Alcohol Intolerance: Symtoms, Causes and Treatment

Is alcohol turning against you? Learn the warning signs, causes, and treatment of alcohol intolerance, and take control of your health today.

Understanding Alcohol Intolerance

When it comes to enjoying alcoholic beverages, some individuals may experience alcohol intolerance, which can lead to a range of unpleasant symptoms. Understanding what alcohol intolerance is and how it differs from allergy or sensitivity is important for those who may be affected.

What is Alcohol Intolerance?

Alcohol intolerance refers to the body's inability to properly break down and metabolize alcohol. When alcohol is consumed, it is normally broken down into acetaldehyde, a toxic substance that is further processed by enzymes in the body. However, individuals with alcohol intolerance lack the necessary enzymes to efficiently metabolize acetaldehyde, leading to the accumulation of this toxic substance in the body.

The symptoms of alcohol intolerance can vary from person to person, but they often include digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Other common symptoms may include headache, flushing, rapid heartbeat, and low blood pressure.

How Does Alcohol Intolerance Differ from Allergy or Sensitivity?

It's important to note that alcohol intolerance is different from alcohol allergy or sensitivity. While the symptoms may overlap, the underlying mechanisms and effects on the body are distinct.

Alcohol allergy is a rare condition in which the immune system reacts to the presence of alcohol or specific components of alcoholic beverages. This immune response can result in symptoms such as hives, rash, itching, swelling, and even difficulty breathing. If you suspect you may have an alcohol allergy, it is crucial to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and guidance.

On the other hand, alcohol sensitivity refers to the heightened response to the effects of alcohol, even in small amounts. This can result in symptoms such as flushing, rapid heartbeat, and nausea. Unlike alcohol intolerance, alcohol sensitivity does not involve a deficiency of specific enzymes but is rather a heightened sensitivity to alcohol's effects.

Understanding the differences between alcohol intolerance, allergy, and sensitivity can help individuals identify and manage their symptoms more effectively. If you experience adverse reactions to alcohol, keeping a symptom diary and consulting with a healthcare professional can provide valuable insights and guidance.

Common Symptoms of Alcohol Intolerance

Alcohol intolerance can manifest in various ways, with symptoms ranging from digestive issues to skin reactions and respiratory symptoms. It's important to be aware of these symptoms to identify and manage alcohol intolerance effectively. Here are some common symptoms to watch out for:

Digestive Symptoms

Digestive symptoms are among the most prevalent signs of alcohol intolerance. They can occur shortly after consuming alcoholic beverages and may include:

  • Nausea: Feeling queasy or experiencing the urge to vomit.
  • Abdominal pain: Discomfort or cramping in the stomach area.
  • Diarrhea: Frequent and loose bowel movements, often accompanied by urgency.

Skin Reactions

Skin reactions are another hallmark of alcohol intolerance. These reactions can vary in severity and may present as:

  • Rashes: Red, itchy, or inflamed patches of skin. Some individuals may develop a condition known as alcohol intolerance rash.
  • Flushing: A sudden reddening of the face, neck, or chest, often accompanied by a warm or burning sensation.
  • Hives: Raised, itchy bumps on the skin that can appear in various areas of the body.

Respiratory Symptoms

In some cases, alcohol intolerance can lead to respiratory symptoms, particularly in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions. These symptoms may include:

  • Nasal congestion: Stuffy or blocked nose.
  • Sneezing: Frequent sneezing or an itchy nose.
  • Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing or a sensation of breathlessness.

Other Possible Symptoms

Apart from the aforementioned symptoms, alcohol intolerance can occasionally cause additional reactions, such as:

  • Headache: A throbbing or pounding sensation in the head, often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Dizziness: Feeling lightheaded or experiencing a spinning sensation.
  • Rapid heartbeat: An increased heart rate or palpitations.

It's important to note that alcohol intolerance is different from an alcohol allergy or sensitivity.

By recognizing these common symptoms of alcohol intolerance, individuals can take appropriate measures to manage their condition. It's recommended to keep a symptom diary and seek medical advice for a proper diagnosis.

