It’s the middle of summer and you’re out on a boat with your friends, enjoying a nice day on the water. You’ve been hanging out in the sun all day, but feeling fine. Suddenly, you start feeling drunk – even though you haven’t had any alcoholic drinks. What’s going on? You may be experiencing “drunkenness” without drinking – a condition that is more common than you think.
But before I delve into what causes this, let me first explain what I mean by “drunkenness without drinking.” This refers to the sensation of feeling drunk – or inebriated – even though you have not consumed any alcohol. You may feel dizzy, lightheaded, or even nauseous. Your speech may be slurred and you may have trouble standing up or walking. In short, you may feel like you’ve had too much alcohol… even though you haven’t had a drop.
And to be clear, I want to state that I’m not talking about feeling “tipsy” after drinking a soda or eating something sugary. I’m talking about feeling full-on drunk – like you’ve had too many cocktails – without actually drinking any alcohol.
What can cause a drunk feeling?
Full disclaimer, I’m not a medical professional – so I can’t give you a definite answer. But there are a few potential explanations for why you may feel drunk even though you have a low blood alcohol concentration, or haven’t had an alcoholic drink at all.
Here are some of the most common causes:
- Dehydration: When you’re dehydrated, your body isn’t able to function as well as it should. This can lead to feeling drunk and lightheaded.
- Low blood sugar: When your blood sugar is low, you may feel dizzy, shaky, and tired. This can make it difficult to focus and think clearly – feeling like you’re drunk.
- Medications: Some medications can cause side effects that include feeling drunk or lightheaded. If you’re taking any medication, be sure to check with your doctor to see if this is a possible side effect.
- Illness: If you’re feeling sick, you may also feel drunk. This is because your body isn’t able to process alcohol properly when you’re ill.
- Auto Brewery Syndrome: In very rare cases, a person can experience drunkenness without drinking due to a condition called an auto-brewery syndrome. This is a rare condition where yeast in the gut ferments sugar into alcohol, causing the person to feel drunk. This is most commonly seen in people with diabetes but can occur in anyone.
- An inner ear infection: An inner ear infection can also cause a person to feel drunk. This is because the infection can affect your balance and lead to feeling lightheaded and off balance.
If you are feeling scared, it is very important to go and see a doctor. They will be able to give you a full diagnosis and rule out any other potential causes.
Can an inner ear infection cause me to feel drunk?
Yes, an inner ear infection can cause you to feel drunk. This is because the infection can affect your balance and make you feel lightheaded and unsteady on your feet. If you’re feeling sick and have an inner ear infection, it’s best to see a doctor to get treated.
I say this as someone who has experienced feeling “drunk” without drinking. A few years ago, I went on a cruise with my family. I had been looking forward to it for months and was so excited to finally be on vacation.
But shortly after we set sail, I started feeling really strange. I felt dizzy and lightheaded, and my speech was slurred. I had trouble walking and standing up. In short, I felt like I had had too much to drink – even though I hadn’t had a single drop of alcohol. In fact, my blood alcohol level was zero, since I hadn’t had anything to drink.
I went to the ship’s doctor, who did some tests and ruled out dehydration and low blood sugar. He then told me that it was likely due to an inner ear infection and prescribed me some medication.
After taking the medication, I started feeling better. But it was a really scary experience – especially since I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
If you’re feeling “drunk” without drinking, my best advice is to see a doctor. They will be able to rule out any potential causes and help you feel better.
What’s Auto Brewery Syndrome?
Auto brewery syndrome (also known as gut fermentation syndrome, auto-brewery ileitis, or intestinal alcohol syndrome) is when your small and large intestines produce alcohol due to an overgrowth of yeast fermenting carbohydrates. Signs and symptoms of this condition may include feeling drunk even though you haven’t had any alcoholic drinks, feeling hungover after a night of sleep, and/or having a “yeasty” smell on your breath. If you think you may have this condition, it’s important to see a doctor so they can properly diagnose and treat you.
A friend of mine was diagnosed with auto-brewery syndrome a few years ago. He told me that he had always been a heavy drinker and would often wake up feeling hungover – even if he hadn’t had any alcohol the night before.
He said that his doctors did some tests and found that he had high levels of yeast in his small intestine. They told him that the yeast was fermenting carbohydrates and causing him to feel drunk. He was treated with a course of antibiotics, and his symptoms went away.
Even a small amount of alcohol being generated in your gut is enough to slow your reaction times, and you may not even realize that you’re drunk driving.
So, if you think you may have this condition, it’s important to see a doctor and get properly diagnosed.
Oh, and obviously don’t do this.
How can I avoid feeling drunk without drinking?
There are a few things you can do to avoid feeling drunk when you’re sober, as long as you’re reasonably certain that it wasn’t caused by a serious medical condition:
- Drink plenty of water: This will help to prevent dehydration and keep your body functioning properly. Many people simply forget to drink water when they’re having a good time.
- Eat regularly: Eating regular meals will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent dizziness and lightheadedness. This can prevent feeling drunk from low blood sugar.
- Avoid alcohol: If you’re feeling drunk without drinking, it’s best to avoid any further alcohol consumption. This will help your body to recover more quickly.
- Seek medical help: If you are feeling extremely ill or dizzy, and cannot seem to shake the drunken feeling, please seek medical attention. There may be an underlying medical condition causing your symptoms.
- Get plenty of sleep: When you’re tired, your body isn’t able to function as well. This can lead to feeling drunk and out of control. Make sure to get plenty of rest if you plan on drinking alcohol.
And while this may seem obvious, one of the best ways to avoid feeling drunk when you’re sober is to simply not drink alcohol. If you don’t drink, you can’t get drunk!
The effects of alcohol can sneak up on a person, even if they think they’re “not drinking”.
When should I seek help?
If you are feeling extremely ill or dizzy, and cannot seem to shake the drunken feeling, please seek medical attention. There may be an underlying medical condition causing your symptoms. So call a friend or loved one, and ask them to take you to get checked out. Maybe you just overexerted yourself, but better safe than sorry.
As crazy as this story sounds, I’ve known people that have had so many alcoholic beverages that they forgot they had even been drinking. They had alcohol poisoning and didn’t realize it until it was too late. So if you think you may have had too much to drink, seek help immediately.
This is especially common with young people, and it takes more than a cold shower or a cup of coffee to sober up. If you or someone you know may have alcohol poisoning, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. They’ll check their bac levels, heart rate, and medical history to see if they can help.
Feeling drunk without drinking is a common problem that many people experience. But with a little knowledge and some simple precautions, you can avoid it altogether. Stay hydrated, eat regularly, and avoid alcohol if you’re feeling lightheaded or drunk. And if you are feeling extremely ill, please seek medical attention.
With a few simple steps, you can avoid feeling drunk without drinking. Cheers!