What Medications Cause False Breathalyzer Test Readings?

Categories: DUI Defense

Man looking at breathalyzer test.

Believe it or not, some medications can cause a false reading on a Breathalyzer test. Imagine you are driving along and the police pull you over. During the stop, the officer informs you that he believes you are driving under the influence. You know you have not been drinking alcohol, and you submit to field sobriety exercises and a Breathalyzer test. To your shock and dismay, the test indicates that you are above the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level, and you are arrested for drunk driving. How could this possibly happen?

How Does a Breathalyzer Test Work?

In order to explore which medications can cause a false Breathalyzer test reading, it is helpful to understand what a Breathalyzer is and how it works. First, the name “Breathalyzer” is actually a brand name of one type of field sobriety testing device that tests a person’s breath in order to determine that person’s blood alcohol content. There are a number of other brands that are used by law enforcement, but Breathalizer has caught on as the most understood name for this kind of device—much like Band-Aid has become the understood name for an adhesive bandage strip.

The most common of these field sobriety devices is the electrochemical fuel cell testing device. There is a chemical reaction that takes place in the body as it oxidizes alcohol into acetaldehyde. This type of device measures that reaction and can detect alcohol in your bloodstream for up to 24 hours. However, in the short run, any alcohol that is in your mouth at the time you take the test will indicate alcohol in the bloodstream. This alcohol residue could be from an actual cocktail or from something as mundane as a mouthwash because alcohol remains in the mouth for approximately 15–20 minutes before it dissipates.

Medications That Can Cause a False Breathalyzer Test Reading

We take medications for many reasons. But some of these medications contain high amounts of alcohol or other substances that can cause a Breathalyzer to read higher levels of alcohol than what is actually present in the blood. Here are some of the medications that may cause a false reading.

Asthma Medications

These medications tend to stay in the body after they are inhaled. So if you have used your inhaler shortly before taking a BAC test, you could get a falsely elevated reading. The asthma medications that are known to show false positives on a BAC test are:

  • Albuterol – Also known as Salbutamol, this drug gives temporary relief from breathing issues related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.
  • Budesonide – This is a steroidal asthma treatment that also works to relieve symptoms from hay fever, allergies, rhinitis, and Crohn’s disease.
  • Salmeterol – This drug is used in inhalers for treating asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

So if you are asked to take a BAC breath test and have recently used your asthma medications, make a point of telling the test administrator which medication you took and when.

Oral Pain Relievers

Anbesol is a local anesthetic that is used to relieve mouth pain caused by things like toothaches or canker sores. Unfortunately, Anbesol contains 60% alcohol. So the fact that it is in your mouth and your mouth is oxidizing the alcohol could create an elevated alcohol content reading on the BAC test.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Most cold and flu medications as well as sleep aids contain alcohol. If you have recently used Nyquil, certain Vicks products, or any medication that contains alcohol, you could get an incorrect reading. In addition, if you consume a large number of cough drops before a BAC test, you could get a false reading.

Breath Sprays and Mouthwash

Although many breath sprays and mouthwash products contain large amounts of alcohol, they do not produce intoxication when used as directed. However, they may produce a higher reading on BAC breath tests. Some chewing gums may produce the same flawed result.

Furthermore, other medications like antidepressants, anti-seizure, and blood pressure medications can cause you to fail a physical field sobriety test, despite the fact that you are not intoxicated.

Other Causes of False Positives on a Breathalyzer Test

Not only do the medications mentioned above have the propensity to cause a false reading on a Breathalyzer test, other natural physical conditions may also result in false positives.

  • Gastronomic Disorders like acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes stomach contents to flow back into the digestive tract. If the person has ingested even small amounts of alcohol, this would make that alcohol more prevalent in the person’s breath and potentially cause a false reading.
  • If the driver is on a high fat and protein diet, the ketone levels which lead to acetone in the breath can affect a breath test. People suffering from hypoglycemia may encounter the same issue.
  • Dental work, like bridges and caps, and denture adhesives can trap alcohol in the mouth and therefore cause a false reading.
  • If the driver is a painter, nail technician, or other workers who are exposed to high amounts of acetone, they may be carrying high levels in their bloodstream. High levels of acetone have been known to cause false readings in Breathalyzer tests.

The fact that a Breathalyzer may give false readings is one of the many reasons why you should hire an experienced DUI law firm if you have been arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

We’re Here to Fight for You!

At the law offices of Mark S. Rubinstein, P.C., we take your freedom seriously! We know that a DUI conviction can negatively impact your life for years to come. This is why we challenge every step leading up to a DUI arrest – including the Breathalyzer results. And we don’t stop there. We also challenge the maintenance, reliability, and calibration of the Breathalyzer unit as well as if the officer received sufficient training and/or followed proper protocol when administering the test.

Don’t let a DUI arrest ruin your life. Let us fight to protect your rights! If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, give our office a call or contact us online today!

Mark Rubinstein

Attorney Mark S. Rubinstein has been practicing law for more than 30 years, including 25 years in Colorado. He founded Mark S. Rubinstein, P.C., in Carbondale after working for law firms in Denver and earlier in his career in San Diego. He focuses his practice in the areas of criminal defense and personal injury representation, and he is well known throughout western Colorado as an effective and unwavering advocate for his clients.