The Causes and Symptoms of Alcohol Intolerance
Alcohol intolerance, in short, is a genetic condition that is inherited. Alcohol intolerance will cause one who consumes alcohol to quickly feel hot, nauseous, and generally very sick. While these symptoms aren’t guaranteed to indicate a genetic intolerance to alcohol if you experience these symptoms the best way for you to avoid these symptoms is to just stay away from alcohol.
What is Alcohol Intolerance?
Alcohol intolerance is an inherited genetic condition. It mimics symptoms of being drunk and can be often confused as being drunk. As this is an inherited condition, those that have it have never had any other effects from alcohol other than the adverse ones that they would normally have, and thus believe that this is how everyone experiences alcohol.
This can be very frustrating for individuals that feel as though they are missing out on a part of human culture by being genetically prohibited from enjoying the occasional beer or glass of wine. This may be the case, however, the adverse effects of alcohol especially to those with this condition are too great to simply ignore.
How Common Is Alcohol Intolerance?
It is unknown exactly what percentage of the population is alcohol intolerant. Some studies have shown that women self-report a marginally higher rate of alcohol intolerance, though the percentage is still relatively small.
One study found that just over 7% of individuals self-reported wine intolerance. When that percentage is broken down to men and women, 9% of women report an alcohol intolerance while only just over 5% of men reported an alcohol intolerance.
These numbers are a rough estimate of small sample size and do not reflect the general public. If you believe that you are alcohol intolerant, there are places that you can go and tests that can be done to check if this is the case. If you believe that you are alcohol intolerant and do not want to take any tests, the easiest solution is to just stay away from alcohol altogether.
Everyone can inherit an alcohol intolerance, though it is reported that those of Eastern Asian descent are the most likely to have this genetic mutation.
Alcohol intolerance can sound like an alcohol allergy. Some people might confuse the two, and this is another reason why self-reported statistics can’t be 100% trusted to be accurate. Again, alcohol intolerance is a genetic condition that prevents one from correctly breaking down alcohol at a metabolic level, while an allergy is an immune system response to alcohol.
Alcohol intolerance will likely be broad and across all types of alcohol. There could be certain specific alcohols that one would be not intolerant to, but that is less common. Alcohol allergies are when one’s immune system overreacts to a specific ingredient in the drink that they are consuming. Therefore, one with an alcohol allergy might be able to drink wine but not beer, or other types of alcohol.
The symptoms are similar, and this is why they can be confused. Both cause nausea and other effects, though they are not strictly linked. Allergy symptoms are often more serious and uncomfortable, though they can both be intolerable at times.
If you experience any unexpected symptoms after drinking alcohol, consult your doctor immediately. If symptoms are mild, there may be no rush to figure out exactly what caused the symptoms, and the recommendation will often be to just avoid alcohol entirely.
Both alcohol intolerance and an alcohol allergy can be mistaken for intoxication by the individual who has them. Though some symptoms are similar, the result is simply not the case. Since an alcohol intolerance and allergy will often be lifelong, the person who has the allergy/intolerance will mistake the symptoms of their allergy/intolerance for that of being intoxicated.
Someone who has an allergy or intolerance does not “just get drunk faster” they are not “just a lightweight,” but in fact, there is a completely different reaction going on. Someone with these things is still capable of getting intoxicated, though they will likely be forced through some rather uncomfortable side effects of their allergy or intolerance before then.
Symptoms of Alcohol Intolerance
Alcohol intolerance is a stressful diagnosis, and figuring out exactly what symptoms you might experience will help you further recognize your intolerance.
The causes of alcohol intolerance are known, though they are rather complicated. In short, one with an alcohol intolerance will not have enough of the enzyme that correctly breaks down the alcohol ingested, leaving a surplus of acetaldehyde, which inevitably causes the symptoms of alcohol intolerance.
