Alcohol Intolerance – Causes, Symptoms, And Addiction Treatment Options

Alcohol intolerance is when a person experiences an immediate reaction to drinking alcohol, most commonly in the form of the skin flushing or a stuffy nose. This is the result of a genetic condition that causes the body to be unable to break down alcohol. People with even a mild alcohol intolerance should avoid alcohol.

Alcohol Intolerance – Causes, Symptoms, And Addiction Treatment Options

Alcohol intolerance is an inherited metabolic disorder that will cause unpleasant sensations and digestive upset. When alcohol is consumed, those who have alcohol intolerance will experience a variety of symptoms that tax their bodies. Combining heavy alcohol use or addiction with alcohol intolerance can result in painful and potentially long-term effects on the body.

What is Alcohol Intolerance?

Alcohol intolerance is an adverse reaction within the body when alcohol is ingested. The body tries to rid itself of alcohol before fully processing it. The body cannot process the alcohol because it lacks the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) enzyme.

ALDH2 is used by the body to break down acetaldehyde, which is a compound that builds up within the body as a person drinks. Without the enzymes to break down acetaldehyde, a person will experience a variety of uncomfortable and often painful symptoms.

Symptoms of alcohol intolerance include:

  • facial redness (flushing)
  • red and itchy skin bumps (hives)
  • nasal congestion
  • worsening of preexisting asthma conditions
  • low blood pressure
  • a fluttering of the heart
  • hot flashes
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headaches and hypertension
  • swelling of the lips or tongue
  • coughing
  • fainting or chest pain
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • diarrhea

By definition, the lack of enzymes within the body is the reason for alcohol intolerance. However, since symptoms can present very similarly, it is common for people to confuse alcohol intolerance with an alcohol allergy.

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Alcohol Intolerance Vs. Alcohol Allergy

Alcohol intolerance and an alcohol allergy are often considered the same thing, and in some ways, they are very similar. Symptoms of both conditions will begin immediately after alcohol is consumed. The rapid severity of the onset of symptoms can make it difficult to determine if the cause is an allergy or intolerance. However, while the symptoms may present the same way, the root cause of these health concerns are very different.

Alcohol intolerance is a genetic disorder caused by missing enzymes within the body, while an alcohol allergy is caused by an allergic reaction to the additives or substances used to create alcoholic drinks.

It is usually very rare for a person to be allergic to alcohol (ethanol) on its own. The main source of the allergy stems from components used to create and process alcoholic drinks.

Additives are combined with pure ethanol to make it palatable for consumption. These additives, and sometimes even the fermentation process for beer, wine, or hard liquor, are the main culprits of allergic reactions.

Some common allergens in alcoholic beverages include:

  • barley, hops, wheat, and rye
  • gluten and yeast
  • traces of egg or seafood proteins
  • histamines
  • sulfates
  • artificial fruit flavorings

If trace amounts of any of the above compounds are consumed in a drink by someone with asensitivity, they will develop symptoms. Alcohol allergies produce rashes, severe stomach cramps, and nausea. The reactions that are caused by an allergy are often more painful, achy, and itchy than those of an intolerance.

Alcohol Flush Syndrome

One of the more commonly known symptoms of alcohol intolerance is alcohol flush syndrome. Immediately after consuming alcohol, the skin on the face, neck, and chest will become red and warm. The flushing of the face is very common in a person who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol.

When a person experiences a facial flush, it is an indication that the body has a problem digesting and metabolizing alcohol. The deficiency of the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) is what causes this intolerance and sensitivity.

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Alcohol Intolerance Prevention And Skin Treatment Options

Some medicines, such as antihistamine creams or oral medication, may be able to help control flushing of the face or rashes caused by alcohol intolerance or allergies. However, some of these medications will mask the symptoms of a drinking problem and not address the root cause of the reaction.

Alcohol intolerance that is genetically inherited cannot be cured. However, there are ways to curb the harmful effects of both allergy and intolerance.

To do this, a person can:

  • Restrict or stop alcohol use completely.
  • Quit smoking or avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • Stop drinking alcohol when taking certain medications.
  • Seek medical attention to identify if your symptoms are intolerance or allergy.
  • Do not just rely on antihistamines to alleviate the symptoms.

Alcohol Intolerance And Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can still develop if someone has an alcohol allergy or alcohol intolerance.
Even when telltale symptoms of allergy or intolerance present themselves, people may continue to drink through adverse reactions to feel the pleasurable effects of alcohol.

Heavy drinking and alcohol intolerance may increase the risks of developing specific alcohol-related problems, such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • cancer of the mouth and throat
  • esophageal and gastric cancer
  • higher rates of liver disease (cirrhosis)
  • late-onset Alzheimer’s disease
  • hypertension

If someone you know has an alcohol intolerance and is abusing or addicted to alcohol, it’s important that he or she understands the potential higher risk of health consequences. If you abuse alcohol, stopping your alcohol intake may not be an easy process. An immediate bodily reaction to drinking alcohol is the first sign that there is an allergy or intolerance that needs to be addressed.

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Alcohol Abuse And Addiction Treatment Options

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol intolerance and alcohol addiction, a specialized treatment program will be recommended. Depending on the severity of the condition, an inpatient program may be the most effective course of treatment.

When selecting an addiction treatment program for alcohol use, it’s essential to find a rehab center that offers a comprehensive care model for alcohol addiction. At Addiction Campuses, our state-of-the-art treatment facilities offer both detox and rehabilitation, which together provide a seamless transition from one service to the next.

Patients who attend our treatment centers can benefit from some of the following treatment methodologies:

  • medical detoxification
  • dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • medication-assisted therapy (MAT)
  • dual diagnosis treatment
  • alternative therapy
  • wilderness therapy
  • gender-specific therapy
  • behavioral counseling
  • group counseling

With the right combination of treatments and therapies, freedom from alcohol addiction and the common complications posed by alcohol intolerance is possible. To learn more about alcohol intolerance and alcohol addiction, contact an Addiction Campuses’ treatment specialist today.

Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-intolerance/symptoms-causes/syc-20369211

The Cleveland Clinic - https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17659-alcohol-intolerance/prevention

US Department of Health and Human Services - https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/12634/acute-alcohol-sensitivity

The National Center for Biotechnology Information - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2659709/

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