3 Medical Issues That Can Cause You to Fail a Breathalyzer

Breathalyzers have become an essential tool in law enforcement for detecting drunk drivers and ensuring road safety – but they certainly aren’t foolproof. They’re machines, and machines can’t always tell the difference between intoxication and certain medical conditions that can lead to artificially high blood alcohol content (BAC) readings.

For example, these are three common medical conditions – all of which can potentially affect your breath test results.


People with diabetes may have elevated levels of acetone in their breath. Acetone is one of the substances that Breathalyzers detect, and it can be mistakenly identified as alcohol. This is particularly problematic for those who have poorly controlled diabetes or those who have yet to be diagnosed with the condition.


Asthma itself is unlikely to directly cause a false positive on a breath alcohol content test – but the inhalers used to treat asthma might. Some inhalers contain ethanol, which is exactly what you find in alcoholic drinks, so taking a Breathalyzer right after you use an inhaler can definitely create problems. (In addition, asthmatics sometimes have trouble performing breath tests due to the nature of their condition, and that can also lead to allegations that you’re purposefully underperforming on the test.)


Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or “GERD,” is a condition that causes stomach acid to flow upward from your stomach and into your esophagus. Even if you just had a single drink, that can cause more alcohol than normal from your stomach to reach your mouth, leading to a higher reading on a Breathalyzer – particularly if drinking spirits aggravate your underlying condition.

It’s important to note that if you have a medical condition (or suspect you have one) that could potentially affect your Breathalyzer results, you shouldn’t try to explain your way out of the charges. Anything you say is most certainly going into the police report, and you don’t want to inadvertently hand the prosecution ammunition they can use against you. It’s far better to invoke your right to remain silent until you’ve connected with an attorney who can advise you on the best way forward.

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