Yes, many people are allergic to alcohol, as well as products used to make and process alcohol. Often confused with alcohol intolerance, a metabolic disorder, an alcohol allergy occurs when a person has an allergic reaction to something present in the alcohol they’re drinking. This is not often a reaction to alcohol itself.
What Is Alcohol Intolerance?
Alcohol intolerance occurs when a person experiences an immediate reaction to drinking alcohol, most commonly skin flushing and a stuffy nose. This condition is genetic and inherited and renders the body unable to metabolize alcohol adequately. People with even a relatively mild alcohol intolerance should avoid its use whenever possible.
Alcohol intolerance will cause unpleasant symptoms, such as digestive issues, when alcohol is consumed. Those who consume excessive amounts of alcohol while having alcohol intolerance may experience painful and potentially long-lasting effects on their bodies.
Once present, the body tries to cleanse itself of alcohol before fully processing it. However, those with alcohol intolerance cannot process it in this way because their bodies lack an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2). ALDH2 is used by the body to metabolize acetaldehyde, a compound that accumulates in the body as a person continues to drink. A person who is lacking this enzyme will then experience various uncomfortable and even painful symptoms.
Symptoms of alcohol intolerance include the following:
- Flushing and hot flashes
- Red, itchy skin bumps
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Low blood pressure
- Worsening of asthma
- Heart flutters
- Swollen lips or tongue
- Chest pain
A lack of certain enzymes within the body is the reason for alcohol intolerance. However, symptoms can be very similar to an allergy, and therefore, it is common for people to confuse alcohol intolerance with an actual allergy to alcohol.
Alcohol Intolerance vs. Alcohol Allergy
Alcohol intolerance and an allergy to alcohol products are similar in presentation, but the mechanism from which they occur is very different. The rapidness and severity of the onset of symptoms can make it challenging to determine if the cause is intolerance or an allergy.
As noted, alcohol intolerance (also commonly referred to as Alcohol Flushing Syndrome or Asian Glow) is a genetic disorder caused by an absence of certain enzymes within the body. In contrast, an alcohol allergy is an adverse reaction to the additives or substances used to produce alcoholic drinks.
It is quite rare to find a person who is allergic to alcohol (ethanol) on its own. Instead, the allergy’s primary source stems from additives combined with pure ethanol to make it palatable for human consumption. These extra ingredients, and sometimes even the fermentation process, are the main contributors to allergic reactions.
Some common allergens in alcoholic beverages include the following:
- Barley and hops
- Wheat and rye
- Egg or seafood proteins
- Artificial flavorings
If small amounts of any of the above ingredients are consumed in a drink by someone with sensitivity, they will ultimately develop symptoms. Such allergies can produce rashes, severe abdominal cramps, and nausea. The reactions caused by an allergy are often more painful and itchy than those of intolerance.
Alcohol Intolerance and Abuse Prevention
Some medications, such as antihistamine creams or oral medication, may help control flushing of the face or rashes related to alcohol intolerance or allergies. However, these drugs only treat symptoms and do not address the root cause of the reaction, which may be related to an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol intolerance that is inherited cannot be cured. However, there are ways to reduce the harmful effects of both allergy and intolerance. To do this, a person should restrict or stop alcohol use entirely, seek medical attention to identify if symptoms are intolerance or allergy, and not merely rely on antihistamines to relieve symptoms.
It’s important to note that alcohol abuse can still develop if a person has an alcohol allergy or intolerance. Even when hallmark symptoms of allergy or intolerance present themselves, people may continue to drink through adverse reactions to experience alcohol’s pleasurable effects.
If someone you know has an alcohol intolerance and is abusing alcohol, they must understand the heightened risk of health consequences. If you use alcohol, stopping your alcohol intake may not be an easy process, but fortunately, professional help is available that can effectively treat alcoholism and other addictions.
Getting Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, a specialized treatment program is strongly recommended. When selecting a treatment program for alcohol addiction, it’s essential to find rehab facilities that offer a comprehensive approach, such as Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery treatment centers.
Those who attend our treatment centers can benefit from the following treatment methodologies:
- Medical detox
- Behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Art and music therapy
- Individual/family counseling
- Group support
- Aftercare planning
Using the right combination of therapies and treatment, freedom from alcoholism and complications posed by alcohol intolerance or allergy is possible!