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Does diabetes affect my blood alcohol level?

Police can rely on breath tests to indicate whether a driver may be over the legal limit. The prosecutor can use a breath test sample to show the jury that the driver was per se under the influence in a DUI case. Unfortunately, these tests are not always accurate. In addition to operator error or improper calibration, medical issues can influence the blood alcohol tests.

Drivers with diabetes who are experiencing low blood sugar levels can produce blood acids called ketones, known as diabetic ketoacidosis. Using a breath testing device while experiencing ketoacidosis can show high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) through high levels of acetone, even if the individual has not had any alcohol to drink.

If you are a diabetic who was arrested on suspicion of a DUI in California, contact the experienced East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

Hypoglycemia and DUI Traffic Stops

Low blood sugar can cause symptoms that appear similar to the signs of drinking alcohol. People with low blood sugar may appear to the police as if they are impaired, even if the driver has not consumed any alcohol. Extended traffic stops, field sobriety tests, and failing to let the driver access glucose or other medication can be dangerous for diabetics.

Some symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Lack of coordination,
  • Blurry vision,
  • Sleepiness,
  • Dizziness,
  • Trouble concentrating,
  • Poor balance, or
  • Slurred speech.

Hypoglycemia and Field Sobriety Tests  

To a police officer who is unfamiliar with the symptoms of hypoglycemia or if the officer does not believe the driver who is explaining their medical condition, these signs could look like the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. The officer may then try and get the driver to submit to field sobriety testing.

A driver experiencing low blood glucose may fail the walk-and-turn test or one-leg-stand test, unrelated to whether or not the driver consumed any alcohol. The police officer may then try to get the driver to provide a breath test sample and use the evidence to place the driver under arrest on suspicion of drunk driving.

Hypoglycemia and DUI Breath Tests  

During a traffic stop, the police officer may try and get the driver to submit to a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) device, which some call a breathalyzer. First, these roadside breath tests are not mandatory. You have the right to refuse a PAS test and there are no penalties for refusal as long as you are over 21 and not on DUI probation. 

The PAS device tests for alcohol in the breath. The concentration of breath alcohol is then converted to give an estimate of the driver's BAC. However, this test is not limited to alcohol from alcoholic beverages. Acetones and ketones in the breath related to diabetes can show up like other alcohol on the PAS device.

After a DUI arrest, the driver will have to submit to a chemical breath test. Unlike the preliminary breath test, this is mandatory and refusing a chemical test can result in an automatic license suspension for one year on a first-refusal.  

Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the body produces high levels of ketones, a type of blood acid. This can be a serious issue for diabetics. It can produce a high concentration of acetone in the driver's body, coming through their breath. A breathalyzer will indicate an elevated BAC even though the driver did not drink any alcohol.  

Effects of Consuming Alcohol for Diabetics

 Alcohol can have a greater impact on diabetics than others because alcohol has an effect on blood sugar levels. Too much alcohol may also restrict the effectiveness of insulin.

Alcohol may also interfere with certain types of medication. Anyone with diabetes should consult their doctor or medical professional about how alcohol may interfere with medication or affect blood sugar levels.

East Bay DUI Defense by Lynn Gorelick

The police may not be interested when you try and explain your medical issues, diabetic ketoacidosis, or low blood sugar levels. The side of the road is not the place to fight a DUI. The police are not in charge of whether you are ultimately convicted of a crime or not, the police only gather evidence and make the arrest. Your criminal case is decided in court.

Your California DUI lawyer can gather evidence in support of your case, including medical records or doctor testimony. This information can then be used to challenge the prosecutor's evidence and get your case dismissed or fight the charges in court.

 East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of DUI experience and understands how inaccurate breath tests can lead to criminal charges for innocent drivers. If you are facing criminal charges for a DUI in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, contact East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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