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Alcohol Intolerance

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The first time you decided to try alcohol, you weren’t sure what to expect. You’d heard stories from your friends about their experiences with alcohol, so you had a decent idea of what might happen. Maybe you’d feel a little woozy, maybe you’d become more carefree, and maybe you might not even remember the evening – depending on how much you drank.

What you didn’t expect was to get a stuffy nose, hives, and nausea before you’d even finished your second drink. Your friends commented on how flushed you were and asked how many you’d had to drink. When you told them only one and a half, they laughed and called you a lightweight. As it turns out, you have an alcohol intolerance, but what exactly does that mean?

Alcohol intolerance impacts many people, but few know what signs to look out for. Oftentimes, these symptoms can be overlooked as someone being a “lightweight” without realizing the true impact alcohol is having on them. With over 20% of young people aged 12 to 20 in California reporting past month alcohol use, having easy-to-access information about its side effects is important. Our team here at Pacific Sands is driven by solution-focused treatment options. We believe in educating on all matters involving alcohol and substance use so our community can make informed decisions about their health. Today we’re going to look at alcohol intolerance, what causes it, and how it can impact you.

alcohol intolerance symptoms

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Alcohol Intolerance?

Being able to identify the symptoms of alcohol intolerance can play an important role in knowing if a person needs help. While many of the symptoms can be similar to intoxication, they’re not exactly the same. With proper knowledge regarding a person’s use level, you can get a better idea of the source of their symptoms.

The signs of alcohol intolerance can occur even with only a drink or two consumed, depending on the person’s specific intolerance levels. The symptoms you should watch out for include:

  • Flushed face
  • Hives (red/itchy/bumpy skin)
  • Asthma-like symptoms or a worsening of asthma 
  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 

Are There Risk Factors for Alcohol Intolerance?

One of the most common causes of alcohol intolerance stems from genetics. Some people do not produce enough of the enzyme that is used in properly breaking down alcohol. Most often this genetic trait is found in people who are Asian or have Asian ancestry.

In other instances, a reaction to alcohol can be caused by a genuine allergy. Some common allergens can include sulfites, histamine, corn, wheat, rye, or other chemicals that can be found in different alcohols.

The Complications That Are Associated with Alcohol Intolerance

One of the most common, more long-lasting side effects of alcohol intolerance is migraines.

In some cases, severe reactions to alcohol can lead to hospitalization. Since alcohol is a toxin, those with alcohol intolerance can also be more susceptible to negative reactions just from the alcohol itself or alcohol poisoning.

When Should You See a Doctor for Alcohol Intolerance?

If you’re uncertain if your reactions to alcohol are normal, or if your reactions are causing you high levels of discomfort or distress, it could be time to see a doctor. 

A doctor can help you pinpoint what is causing your intolerance. If you are planning to make an appointment, make sure you come prepared with information for your doctor. Some helpful info can include your symptoms, what drinks you usually consume, and how long the symptoms last.

effects of alcohol sensitivity

How Long Does it Take for Alcohol Intolerance to Show?

Alcohol intolerance can come in many forms and severities. Some may experience minor symptoms while others experience more debilitating symptoms. The exact amount of alcohol it takes for symptoms to appear can depend on your level of intolerance combined with other factors such as your level of use and metabolism. 

Additionally, if you or a loved one have a history of alcohol use and are developing new symptoms, you could have developed an alcohol intolerance. It can develop from excessive alcohol use, or you could develop an allergy to alcohol or some of its common ingredients over time.

Our team here at Pacific Sands offers a full continuum of care, from alcohol detox to inpatient and outpatient services based on your level of need. With our clinical director on site 50 hours a week, we’re here to help you as you need and when you need.

If you would like to learn more about the alcohol addiction treatment services we offer, give us a call anytime at 949-426-7962. Our Pacific Sands team can work with your schedule and needs to find the right treatment options for you.


What are the symptoms of alcohol intolerance?

Some common symptoms include hives, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stuffy nose, and lowered blood pressure.

Can you suddenly become intolerant to alcohol?

Rarely can someone instantly develop an alcohol intolerance. It can develop from excessive alcohol use. Also, allergies can relate to alcohol intolerance and can develop and evolve over time.

What is alcohol flushing syndrome?

Alcohol flushing can be a sign of alcohol intolerance. It is often overlooked and can be brushed off as a normal reaction. If you’re experiencing negative side effects from alcohol use such as flushing, hives, stuffy nose, migraines, and more — it could be helpful to talk with your doctor about it.


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