How to Know If You Have an Alcohol Intolerance


What do milk, eggs, nuts, and strawberries have in common? They’re some of the most common food allergies in the world and can cause anything from an itchy feeling to anaphylactic shock. 

Want to know another surprising thing people can be allergic to or at least intolerant of? Alcohol. That’s right – that beer you had an hour ago may be the reason you can’t stop scratching that one spot on your legs, or why your face feels hot. 

Think you could have an issue with alcohol intolerance? Read on to learn more. 

Alcohol Intolerance vs. Allergy 

Alcohol allergies and alcohol intolerances are not the same thing, though many people confuse the terms. An allergy is more serious than an intolerance, in most cases, but neither of them have pleasant symptoms. 

When someone has an alcohol allergy, they’re usually allergic to one of the ingredients used in the beverage. That could be wheat, grades, hops, juniper, or even potatoes. 

Their body sees this substance, whatever it is, as an immune threat and treats it like any other virus or bacteria. It tries to get rid of it in any way possible.

Allergic reactions differ between people, but it’s possible for the throat to swell, killing the person by not allowing them to breathe.

Having an alcohol allergy is rare – much rarer than being allergic to dairy or peanuts. If you have issues digesting alcohol, you more likely have alcohol intolerance. 

Alcohol Intolerance Details 

Alcohol is not an easy substance for your body to digest. It has a high number of sugars and is a toxin, according to your kidneys and your liver. 

One of the ways your body processes (tries to get rid of) alcohol is by using the ALDH2 enzyme, called Aldehyde dehydrogenase. 

This enzyme takes the alcohol, and though this is an over-simplification, convert it into acetic acid – a vinegar-like substance. 

Not everyone has the same version of ALDH2 in their bodies. There’s a variation on the genetic level that makes it less effective at carrying out its purpose and is usually the cause of alcohol intolerance. 

Alcohol intolerance isn’t about not being able to handle the ingredients in the alcohol. It’s about your body not being able to turn the alcohol into a more processable chemical. 

Unless you’ve had genetic testing done, it’s hard to know if you have the gene variant. Instead of having expensive tests run, pay attention to the symptoms you experience after consuming alcohol. 

Symptoms of ALDH2 Deficiency-based Alcohol Intolerance

  • Red, hot face after drinking
  • Headache
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat 

If you notice any of those symptoms after consuming a small amount of alcohol (anyone will get nauseous if they drink too much), you may be intolerant. 

Histamine Intolerance 

Wine and beer have a lot of histamines in them, which is a substance your body produces naturally. Histamines develop over time, mostly in aged beverages or foods, like wine and aged cheese. 

Most people have no problem with histamines, but they cause issues for others. People who have problems with histamines likely doesn’t have enough of the enzyme DAO or diamine oxidase. 

Without enough DAO to process the histamines in wine, beer, and fermented foods, you’ll have an allergic reaction. 

Symptoms of having a histamine-based alcohol intolerance reaction include: 

  • Red, hot face
  • Itchy skin
  • Congestion
  • Trouble breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pains
  • and more 

If you suspect you have an intolerance based reaction, there are antihistamines you can take to help your body process what’s already in your system. 

If you’ve had more than one drink, be sure only to take non-drowsy histamines and avoid drinking for the rest of the night. 

Benadryl, though commonly used as an antihistamine, causes drowsiness and is not safe to take with any amount of alcohol.

Intolerance of Sulfites 

Another thing, often found in beer and wine, is sulfites. Sulfites are additives that the beverage makers add to the liquid to keep the natural yeast from fermenting further and to keep it fresh for longer. 

While most people process them with no issue, sulfites don’t sit right with some people. They’re especially dangerous to someone who has asthma or another respiratory problem.  

Reactions to sulfates & sulfites can look a lot like asthma attacks, characterized by coughing and trouble breathing.

Red wine is the alcohol highest in sulfates and is how most people discover their sulfite-based alcohol intolerance.  

How to Treat Alcohol Intolerance 

There’s not much someone can do to treat an alcohol intolerance. The best course of action is abstinence from alcohol, in general.

Some people can get away with just avoiding wine or beer, while others have to cut it out of their lives entirely. 

That’s harder for some people than others. If you or someone you love is having an issue with alcohol intolerance and needs help quitting, we’re here for them. 

We offer medically assisted detox from alcohol, which can help flush the body of toxins and reactions to alcohol intolerance, as well as make the withdrawal process more pleasant. 

If your loved one needs more care, we offer both residential and outpatient rehab. We even provide NAD IV treatments to help the brain recover from a drinking episode. 

We hope that you or your loved one can stop using alcohol on their own and that you won’t need our services, but if you do – we’re here. 

We even accept insurance plans, so getting the treatment you or a loved one needs won’t drain your bank account dry. Ready to access help? Click here

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