Diabetes and DUI Impairment

Updated on April 16th, 2024 at 08:17 pm

Type 1 diabetes is an incurable disease that occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce its own insulin. Insulin is required to regulate blood sugar levels. Individuals with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood sugar levels on their own through a combination of insulin, diet control, and medication.

This leaves far more room for error, as a person with diabetes can either have high blood glucose levels (Hyperglycemia) or low blood glucose levels (Hypoglycemia). Each medical condition can have serious health effects.

Can Low Blood Sugar Mimic Intoxication?

People with diabetes can be at risk of facing unfair charges for driving under the influence. Something like this may happen because the symptoms of low blood sugar levels can be very similar to the signs of alcohol impairment. Based on these symptoms, law enforcement officers may decide to perform DUI breath tests.

Diabetics are also prone to the production of ketones, which may be excreted in the breath and cause the person to test positive on a breath-testing device. Because of this, the driver may face a DC DUI arrest.

Can Hypoglycemia Mimic Intoxication?

When diabetics have low blood sugar levels and, therefore, more insulin in their blood than the carbohydrates that the insulin is breaking down, it is called hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar levels can be a result of skipping a meal, exercising too much, or taking too much insulin.

Hypoglycemic symptoms mirror those of intoxication. People who do not have diabetes can still have a brief hypoglycemic episode, especially those who are on low-carb diets or have not eaten recently.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, people with too much sugar in their blood suffer from hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemics experience different symptoms that also can be misconstrued as effects of alcohol by a law enforcement officer.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include sweating, blurred vision, shaking, slurred speech, delayed reflexes, and lightheadedness. When police officers notice these symptoms, they are likely to ask you to complete a field sobriety test. Due to the decreased ability to function, it is unlikely that a person having a hypoglycemic episode will pass the field sobriety tests. Failing a DUI breath test may result in a DUI investigation.

Can You be Charged with DUI Due to Hypoglycemia if You Don’t Have Diabetes?

The answer to this question is yes – even if you don’t have diabetes, hypoglycemia can contribute to facing criminal charges for driving under the influence. Although hypoglycemia most commonly occurs in people who have diabetes, non-diabetics can also face these situations. Either way, you can be unfairly charged with drunk driving and face DUI arrest, as the symptoms of hypoglycemia will be the same, no matter if you have diabetes or not.

Symptoms of Hyperglycemia

When a person has a hyperglycemic episode, the body burns fat instead of carbs to use as energy. This leads to a buildup of ketones in the bloodstream, causing a distinct bad breath odor, which a police officer could misconstrue as an odor of alcohol. Additionally, people with excess sugar in the bloodstream will experience rapid heartbeat, labored breathing, thirst, drowsiness, and flushed face. A police officer may decide to perform DUI breath tests after noticing these symptoms and initiate a DUI investigation if the diabetic driver doesn’t pass the tests.

What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

Diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, is a severe complication of diabetes that occurs when the liver produces too many ketones that the body can’t eliminate. The buildup of these blood acids takes place when the body can’t produce enough insulin. The symptoms of this condition are similar to the symptoms of alcohol intoxication.

Often, law enforcement officers may arrest a person suffering from DKA because they mistake them for being under the influence of alcohol. The symptoms that may lead to DUI charges include sluggishness, poor balance, confusion, nausea, decreased coordination, a flushed face, and dry mouth.

Ketones Can Increase A Breath Test Reading Up To .06

Police officers can misread many symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia as indicators of intoxication. If this is the case, do not agree to a breath test. Ketones, which are produced during hyperglycemic episodes, are often misread by breathalyzers. Acetone, a byproduct of ketones, is released through your breath as isopropyl alcohol.

The equipment cannot differentiate the type of alcohol found and will read the isopropyl alcohol as ethyl alcohol, which is found in alcoholic beverages. This can increase your DUI breath test reading by as much as .06, which is only .02 below the legal limit.

How to Prevail in a DUI Charge

If you face drunk driving charges because your diabetes symptoms have been mistaken for signs of intoxication, it is still possible to prevail in your DUI case. In these situations, it is the best solution to hire lawyers who specialize in handling DUI cases.

Your legal defense will provide admissible evidence of your diabetes diagnosis and documentation concerning your blood sugar imbalances and help prove that you weren’t driving under the influence of alcohol at the moment of facing drunk driving charges.

What You Know About Diabetes and DUI

In Maryland and Washington D.C., you are legally obligated to disclose a diabetes diagnosis, submit to a medical evaluation, and complete a health questionnaire. If you did not disclose this when applying for your driver’s license, it can cause additional legal complications if you try to fight the charge based on diabetic complications.

Criminal Defense Lawyer for DUI Charges

If you have diabetes and have been charged with a DC DUI, your charges may be unjustified, and you should speak to a defense lawyer immediately. Bruckheim & Patel have extensive experience handling DUI charges, including ones with medical concerns that need to be investigated and looked at closely. Contact Bruckheim & Patel for a free case consultation at 202-930-3464.


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