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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Dieting May Cause Positive DUI Breathalyzer Test

By January 17, 2014

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Here's a bit of chemistry you may want to know if you're ever pulled over and given a breath test: dieting can cause you to test positive for a DUI breathalyzer. According to the National Substance Abuse Index, many breathalyzers measure methyl groups, which are a product of alcohol metabolism, rather than the presence of ethyl alcohol itself. This means that any chemical exposure or metabolic process that produces methyl groups may produce a false positive breathalyzer result. High protein, low carbohydrate diets, including the Atkins diet, causes your body to produce ketones or acetone, which the test reads as a possible metabolite from drinking alcohol. Other causes of false positive DUI breathalyzer tests include absorption of chemicals from pumping gas, inhaling glue fumes, handling glue or medical conditions including hyperglycemia.

In-car ignition interlock devices may test for alcohol, but non-specifically, meaning any alcohol will register a positive result. Strict dieting may produce isopropanol, an alcohol which would make you unable to start your car.


June 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm
(1) PotterBeth says:

Very interesting! My sister says that diabetes can also cause a false positive. Go figure!

June 17, 2011 at 12:38 pm
(2) Jeannette says:

That same sister told me that when she was on a hypoglycemic high, she would have tested as drunk. And believe me she acted drunk!

June 20, 2011 at 8:44 am
(3) Eb says:

As a chemist you should cite a few articles published in the scientific literature. Most of your references are from the legal profession which is only interested in creating doubt about reliability of test results. I retired from the forensic toxicology field ten years ago and the breathalyzer used in Texas back then proved to be accurate and reliable. The possible interferences cited have been proven false when the test are performed according to approved procedures.

January 20, 2012 at 10:06 pm
(4) Asmodeus says:

PotterBeth, That is because a sugar low is considered by the body to be starvation. Once that occurs your metabolism will feed you brain by the production of ketone bodies, which are the same as “produce ketones or acetone” from the article.

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