  • Poor sample storage

People suffering from hypoglycemia or diabetic ketoacidosis may be punished even if they weren’t driving under the influence. Such gaps in the justice system have prompted the American Diabetic Association to publish a write-up on the legal protection of diabetics due to insufficient knowledge or expertise about the condition within the justice system.

Can Diabetic Hypoglycemia Lead To Unfair DUI Charges?


Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics can be susceptible to symptoms of hypoglycemia from excessive insulin use, skipping meals, and strenuous exercise. Diabetes patients who experience hypoglycemia run the risk of displaying symptoms that could be mistaken for intoxicated driving and result in a false positive on a DUI breathalyzer test. Short-term hypoglycemia can occur even in non-diabetic people, particularly those who are fasting or eating bad carbohydrates.

Conversely, hyperglycemia affects those whose blood sugar levels are consistently over normal. It might also cause symptoms that law enforcement officers might mistake for the side effects of alcohol consumption.

Hypoglycemia symptoms can include:

  • Shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteady speech
  • Distorted vision
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Clumsiness

When suffering a hypoglycemic episode while driving, your behavior can mimic that of a drunk driver, and your diabetes may make your breath reek of alcohol. In this case, a nearby police officer can assume you are intoxicated or were using drugs.

When measuring a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) levels, breath test instruments detect ethyl alcohol, not isopropyl alcohol. However, the breath testing equipment used by law enforcement authorities does not differentiate between the two; therefore, the diabetic DUI suspect can have a BAC above the permitted 0.08% without being drunk.

Talk to an Experienced DUI Defense Lawyer


If you have diabetes and are charged with DUI, ensure you seek legal advice from an experienced DC DUI lawyer. At Scrofano Law, our attorneys have experience with diabetes and DUI impairment cases and know what to do to reduce the severity of your punishment. Contact us now.


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