Alcohol Intolerance

alcohol intolerance wolf creek recovery

When you sit down and have a glass of wine after work, do you notice that the alcohol doesn’t agree with you? Your nose gets stuffy, your skin gets flushed, and you feel queasy. It’s actually quite embarrassing – people assume you’ve had too much to drink, when in reality, it’s only been one!

If you are one of the 18.7% of people in Arizona who engage in heavy drinking, it’s possible that some of the effects you feel are actually due to an intolerance.

Wolf Creek Recovery offers comprehensive treatment services for AUD that meet you where you are. You do not have to be diagnosed with severe AUD to receive support. If you are looking to cut back on your alcohol use while developing healthy habits, our program can help guide you down a different path.

Let’s learn more about alcohol intolerance, the signs and symptoms to be aware of, and what complications can arise.

Alcohol Intolerance

Alcohol intolerance is an inherited metabolic condition. Metabolic conditions affect how your body converts and uses energy. For instance, your body might use the fuel from food right away, or it might store it in your body’s tissues. In the case of alcohol intolerance, there is a problem with the enzyme responsible for metabolizing alcohol. Therefore, just a small amount can cause unpleasant symptoms. It’s also possible for other ingredients in the alcohol to cause intolerance reactions.

While an alcohol intolerance is not a true allergy, it is possible to be sensitive or even allergic to alcohol. In this case, your immune system reacts to an ingredient in alcohol, such as a chemical, a grain, or a preservative like sulfite.

Symptoms and Signs of Alcohol Intolerance

If you have alcohol intolerance, the most common side effects you’ll likely experience are flushed skin and a stuffy nose. Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • Red, itchy skin bumps (hives)
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Worsening of asthma symptoms
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

symptoms and signs of alcohol intolerance

When to See a Doctor for Alcohol Intolerance

Having a mild intolerance to alcohol or an ingredient in alcoholic beverages likely doesn’t warrant a trip to the doctor. The best way to avoid uncomfortable symptoms is by abstaining from alcohol. If you do drink, it’s recommended to limit the number of drinks you have and alternate with water.

You may also find that some types of alcohol produce stronger symptoms than others. For instance, red wine is more likely to trigger a negative reaction than other alcoholic beverages. See a doctor if you experience a serious reaction from alcohol, such as trouble breathing or severe pain.

There is a test your doctor can use to check for alcohol intolerance. This test involves placing drops of ethanol on a gauze pad and taping it to your arm. After about seven minutes, the doctor will remove the pad and check for signs of redness, swelling, or itching. If there is a reaction, your doctor will diagnose you with alcohol intolerance. Because the condition is inherited, there is no way to cure it. However, your doctor can share ways to avoid unpleasant effects, such as by limiting your alcohol intake or avoiding other medications.

The Risk Factors for Alcohol Intolerance

There are certain risk factors that can increase the chances for developing an intolerance to alcohol. Being of Asian descent is one of the biggest risk factors. It’s estimated that between 30-50% of people of East Asian descent have alcohol intolerance. In fact, the condition has even been referred to as “Asian glow” or “Asian flush” because of its prevalence.

Additional risk factors include having a pre-existing diagnosis of asthma or hay fever, being allergic to grains or other foods, or having Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, people of all races and ethnicities can experience alcohol intolerance.

Complications of Alcohol Intolerance

The main complication of alcohol intolerance is experiencing undesirable side effects when you drink. Because alcohol is socially acceptable, it’s not uncommon for adults to be invited out for drinks after work, or be offered alcohol at social gatherings. However, for individuals with alcohol intolerance, having just one glass of wine can be enough to trigger skin flushing, headaches, and a stuffy nose. These symptoms can put a damper on your night out.

We also know that regular alcohol use is linked to many other problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and the development of alcohol use disorder.

How Long Does it Take for Alcohol Intolerance to Show?

Each person is different, but you can expect to experience symptoms of alcohol intolerance within 20-30 minutes after consuming alcohol. Essentially, once the alcohol enters your bloodstream, you may begin to experience a runny nose and warm, flushed skin. Respiratory symptoms can also occur quickly, so you may feel short of breath or your heart beating faster. A lot of this depends on what you are drinking and how quickly you are consuming it. The effects of alcohol intolerance last for about 1-2 hours. Usually, headaches are the longest lasting symptom, with the potential to carry on for several hours. Once the alcohol leaves the body, the symptoms typically subside.

when to see a doctor for alcohol intolerance

Getting Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder in Prescott, AZ

It is unusual for a person with alcohol intolerance to experience AUD because of the symptoms they experience when they drink. If you feel unwell every time you consume an alcoholic beverage, you’re much less likely to engage in this behavior. However, some people do experience AUD, even with an alcohol intolerance.

Fortunately, alcohol rehab provides treatment for all severities of AUD. By quitting drinking, you can avoid the unpleasant effects associated with alcohol and improve your emotional health and physical well-being. You’ll learn new ways to cope with stress and be able to lead an active, healthy lifestyle without alcohol and its unwanted effects. The treatments that work best for AUD include behavioral therapies, support groups, and sometimes medication.

Located in Prescott, Arizona, Wolf Creek Recovery offers treatment for alcohol use disorders. Our staff is in recovery, allowing us to understand the unique challenges that those in recovery face, especially early on in the journey. With evidence-based and holistic therapies, we give individuals the tools they need to rebuild their lives to the fullest. To learn more about our programs or to start your journey to healing, contact us at 833-732-8202

Build a life you love.


What is alcohol intolerance? 

Alcohol intolerance is a metabolic condition that stops you from breaking down alcohol efficiently. You can also develop intolerance from taking certain medications.

What are the signs and symptoms of alcohol intolerance?

The most common signs and symptoms of alcohol intolerance are flushed skin, stuffy nose, headaches, and diarrhea. The symptoms typically start shortly after you drink and can last 1-2 hours.

Is there a way to fix alcohol intolerance?

No, there is no way to cure or treat this condition. The only way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol intolerance is by abstaining from alcohol. However, since people do enjoy the occasional drink, you may be able to reduce your symptoms by drinking certain alcoholic beverages over others.

Can you develop alcohol intolerance later in life?

Yes, it is possible to develop alcohol intolerance in later life. Most cases of suddenly developed alcohol intolerance are due to a new medication. Taking certain medications can make you intolerant to alcohol. There is also the possibility that you can develop a condition that causes alcohol intolerance.