A person who isn’t a frequent drinker but consistently feels sick each time he or she drinks alcohol may be displaying the signs of alcohol intolerance. Some individuals can feel the intoxicating effects of alcohol at small amounts that are likely to manifest as a throbbing headache and nausea the following day.

However, distressful reactions, such as stuffy nose and flushed skin, to alcohol immediately after a drink or two are the warning signs of the disorder commonly known as “alcohol intolerance.” Usually, such a reaction is due to one or more ingredients, such as chemicals, grains or preservatives, in alcohol.

Although alcohol intolerance and alcohol allergy are generally used interchangeably, they are quite different from each other. They’re both caused by a reaction to allergens in the alcohol, such as yeast, rye, barley, histamines (found in red wine) and sulfites (found in white wine). The similarities between both the conditions end here itself.

On the one hand, alcohol tolerance is more common and accompanied by symptoms, such as flushed skin, elevated heart rate, nasal congestion, stomachache, etc. On the other hand, alcohol allergy is quite severe in nature as it displays stronger symptoms and is often accompanied by physical pain. However, the rate of occurrence of alcohol allergy is also quite rare.

Common symptoms of alcohol tolerance

Individuals who discover that they are intolerant to some of the ingredients in an alcoholic beverage could replace it with another drink without the allergens. Alcohol allergy, unlike alcohol intolerance, is also known as Asian flush syndrome, which is described as the absence of a specific enzyme that metabolizes ethanol from alcoholic beverages, a genetic trait particularly prominent in the individuals of the Asian ancestry.

However, the surest way to avoid the symptoms of an allergy or intolerance to alcohol is to completely abstain from drinking alcohol. Since most people are not aware if they are alcohol-intolerant or not, it is essential to be aware of the lighter symptoms of intolerance that many individuals unknowingly experience.

Given below are some signs of alcohol intolerance that one should look out for to identify the problem:

  • Flushed skin and nasal congestion: When drinking alcohol, a reaction to an allergen can cause a stuffy nose and flushed skin. Flushing and overheating can cause hives throughout the body of the people intolerant to alcohol, especially around their face and neck. Similarly, ingredients such as nuts or histamines found in red wine can cause a person’s blood vessels to swell up that can lead to nasal congestion.
  • Headache: Unlike the headache witnessed during a hangover, one of the first signs of alcohol intolerance is when a person starts experiencing distressful headaches incessantly shortly after consuming alcohol. It is one of the observable signs of alcohol intolerance.
  • Elevated heart rate: Tachycardia or excessively rapid heartbeat is a common symptom of alcohol intolerance. Although an elevated heart rate while drinking alcohol isn’t dangerous if it is accompanied by shallow breathing, it is advisable to consult a doctor. Increased heartbeat is also the body’s way of saying that it does not agree with the alcohol consumed.
  • Stomachaches: Alcohol has the ability to cause a vasodilatory effect on the stomach, i.e., increased absorption of a person’s gut content due to a decrease in vascular resistance. For an alcohol-intolerant individual, this effect can speed up the absorption of allergens, such as wheat, gluten, etc., and exacerbate food allergies. These stomachaches also occur alongside the feeling of being bloated and nausea depending on the amount of alcohol consumed.
  • Loose bowels: Another unpleasant symptom associated with alcohol intolerance is diarrhea. While stomachaches in alcohol-intolerant individuals is quite common, drinking and scurrying to the loo to discharge aqueous excrement is not. This is a sign that the body isn’t able to break down alcohol efficiently and is often times accompanied by cramps that can potentially indicate an allergic reaction.

Road to recovery

Apart from causing allergies and other unpleasant reactions in some people, alcohol has the ability to hardwire the brain to prioritize alcohol-seeking behaviors. The consumption of alcohol also leads to a multitude of health complications and eventually an addiction depending on the frequency, duration and amount of alcohol consumed.