You have never seemed to be able to “handle” drinking alcohol. As little as one drink makes you nauseous, your skin hot and red, and the room seems to always start spinning. Your friends would always make fun of you, calling you a lightweight and teasing you. This fueled your competitive nature, and you decided to drink more and more, no matter how bad you felt. Your body would develop a tolerance eventually, right?
It never seemed to matter, that first sip and your face would redden, triggering the jokes from your friends. You found yourself binge drinking any time you were out with them, trying to keep up and keep your symptoms at bay long enough to silence the insults. Your efforts never made a difference, you still seemed to feel the effects of alcohol far more severely than your buddies.
You saw a commercial for a genetic testing kit, and were curious what the results would entail. To your surprise, you find out one of your genes has a mutation, something called ALDH2. What does that mean? A little research and you find out it is tied to alcohol intolerance. All this time, the reason you couldn’t drink the way your friends did was tied to genetics. But now what? Can you ever drink like a “normal” person?
In a recently published report, Sarasota County had the highest county percentage of adults who participated in excessive drinking – 22% of total residents. At Clean Recovery Centers, we understand that alcohol can take over mental and physical health before the person even realizes it. We utilize a unique three-phase approach that has helped hundreds of our clients to get clean, live clean, and stay clean. While not the most common, alcohol use disorder can still affect those living with alcohol intolerance. Today, we are exploring what exactly alcohol intolerance is, and what it means for those it affects.
Symptoms and Signs of Alcohol Intolerance
Alcohol intolerance is actually a metabolic condition, based on a mutation of the ALDH2 gene. This means that the liver cannot process alcohol in the same way as those without the mutation. When alcohol is consumed, it enters the bloodstream and travels to organs such as the brain, lungs, and kidneys. Ultimately, it ends up in the liver to be processed for release from the body. The liver does this by using an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). ADH turns alcohol into acetaldehyde and then – with the help of aldehyde dehydrogenase – it is turned into acetate. The acetate becomes processed into carbon dioxide and water with the help of other tissues.
In people with alcohol intolerance, the mutation does not allow aldehyde dehydrogenase to turn acetaldehyde into acetate. This is problematic as acetaldehyde is toxic to the body, and prolonged exposure causes health risks such as liver disease to increase. It also triggers symptoms of alcohol intolerance. These include:
- Flushing of the face and neck
- Redness of the face
- Runny nose
- Low blood pressure
Alcohol intolerance can sometimes be confused with an allergy. Allergies are an immune response, and while some of the symptoms are similar, alcohol intolerance is a different condition altogether. The most telltale sign to distinguish from allergies is the flushing and redness of the face and neck. Allergies can be managed with medication and avoiding certain ingredients such as grains in alcohol. Intolerance is in the genetic code and cannot be “cured.” Only avoiding alcohol will cause the symptoms to subside.
When to See a Doctor for Alcohol Intolerance
Experiencing mild symptoms of alcohol intolerance does not necessarily mean it is time to see a doctor. If the symptoms happen every time you drink, it does not hurt to schedule an appointment. However, if allergic reaction symptoms such as hives or impaired breathing occur while drinking, seek medical attention immediately.
If you have been able to drink alcohol with no problems and suddenly find yourself with symptoms of intolerance, seek medical attention. Some conditions such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma can cause alcohol intolerance signs to set in rapidly, and may be associated with pain.
The Risk Factors for Alcohol Intolerance
Those of Eastern Asian descent are more likely to have the mutation that causes alcohol intolerance. Studies show that approximately 50% of East Asians are affected by this and can frequently experience acute alcohol intoxication. This means that they are more likely to experience alcohol poisoning even when consuming small amounts.
Complications of Alcohol Intolerance
While binge drinking is not usually seen in those with alcohol intolerance, even consuming more than one drink can create complications. Those with alcohol intolerance have the carcinogen acetaldehyde in their bodies longer than those without intolerance. This can lead to conditions such as:
- Various cancers, including lung, throat, and mouth
- Alzheimer’s Disease – even without a history
- Liver disease and cancer
How Long Does it Take for Alcohol Intolerance to Show?
Alcohol intolerance signs can show almost immediately after consumption. Because alcohol is absorbed through the stomach lining, eating before drinking can help slow the progression of symptoms, but they will occur no matter what. Some have found that by taking an antihistamine, their symptoms lessened. However, the only way to ensure symptoms do not occur is by refraining from alcohol completely.
Typically, symptoms last around 2 to 4 hours after drinking. For some, they feel like a hangover with headaches and nausea. Others experience more of an intoxicated feeling, even after just one or two drinks. The more the person tries to keep drinking, the longer the symptoms will continue.
Getting Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder
For those experiencing the stages of alcoholism – whether they are intolerant or not – seeking treatment can be the light at the end of the tunnel. Through guided therapy and skill-building, finding peace and a love for life without alcohol is possible. It may seem impossible to stop now, but advocating for yourself and your health is the first step to cutting ties with alcohol. Treatment for alcohol use disorder is no small feat, but with continued support from family, peers, and professionals, recovery is achievable.
If you or someone you love is living with an alcohol use disorder, help is available right here in Tampa. Clean Recovery Centers has locations along the Suncoast, with housing certified by FARR so you never have to worry about where you will stay. Each facility also has a certified rapid resolution therapist on site and can help work through past traumas and root causes of addiction within yourself. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn how we can help you get clean, live clean, and stay clean.
How to know if you are intolerant to alcohol?
Symptoms of alcohol intolerance appear quickly, typically after only one drink. The key signs include facial flushing and redness.
Can you suddenly become intolerant to alcohol?
It is possible to become suddenly intolerant to alcohol, however, this can be an indicator of medical concerns. It is best to consult with a medical professional if this happens.
How long do symptoms of alcohol intolerance last?
Symptoms can last between 2 and 4 hours after drinking, depending on how much was consumed.