Change Your Life Today.

Pathways Recovery logo - horizontal

Alcohol Intolerance

alcohol intolerance

Do I Have an Alcohol Intolerance?

Two weeks ago, I went out with my friends. It was just another typical weekend. We chatted under the streetlights as we walked toward the next bar. Someone was probably talking about something crazy that happened at work, or about how their team has a shot at the Super Bowl this year.

I’d already had a few to drink. I had a nice buzz going, but I just wasn’t feeling well. That had become pretty typical for me. When we were waiting outside the bar, I actually started to feel really bad

When we finally walked into the bar, I, of course, ordered another drink. That’s when it hit me. I counted how many weekends in a row I’d gone out. It was a lot. Then I counted how many times I’d felt sick after just a couple of drinks. It was, well, a lot.

I didn’t want to say anything to my friends because I didn’t want them to call me a “lightweight” or make fun of me for “not being able to hold my alcohol.”

I did some research and found out that some people just have alcohol intolerance, which means their body is highly sensitive to alcohol and unable to tolerate it. It’s like people who can’t drink milk because they’re lactose intolerant. And you know what? I’m finally able to admit that’s OK. Alcohol is not for everyone.

I also now realize that despite some people being intolerant to alcohol, like myself, they continue to drink.

So, let’s talk about alcohol intolerance, other problems such as alcohol use disorder (the medical term for alcoholism), and what you can do if you’re dealing with one or the other, or both.

Signs of Alcohol Intolerance

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Alcohol intolerance can cause immediate, uncomfortable reactions after you drink alcohol. The most common signs and symptoms are stuffy nose and skin flushing. Alcohol intolerance is caused by a genetic condition in which the body can’t break down alcohol efficiently. The only way to prevent these uncomfortable reactions is to avoid alcohol.”

The reaction can be caused by various things found in alcohol, such as wheat, corn, or rye. Although rare, severe pain after drinking alcohol may be tied to Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Symptoms of alcohol intolerance include:

  • Flushing of the face
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hives (red skin bumps that itch)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Migraines (extremely bad headaches)
  • Severe allergic reaction, otherwise known as an anaphylactic reaction (a medical emergency)

If you’re experiencing severe pain or other symptoms, speak with a medical professional. It’s also wise to read labels before consuming foods or beverages to check for the inclusion of alcohol.

Overall, if you have alcohol intolerance, it’s advised to avoid alcohol altogether.

Can Alcohol Intolerance Be Managed or Cured?

As of now, there is no known cure for alcohol intolerance. The best way to manage it is to simply avoid alcohol altogether. However, some over-the-counter medications might help ease symptoms.

If you’re having symptoms of alcohol intolerance, you can speak with your doctor. Your doctor might perform a standard physical, or a skin allergy or blood test.

Before you head to the doctor, make a list of the symptoms you have while drinking alcohol, any medications you’re taking, and any questions you have. Many medical professionals agree that alcohol intolerance isn’t typically a serious issue as long as you refrain from drinking.

What Is Alcoholism/Alcohol Use Disorder?

If you continue to drink despite the negative symptoms caused by your alcohol intolerance, there’s a chance you may be battling alcohol use disorder.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) says, “For most adults, moderate alcohol use is probably not harmful. However, about 18 million adult Americans have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This means that their drinking causes distress and harm. AUD can range from mild to severe, depending on the symptoms. Severe AUD is sometimes called alcoholism or alcohol dependence.”

Alcohol use disorder can cause:

  • Strong cravings to drink
  • The inability to stop drinking once you’ve started
  • Having feelings of anxiety or irritability when you’re not drinking

If you think you’re battling AUD, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I continue drinking despite feeling ill because of it?
  • Have I ended up drinking more or for a longer time than I intended to?
  • Do I feel strong urges to drink?
  • Have I given up on activities I once enjoyed for alcohol?
  • Am I finding myself in dangerous situations because of alcohol?
  • Do I have to drink more to feel the effects of alcohol?
  • Do I spend a lot of time recovering from drinking?
  • Is alcohol causing problems between me and my family and friends?
  • Is alcohol negatively affecting my work life?
  • Do I keep drinking despite wanting to stop?
  • Am I experiencing withdrawal symptoms when I don’t drink?

If you’re experiencing any of these, there’s a chance you’re battling AUD. In fact, the more symptoms you’re having, the more severe your condition might be.

The Dangers of Alcohol Use Disorder

You‘ve probably heard by now that AUD can be a dangerous condition. There are both short-term and long-term issues it may cause.

In addition to AUD, excessive drinking can lead to other health concerns. Excessive drinking includes both binge drinking and heavy drinking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as having four or more drinks on a single occasion for women and five or more drinks on a single occasion for men. The CDC says heavy drinking is defined as women having eight or more drinks a week and men having 15 or more drinks a week.

Short-terms risks from consuming too much alcohol include:

  • Various injuries from dangerous activities such as driving
  • Alcohol poisoning (a medical emergency)
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol syndrome if you’re pregnant
  • Violent activities
  • Risky behaviors such as unprotected sex that may lead to sexually transmitted diseases

Long-term risks include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, or rectum
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive issues
  • Weakened immune system
  • Mental health problems
  • Memory problems
  • Problems at work or school

If you think you’re battling AUD, it’s OK to ask for help. No one should have to address that issue alone.

Is Now the Time to Get Help?

Do you feel alcohol has a grasp on your life? Do you want to stop drinking but can’t? Are you having any other symptoms we’ve discussed? Are you currently researching ways to combat AUD? If so, now is the time to get the help you need.

Professional treatment can help keep you safe and on the right path as you move on to a life without alcohol. So many people have been in your shoes, and so many have walked away victorious. It can be done.

Pathways Recovery Is Here for You

Do not be ashamed if you need rehab for alcoholism. It can be conquered. Even if this condition is causing problems in your personal or professional life, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you want to stop drinking, if you want to live a healthier life, if you want to take your life back, you can take the first step today.

Alcohol use disorder can be difficult to manage on your own. Thankfully, you don’t have to. Professional treatment can give you the tools you’ll need to overcome even the most severe case of this condition.

Please remember you’re not alone. Help is available.

Pathways Recovery, located near Sacramento, California, provides three levels of addiction treatment solutions for men battling an addiction to alcohol, including a detox center, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient treatment. To learn more, call (916) 735-8377.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you develop an alcohol intolerance?

It is possible to develop an alcohol intolerance at some point in life. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed in this blog post, avoiding alcohol altogether might be your best bet.

How do I know if I have alcohol intolerance?

Alcohol intolerance can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Flushing of the face
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hives (red skin bumps that itch)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Migraines (extremely bad headaches)
  • Severe allergic reaction, otherwise known as an anaphylactic reaction (a medical emergency)

You may also want to check the ingredients of foods or drinks before consuming them as they may contain alcohol. You could be intolerant to things like rye, wheat, or corn. These are all ingredients found in some alcoholic beverages.

Why am I suddenly so sensitive to alcohol?

If you’re sensitive to alcohol, it’s possible you may be intolerant to it. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of alcohol intolerance, it’s best to speak with a medical professional about the issue. Before you visit with them, make a list of the symptoms you’re having and any questions you may have. This will make the process much easier and will help in determining whether or not you have alcohol intolerance.

How do I stop being intolerant to alcohol?

There is no known cure for alcohol intolerance. The best way to manage it is to simply avoid alcohol altogether. In some cases, over-the-counter medications might help ease symptoms.