Factors Contributing to Alcohol Intolerance

Alcohol intolerance can occur due to a variety of factors. Understanding these factors is essential in identifying and managing the condition. Here are three key factors that contribute to alcohol intolerance: genetic factors, enzyme deficiency, and other underlying health conditions.

Genetic Factors

Genetics play a significant role in alcohol intolerance. Some individuals may have inherited genetic variations that affect their ability to metabolize alcohol efficiently. For example, a specific gene variant called ALDH2*2 is more commonly found in individuals of Asian descent and can result in a condition known as Asian flush. People with this gene variant experience symptoms such as facial flushing, rapid heartbeat, and nausea after consuming alcohol. T

Enzyme Deficiency

Enzymes are responsible for breaking down alcohol in the body. One enzyme involved in alcohol metabolism is alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). In some cases, individuals may have a deficiency or variations in the genes that produce ADH, leading to impaired alcohol metabolism. As a result, alcohol lingers in the body for longer periods, causing adverse reactions and symptoms associated with alcohol intolerance.

Other Underlying Health Conditions

Certain underlying health conditions can contribute to alcohol intolerance. For example, individuals with gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), may experience digestive symptoms like diarrhea or acid reflux when they consume alcohol. Additionally, individuals with conditions affecting the liver, such as liver disease or hepatitis, may have a reduced ability to process alcohol, leading to increased sensitivity and intolerance.

It's important to note that these factors can vary from person to person. Some individuals may experience alcohol intolerance due to a combination of genetic factors, enzyme deficiencies, and underlying health conditions. If you suspect alcohol intolerance, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and personalized guidance.

By understanding the factors contributing to alcohol intolerance, you can gain insight into the underlying mechanisms and potential triggers. This knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions about your alcohol consumption and take appropriate steps to manage and prevent symptoms. If you suspect alcohol intolerance, it's recommended to seek medical advice and explore the available treatment options.

Identifying Alcohol Intolerance

If you suspect that you may have alcohol intolerance, it's important to identify and understand the symptoms you experience. While alcohol intolerance can vary from person to person, there are a few common methods that can help you in identifying whether you have alcohol intolerance or not. Two useful methods include keeping a symptom diary and seeking medical advice and testing.

Keeping a Symptom Diary

Keeping a symptom diary can be a helpful tool in identifying patterns and triggers associated with your alcohol intolerance. Whenever you consume alcoholic beverages, make a note of any symptoms you experience and their severity. Some common symptoms of alcohol intolerance include:

  • Digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Skin reactions like flushing, rashes, or hives.
  • Respiratory symptoms including wheezing, shortness of breath, or congestion.
  • Other possible symptoms like headaches, dizziness, or rapid heartbeat.

By maintaining a symptom diary, you can identify any consistent patterns or triggers that may be related to your alcohol intolerance. This information can be valuable when discussing your symptoms with a healthcare professional.

What to Do if You Experience Alcohol Intolerance

If you experience any of these symptoms after drinking alcohol, it's essential to take steps to prevent any further harm. Here are some tips:

  • Limit your alcohol intake or avoid alcohol altogether.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water or other non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Eat before or while drinking to slow down alcohol absorption.
  • Seek medical attention if your symptoms are severe or persistent.

Remember, alcohol intolerance is not a sign of weakness, and it's not something to be ashamed of. It's a medical condition that affects many people worldwide, and it's essential to identify the warning signs to prevent any further harm.

Seeking Medical Advice and Testing

If you suspect that you have alcohol intolerance, it is advisable to seek medical advice. A healthcare professional can evaluate your symptoms, medical history, and conduct tests to confirm an alcohol intolerance diagnosis. They may recommend specific tests, such as blood tests or skin prick tests, to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and rule out other conditions.

Remember, self-diagnosis may lead to incorrect assumptions and unnecessary restrictions. Seeking medical advice will provide you with a more accurate understanding of your condition and allow you to explore appropriate treatment options.

