Alcohol intolerance is a real and often underdiagnosed condition. It’s not the same as an alcohol allergy, but it can be just as serious. If you have alcohol intolerance, drinking even a small amount of alcohol can cause uncomfortable symptoms like flushing, headache, and nausea.
Unfortunately, many people with alcohol intolerance don’t know they have it until they have a reaction. And, since reactions can vary from person to person, it can be hard to diagnose.
Alcohol intolerance can be particularly problematic if you have developed a dependence on, or have be diagnosed with an addiction to alcohol, as repeated exposure to alcohol can make the symptoms more dangerous.
In this article, we will explore what alcohol intolerance is, its symptoms, and how to get help if you think you may have it but are finding it difficult to stop consuming alcohol or might be unsure about what is the first step toward getting treatment for alcohol addiction.
What Is Alcohol Intolerance?
Alcohol intolerance is a condition in which a person has difficulty digesting alcohol. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Alcohol intolerance is different from alcohol dependence or addiction, and it is also different from having an allergy to alcohol.
Those who do suffer from alcohol dependence or addiction, however, may be affected to a much greater extent than those who do not.
The Different Types of Alcohol Intolerance
There are different types of alcohol intolerance, and each type has its own set of symptoms. The most common type of alcohol intolerance is called histamine intolerance. This type of alcohol intolerance is caused by an accumulation of histamines in the body.
Histamines are chemicals that are released by the body in response to an allergen. When there is an accumulation of histamines in the body, it can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Skin flushing
- Itchy eyes
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
Another less common type of alcohol intolerance is called sulfite sensitivity. This type of alcohol intolerance is caused by a sensitivity to sulfites, which are added to some alcoholic beverages as a preservative. Sulfites can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Throat irritation
Causes of Alcohol Intolerance
There are many potential causes of alcohol intolerance. One common cause is an allergy to yeast.
This can cause a histamine reaction after eating bread or drinking beer or wine. Other potential allergies that can make alcohol intolerance worse include reactions to preservatives, such as sulfites, found in some alcoholic beverages.
Some people may also be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol because of their genetic makeup. People of Asian descent, for example, tend to have a higher rate of alcohol intolerance than other groups. If both parents are intolerant to alcohol, there is a greater chance that their children will be as well. Additionally, alcohol intolerance may develop over time due to repeated exposure to alcohol.
Among all causes, intolerance is most commonly due to a lack of the enzyme needed to break down alcohol. This is called Alcohol Dehydrogenase Deficiency (ADH). People with ADH can't process alcohol properly, and it builds up in their system, leading to symptoms like flushing, nausea, and headache.
In other cases, alcohol intolerance may be the result of a medical condition. For example, certain medications can cause people to be more sensitive to the effects of drinking, which might not be identified until you visit an alcohol rehab center or get professional help. Conditions that affect the digestive system, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, can make it difficult for the body to process alcohol properly.
Whatever the cause, alcohol intolerance can be a very unpleasant experience. Symptoms can range from mild (such as skin flushing) to severe (such as difficulty breathing). If you think you may be intolerant to alcohol, it's important to see your doctor to get a diagnosis and find out what treatment options are available.
Alcohol Intolerance Symptoms
There are many symptoms of alcohol intolerance, and they can vary from person to person. The most common symptom is a flushed face after drinking alcohol. Other symptoms can include:
- Stomach pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
If you experience any of these symptoms after drinking alcohol, it's important to see your doctor to rule out other potential causes, such as allergies, which could lead to a severe allergic reaction.
Diagnosing Alcohol Intolerance
There are several ways to diagnose alcohol intolerance. The most common method is to take a comprehensive medical history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may also recommend blood tests to rule out other conditions.
If you have symptoms that suggest alcohol intolerance, your doctor will likely ask about your family history, as alcohol intolerance can be passed down from generation to generation.
Your doctor may also want to know what kinds of foods you eat and how often you drink alcohol. He or she may ask you to keep a food diary for a week or two. This will help your doctor identify any patterns between your symptoms and what you're eating or drinking.
Once your doctor has all of the information, he or she will be able to make a diagnosis. If you have alcohol intolerance, there are several treatment options available.
Treating Alcohol Intolerance
There are a few things you can do to treat alcohol intolerance.
First, you could try taking an over-the-counter medication like cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra). These will help to lessen the symptoms of histamine intolerance.
Second, you can avoid alcohol altogether. This may not be ideal for everyone, but it is the best way to prevent any reactions from occurring.
Third, you can try a low-histamine diet. This involves avoiding foods that are high in histamines and eating foods that help to promote gut health. Some good gut-friendly foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, bone broth, and Probiotics.
Fourth, you can take supplements to help reduce the symptoms of histamine intolerance. Vitamins C and B6 are known to help with this condition. You can also try taking a Quercetin supplement which is known to have antihistamine properties.
If you suffer from alcohol intolerance but are finding it difficult to stop drinking alcohol, you may have an alcohol addiction. If you do, it’s important to reach out for help to recover from it sooner rather than later. The negative effects of alcohol abuse can be much greater for those who are intolerant to alcohol.
Does Alcohol Intolerance Get Worse Over Time?
Yes, alcohol intolerance can get worse over time. If you have alcohol intolerance, you may find that your symptoms get worse the more alcohol you drink. You may also find that your tolerance for alcohol decreases over time. This means that you may need to drink less and less alcohol to experience the same symptoms.
Is There a Cure for Alcohol Intolerance?
There is currently no known cure for alcohol intolerance. However, there are ways to manage the condition to make it more tolerable. There are also medications that can help to reduce the symptoms of alcohol intolerance. Some people may find that they can eventually tolerate small amounts of alcohol without any problems. However, others may find that they need to avoid alcohol altogether.
Alcohol intolerance is a condition that occurs when your body cannot properly process alcohol. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including skin flushing, headache, nausea, and vomiting. If you think you may be intolerant to alcohol, it's important to talk to your doctor so that they can help you identify the best course of treatment. There are many ways to manage alcohol intolerance, but the most effective is to stop consuming alcohol.
If you’re finding it difficult to stop consuming alcohol, it’s important to reach out for help. Counseling or an inpatient or outpatient rehab program is key to the recovery of many who abuse alcohol.
Miracles Asia runs a state-of-the-art rehab facility on the island of Phuket, Thailand. If you would like to find out more about how we could help you break free from an addiction to alcohol, don’t hesitate to get in touch.