Getting drunk without alcohol: Medical condition impacting people in Georgia

ATLANTA — Some people get drunk without drinking a drop of alcohol. It’s a medical condition affecting people in Georgia.

A cellphone video shows a man who is drunk. He slurs his words and his eyes are not able to focus. What is interesting, is he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol.

He and hundreds of others around the world suffer from a condition called auto-brewery syndrome. It’s been featured in TV shows like “The Good Doctor” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Barbara Cordell is the leading expert on it. She says auto-brewery syndrome is caused when a person has too much yeast in their stomach or intestines, and eats a diet high in carbohydrates and sweets, the building blocks that make alcohol.

“And when they get that yeast overgrowth, some of the yeast ferments the carbohydrates into alcohol and so then they get drunk without even having a drop to drink,” Cordell said.

Stacey Mofle knows what that’s like. “And I would be on the couch and would just come to and I called my husband and said I don’t know what I’ve done for the last three hours,” Mofle said.

The Texas mother said for 10 years doctors misdiagnosed what was wrong. She often would vomit for days and black out for hours.

She even had seizures. “I was taken to the emergency room. They thought I had a seizure disorder, so they gave me Keppra, which may cause suicidal tendencies in a person who has no hope,” Mofle said.

“We’re talking eyes rolling in the back of the head, seeing fairies in the front yard, calling 911 on the fairies to come and take care of them,” said Stacey’s husband, Larry Mofle.

An emergency room doctor told Larry Mofle his wife was drunk and gave her a blood alcohol test. The number the doctor told him was through the roof. “’Point five four three.’ And I went no wait, what? Point oh five? he goes, ‘point five four,’” Larry Mofle said.

A 150-pound woman would have to drink more than 20 12-ounce beers in four hours to get a blood alcohol level that high.

Larry Mofle searched the house for empty bottles thinking she was an alcoholic. When he didn’t find any, he jumped on the computer and discovered auto-brewery syndrome.

The Mofles aren’t alone.

“I mean, I feared for his life that day. His blood alcohol was .329,” said a Georgia woman with a similar story.

She and her husband asked us to conceal their identities. The husband now uses a breathalyzer three times a day as a precaution. He asks his wife to pick him up if he starts feeling symptoms.

“I say come get me, this isn’t… I’m going to kill myself or somebody,” he said.

Many doctors don’t know much about auto-brewery syndrome. There are currently none willing to treat it in Georgia.

“I’m hoping that a doctor will see this in Georgia and say, ‘Hey, come see me,’” said the man’s wife.

Barbara Cordell knows exactly what they’re going through.

“It was a nightmare,” she said. Her husband, Joe, had auto-brewery syndrome. He was treated with an anti-fungal medication to control the yeast in his gut and is now considered to be cured. Stacey Mofle has had similar treatment.

Cordell has a message for anyone who suspects something is wrong with their loved one. “We know what you’re going through. We’re here with you to support you,” she said.

Cordell started a support group on Facebook, which not has close to 300 members, including five in Georgia. She also wrote a book about auto-brewery syndrome to help patients and doctors better understand the disease.

Auto-brewery syndrome is diagnosed by having the patient supervised for 24 hours by a medical professional to make sure they are not drinking alcohol, feeding the patient a high-carbohydrate meal, then testing their blood alcohol level.

In addition to taking anti-fungal drugs, the treatment includes eating a low-carbohydrate diet, cutting out sugar, and abstaining from alcohol. Many also take probiotics and supplements such as grape seed extract.