By keeping a symptom diary and consulting with a healthcare professional, you can gain a better understanding of your alcohol intolerance and take appropriate steps to manage your symptoms.

Managing Alcohol Intolerance

If you experience symptoms of alcohol intolerance, it's important to manage your condition appropriately to prevent discomfort and potential health risks. Here are some strategies for effectively managing alcohol intolerance:

Avoidance of Triggering Beverages

The first step in managing alcohol intolerance is to identify and avoid the specific beverages that trigger your symptoms. Keep a record of the drinks that cause adverse reactions and steer clear of them in the future. This may involve avoiding certain types of alcohol, such as beer, wine, or spirits, or even specific brands. For individuals with known triggers, like alcohol intolerance rash or alcohol intolerance Asian flush, it's crucial to be mindful of their specific sensitivity.

Alternatives to Alcoholic Drinks

If you still want to enjoy social situations without consuming alcoholic beverages, there are plenty of alternatives available. Consider opting for mocktails or non-alcoholic beers that resemble the taste and appearance of traditional drinks but do not contain alcohol. Additionally, a wide range of non-alcoholic cocktails and alcohol-free spirits are now on the market, allowing you to savor the flavors and experience of a cocktail without the negative effects of alcohol.

Moderation and Responsible Drinking

For individuals with milder symptoms of alcohol intolerance, moderation and responsible drinking may be an option. This involves being mindful of your alcohol consumption, spacing out drinks, and staying within recommended limits. By drinking slowly and in moderation, you may be able to reduce the severity of your symptoms. However, it's important to note that this approach may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with more severe reactions or underlying health conditions. Always prioritize your health and consult a healthcare professional if necessary.

By implementing these strategies, you can effectively manage your alcohol intolerance and still enjoy social occasions without compromising your well-being. Remember, everyone's tolerance and triggers are unique, so it's essential to listen to your body and make choices that best suit your individual needs.

FAQs About Alcohol Intolerance

Q: Can alcohol intolerance develop over time?

A: Yes, alcohol intolerance can develop over time due to various factors such as age, genetics, and lifestyle changes. It's important to monitor your body's reaction to alcohol and seek medical advice if you experience any adverse effects.

Q: Is there a cure for alcohol intolerance?

A: There is no cure for alcohol intolerance, but it can be managed by avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption. If you're experiencing severe symptoms or have an underlying medical condition, it's essential to seek medical attention.

Q: Are there any tests for alcohol intolerance?

A: Currently, there are no specific tests to diagnose alcohol intolerance. However, your doctor may perform various tests to rule out other medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms.

Q: Can medication help with alcohol intolerance?

A: There is currently no medication available that can treat alcohol intolerance directly. However, some medications can help manage the symptoms of alcohol intolerance such as antihistamines for skin reactions and nausea medication.

Q: Is there a difference between allergies and intolerances to alcohol?

A: Yes, allergies and intolerances are two different conditions. Allergies occur when the immune system reacts negatively to a substance in the body, whereas intolerances occur when the body cannot properly break down and process a substance. If you think you may have an allergy or intolerance to alcohol, it's important to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Alcohol intolerance is a medical condition that affects many people worldwide, and it's essential to identify the warning signs to prevent any further harm. If you experience alcohol intolerance, it's important to prioritize your health and well-being by taking steps to limit or avoid alcohol intake. Remember, there's no shame in admitting that alcohol is not for you, and there are plenty of other ways to socialize and celebrate without it.

In conclusion, recognizing the warning signs of alcohol intolerance can help prevent adverse reactions and ensure your safety. By taking steps to limit or avoid alcohol intake, staying hydrated, eating before or while drinking, and seeking medical attention if necessary, you can protect yourself from the harmful effects of alcohol intolerance. It's important to prioritize your health over societal pressure or expectations when it comes to drinking.


Mayo Clinic: Alcohol Intolerance

Verywell Health: Alcohol Allergies and Intolerance

Cleveland Clinic: Alcohol Intolerance