Drunk from antibiotics?
Antibiotics have been around for nearly a century and they are, without a doubt, incredibly important, lifesaving medications. They’re commonly prescribed to treat skin, bladder, ear, kidney, and oral infections; strep throat; bacterial pneumonia; and meningitis.
Before the discovery of antibiotics, it wasn’t unusual for someone to die from minor illnesses like strep throat. Surgery was far riskier too, since infections couldn’t be as easily controlled. Today, thanks in large part to the advent of antibiotics, life expectancy has increased, surgeries have become safer, and once-dangerous infections can be knocked out in a short period of time.
But there’s a caveat: These drugs need to be used properly.
You should never take antibiotics to treat a viral infection like a cold, flu, or stomach bug. And you should never skip doses, save pills for a later time, or stop taking the drug prematurely, even if you feel better. This type of improper and inappropriate use has led to an epidemic of antibacterial resistance—where bacteria adapt over time and become immune to medications. These “superbugs” are hard to fight, and roughly 162,000 people die from these antibiotic-resistant infections.1
Side Effects of Antibiotics
Furthermore, antibiotics, like all drugs, come with risks. For most people, the side effects are minor and pale in comparison to the actual illness the drugs are treating. They include:
- Loss of appetite
- Throat tightness
- Hives (usually in the case of allergy)
For a very small subset of the population, antibiotics have a far stranger and potentially serious side effect: an issue known as auto-brewery syndrome (sometimes called gut fermentation syndrome). With this highly unusual condition, bacteria or yeast in the gut, through the process of fermentation, produce large amounts of ethanol (alcohol).
As you can probably guess, this results in signs and symptoms of intoxication and/or hangover in the patient, even if they haven’t consumed a single drop of actual alcohol. Symptoms include vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, loss of coordination, slurred speech, and disorientation. Sufferers report being pulled over for driving while intoxicated, getting fired from jobs because they appear or act drunk at work, and losing relationships.
Many people with auto-brewery syndrome have another underlying condition like diabetes, liver problems, or Crohn’s disease. But it can also occur in otherwise healthy individuals. This is where antibiotics come into play…
The cause of auto-brewery syndrome is “a perturbation of the gut microbiome…that allows fermenting microbes to over-colonize.”2 These disturbances can be caused by several things…a high-carbohydrate diet, for one, or the overuse of antibiotics.
In a case report published in August 2019, authors wrote about a patient with auto-brewery syndrome. He had taken a prolonged course of antibiotics before his symptoms began, and they hypothesized that the antibiotic “altered his gut microbiome, allowing fungal growth.”3
In another study of 52 patients with auto-brewery syndrome, survey responses found that, among other things, those with the condition had histories of excessive or prolonged antibiotic use compared to the control group. The researchers noted that, “The theory of a gut dysbiosis severe enough to cause intoxication has long rested on the fact that antibiotics are known to disturb the gut microbiota.”4
In laymen’s terms, antibiotics affect all the bacteria in the gut. They don’t discriminate. They not only kill harmful bacteria, but beneficial ones too. The dysbiosis (imbalance) that results after taking antibiotics can give pathogenic strains an edge. When not kept in check by friendly bacteria, they multiply out of control, and lead to a whole set of new problems.
Thankfully, in most people these issues are minor—diarrhea, upset stomach, and the other side effects listed earlier. But in a select few, the imbalance spirals out of control and auto-brewery syndrome results.
Treatments for auto-brewery syndrome include targeted drug/antifungal therapy to destroy the pathogenic strains of yeast or bacteria, as well as dietary changes that limit carbohydrates and sugar.
Probiotic supplements that include multiple strains of beneficial bacteria can also help to rebalance the gut. (In fact, daily probiotic supplements are a good idea for everyone, but especially those who are on antibiotics. They can help get your gut back into shape a lot faster and reduce risk of side effects. Just be sure to take the probiotics several hours after your dose of antibiotics, so that the drugs don’t kill off the beneficial bacteria.)
Long-term, probiotics, a low carbohydrate diet, and avoidance of antibiotics may help prevent relapse of auto-brewery syndrome.
When To Take Antibiotics?
While antibiotics have their place, they’re by no means innocuous. They effectively treat infections and even save lives, but when used excessively, carelessly, or improperly, they can have far more drawbacks than benefits.
Only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary, and be sure to follow instructions exactly. By doing so, you reduce the risk of serious complications and side effects.
And if you’re not already a daily probiotic user, it’s never too late to start. If you’re currently taking antibiotics, or you’re about to take antibiotics, NOW is the perfect time to invest in a high-quality probiotic.
Newport Natural Health, for example, offers a probiotic formula made up of six unique strains of beneficial bacteria, each conferring its own benefit to the gut, the immune system and the body as a whole. Plus, it’s microencapsulated to ensure all 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) can survive your powerful stomach acids and arrive safely in the intestines, where they do their most important work. You can learn more about this top-notch probiotic here.
- The Stealth Superbug Epidemic. March 4, 2019. Last accessed Nov. 7, 2019.
- Painter K, Cordell B, Sticco K. Auto-Brewery Syndrome (Gut Fermentation). October 9, 2019. Last accessed Nov. 7, 2019.
- Malik F, et al. Case Report and Literature Review of Auto-Brewery Syndrome: Probably an Underdiagnosed Medical Condition. BMJ Open Gastroenterol. 2019 Aug 5;6(1):e000325. Last accessed Nov. 7. 2019.
- Cordell BJ, et al. Case-Control Research Study of Auto-Brewery Syndrome. Glob Adv Health Med. 2019 Apr 18;8: 2164956119837566. Last accessed Nov. 7, 2019.
Last Updated: May 22, 2021