Alcohol is something most people consume socially. Even though when drinking alcohol one anticipates a great feeling and continuous bonding with family (or friends) over mundane things, it sometimes doesn’t go as expected. If you ever notice you’re feeling uncomfortable, your skin is flushing and feeling warm; you might be suffering from alcohol intolerance. Alcohol intolerance can be due to a genetic condition where the body cannot break down alcohol efficiently. The only way to avoid sudden alcohol intolerance symptoms is by avoiding alcohol.

In some cases, a sudden intolerance to alcohol could be due to the components in the beverage like grains, preservatives or chemicals and not the alcohol itself. It is also possible to get alcohol intolerance due to the combination of certain medications.


What is alcohol intolerance?

Intolerance to alcohol is an inherited metabolic disorder. Metabolic disorders affect the way your body converts and uses energy. Since it’s an inherited disorder, it means that you got it from your parents, who each passed down a mutated gene to you. Mutation means that even though none of your parents may have this condition, it is still possible for you to get it from them.

Our bodies are full of enzymes, which are proteins that help break down food. Alcohol intolerance comes into the picture when a specific enzyme isn’t available in your body, or you can’t metabolize alcohol. When you have alcohol intolerance, it doesn’t matter the quantity of alcohol you consume. It will result in a flushed face, among other symptoms.


Symptoms of alcohol intolerance

There are many signs of alcohol intolerance. The most evident and immediate one is your face flushing and going red. Others include;

  • Stuffy nose
  • Hives
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Your neck, chest, and face turn pink or red
  • Worsening asthma


Alcohol allergy vs intolerance

Even though it can be easy not to distinguish between alcohol allergy and intolerance, they are entirely different conditions. An alcohol intolerance affects your digestive system as it misses some enzymes to digest alcohol. On the other hand, an alcohol allergy results from an immune system response, meaning you might be allergic to specific components in alcohol like grains, preservatives or sulfite. But if you aren’t sure if you have an alcohol intolerance or allergy, you can get yourself an  Allergy and Intolerance Test kit that will help you clear that and inform you of other intolerances or allergies you might have had no clue you had.

The symptoms of both conditions can overlap, like nausea, but the distinguishing factor of alcohol intolerance is the skin flushing in the neck, chest, and face. Symptoms of alcohol allergy include;

  • Rashes, eczema, or rashes
  • Itchiness in the mouth, eyes, or nose
  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Swelling in the throat, face, and other body parts
  • Nasal congestion, wheezing, or difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness


Can you develop alcohol intolerance?

Yes, it is possible to develop sudden intolerance to alcohol at any point in your life. The same applies to an alcohol allergy. One day you’ll drink your favourite beer or wine, and suddenly your face is flush, and you feel terrible. That’s how a sudden intolerance to alcohol occurs.

Even though anyone can develop alcohol intolerance, some people are more likely to develop it. The risk factors of developing alcohol intolerance include;

  • Being of Asian decent
  • Having asthma or hay fever
  • Having a grains allergy
  • Having Hodgin’s lymphoma

Diseases that cause alcohol intolerance

Hodgkin lymphoma is the only disease so far associated with alcohol intolerance {1}. When someone with this condition consumes alcohol, it results in a lot of pain that needs to be reduced by using over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen.


Other major causes of alcohol intolerance include;

  • Acetaldehyde buildup in the body which causes the feeling of sickness when one consumes alcohol.
  • Genes: Family members with the same condition. It can be a little challenging to diagnose alcohol intolerance that’s inherited. But if you have family members with the same issues, then that’s where you got it.
  • Age: When people age, they become less tolerant of alcohol, thus getting drunk quicker. So, as your alcohol tolerance decreases, it can get easier to develop alcohol intolerance. With age, your body loses muscle and water, and you remain with lots of fat, leading to a higher alcohol level in the blood when you drink. Liver functionality also changes with age, and your liver cannot break down alcohol as fast as it would when younger leading to alcohol intolerance. That is why menopause and alcohol intolerance are linked, and some people also develop perimenopause alcohol intolerance.
  • Medication: Some prescriptions require you to avoid alcohol. If you get any medicines from your doctor, ask if you’re allowed to drink since some drugs cause alcohol intolerance making you feel sickly.
  • Lack of enough alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), an enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol.
  • An enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) helps convert acetaldehyde to acetic acid. But if you’re intolerant, it means that this enzyme isn’t working or is unavailable.


What’s the best alcohol for alcohol intolerance?

Our Intolerance Testing Kit

It may seem quite unfair to cut off your alcohol consumption to nil because of your genes, but don’t worry, at least you’ll be healthy. We’re a nation that enjoys socializing with a drink at hand, which makes completely cutting off alcohol from your life weird. If you get intolerance symptoms once you drink alcohol, you can buy yourself an Intolerance Test kit. The intolerance test will run your blood sample against other common allergens including alcohol.

These test results will help you know whether you’re intolerant to all types of alcohol or if there are ingredients in some types of alcohol that you need to avoid. The alcohol intolerance test results will help you know whether you’ll completely cut off alcohol or stick to some types of alcohol. But if you find that you have alcohol intolerance, you will ultimately need to cut off alcohol from your life. I know this seems unfair, but it’s the only way to ensure you stop getting those uncomfortable symptoms.

If you keep drinking alcohol even when you know you have alcohol intolerance, it will put you at a higher risk of other diseases like {2};

  • Mouth and throat cancer
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Late-onset of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • High blood pressure

Sometimes sticking to alcohol even though you experience such severe symptoms could mean that you have an alcohol problem, and you need to see a doctor to curb that problem. Seeking treatment is the best thing you could do for yourself.


Final thoughts on alcohol intolerance testing

Even though alcohol intolerance may hinder you from drinking out with friends, it’s best to look at the brighter side. You will have a lower risk of so many diseases and types of cancer which is quite an added advantage. Unlike most food intolerances, one can’t outgrow alcohol intolerance, which means completely cutting off liquor. Positively, there are non-alcoholic alternatives available to buy such as zero-alcohol beer and wine. Having an alcohol intolerance isn’t such a dire diagnosis as it will save you your health.



  1. Bryant, A. J., & Newman, J. H. (2013). Alcohol intolerance associated with Hodgkin lymphoma. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 185(8), E353.
  2. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Alcohol Metabolism: An Update. April 2007