This is a simplification, though it gets the general point across: those with an alcohol intolerance experience alcohol in an entirely different way than those without one. This should be clear.
The symptoms of alcohol intolerance can vary greatly. One with an alcohol intolerance might experience all of these symptoms, and some might only experience some.
The most common symptom of alcohol intolerance is what’s known as “alcohol flushing.” This is when an affected individual’s skin becomes hot to the touch, red, and irritable. This is one of the more mild symptoms of alcohol intolerance and most people with only these symptoms simply live with it. Along with alcohol flushing, individuals with an alcohol intolerance might feel:
- Upset stomach
- Increased heart rate, heart palpitations
- Low blood pressure
- Head pain, hangover-like symptoms before they should become apparent
- Trouble breathing
These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and those that experience these symptoms after the first taste of alcohol can safely assume that they have some form of alcohol intolerance.
At the end of the day, these symptoms can seem rather mild, and though most of them are not life-threatening, that doesn’t prevent them from being a legitimate reason for one to not drink alcohol at all. The choice is ultimately up to the individual who is experiencing the symptoms, and though they might start out mild, the more alcohol that they drink the more severe that these symptoms will manifest.
Alcohol Intolerance Diagnosis
Diagnosis for alcohol intolerance is usually not needed, though it can be done rather simply by your doctor. If you regularly experience one or many of the symptoms above after mild alcohol ingestion, assuming that you have an alcohol intolerance and then diminishing or eliminating your alcohol intake is not an uncommon thing to do, and is often recommended.
If you would like to get an alcohol intolerance diagnosis from your doctor, the process is generally very simple. Your healthcare provider will put a few drops of ethanol on a gauze pad, and tape it to your arm. After a few minutes, they will remove the pad and examine the area. If there is an unusual amount of swelling or redness, it will be concluded that you do have alcohol intolerance. These tests are much like allergy tests, but are specific to symptoms of an alcohol intolerance and not of an alcohol allergy.
There are certainly more complex tests that can be done to find out the severity of your alcohol intolerance, though those are generally not done or performed. Once it is determined that one has an alcohol intolerance, the recommendations are all the same: if you experience overwhelming uncomfortably, preventing you from enjoying or safely consuming alcohol, stay away from alcohol entirely.
How to Treat Alcohol Intolerance
Since alcohol intolerance is a genetic condition, there is no “cure” for intolerance like this. Limiting all unwanted symptoms is the only solution to this, and as such the treatment will lie with the affected individual.
If one’s symptoms are severe, they may opt to never drink alcohol again. This is the safest and most guaranteed way to ensure that one will not have a negative reaction to alcohol on the same scale that they may have previously experienced.
Most individuals have more mild symptoms, and therefore simply put a stricter limit on their alcohol intake than if they didn’t have the symptoms at all. If the mild symptoms are enough to stop drinking entirely, then that is a completely legitimate choice and one that people have made.
Living With Alcohol Intolerance
Being a genetic condition, alcohol intolerance must be lived with and adapted to, rather than done away with entirely. One can easily live a normal and healthy life with alcohol intolerance, and this is the best part.
Living with alcohol intolerance doesn’t mean that you must uproot your entire life to try and live a normal life, if you have alcohol intolerance, you likely have stayed away from it in general and have not grown to have a dependence on it.
This means that one with an alcohol intolerance will likely have to structure their “drinking” lives around this. How much alcohol are you willing to ingest before your symptoms become too unbearable? Is that something that you are willing to go through for the sake of some sort of feigned cultural comradery? The answer, again, is ultimately up to the individual with the intolerance.
If one chooses to not drink at all because of mild symptoms, that is a valid choice and absolutely should be supported.
If you or a loved one is experiencing troubles with alcohol intake or is starting a dependence on alcohol, reach out to us at ecosoberhouse.com today. We have the resources you need to get you the help you are looking for and you can start your journey to sobriety today. Don’t delay, your sober life is worth living and working for!