Alcohol Intolerance

What is Alcohol Intolerance?

Alcohol intolerance is a genetic condition that keeps the body from breaking down the alcohol, can result in nausea and headaches, and can only be prevented by avoiding alcohol completely.

Alcohol is toxic to the body when it can’t be broken down and triggers the immune system which brings about allergic reactions.  Most people have the enzyme Aldehyde Dehydrogenase which converts alcohol into vinegar.  Some individuals react negatively to the various chemicals, grains, and preservatives used to make the alcohol.  Certain medications can cause adverse reactions when mixed with alcohol and, in some cases, negative reactions to alcohol can be the sign of serious health conditions.

What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Intolerance?

Below are the symptoms of alcohol intolerance. Though symptoms are mild you may need to contact a doctor if symptoms worsen or cause severe pain.

Symptoms include

Skin flushing, nasal congestion, nausea, increased heart rate, worsening of asthma, rashes, abdominal pain, heartburn, etc.  It is estimated that about 50% of Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese are deficient in the enzyme Aldehyde Dehydrogenase that is needed to break down alcohol.

Alcohol Intolerance Causes

The way that your body intakes alcohol and maneuvers it through the body is the leading cause of alcohol intolerance. There is an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase, or ALDH2, that makes the alcohol metabolize, turning it into acid that goes directly to the liver. When someone suffers from alcohol intolerance, drinking any type of alcohol does not agree with them because it is not metabolizing the way it was intended to.

Alcohol allergy is somewhat different. If you have an allergy to alcohol, you cannot drink it at all or if you know what exactly makes an allergic reaction happen, such as a certain ingredient, you can avoid it. A person with an alcohol intolerance can drink alcohol, with moderation.

How is Alcohol Intolerance Treated?

There is no cure for Alcohol Intolerance and a physician may have individuals avoid the consumption of alcoholic beverages for about four weeks and then gradually allow the reintroduction of alcoholic beverages to see if alcohol in general is to blame or whether a certain type of alcoholic beverage is to the cause.

Alcohol Intolerance Prevention

Adverse side effects when drinking alcohol is not something that is preventable. You cannot control how your body will react to certain adult beverages or the different concoctions that bartenders gloss them up with. However, staying away from those ingredients or mixtures that have caused a bad reaction in the past is one way.

Try to be aware of what is in the drink. This may be hard due to the fact that several drinks do not feature all of the ingredients that actually use. Also, when was the last time you asked the bartender the specifics about what you were sipping?

While it is not treatable entirely, a doctor can advise which alcohol to stop using. They may also be able to prescribe a medication that takes away some discomforts, but it will not take the intolerance away.

Make sure you know the signs of alcohol intolerance. Symptoms are similar to that of an allergy to alcohol. These could include increased heartbeat, vomiting, headache, and nausea. If your alcohol intolerance has anything to do with a bad digestion for alcohol, your face could show a red tone and be warm to the touch.

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Last Reviewed:
September 30, 2016
Last Updated:
November 03, 2017