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Alcohol Intolerance

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Alcohol Intolerance

Alcohol is a socially acceptable substance for most people in the U.S. It is consumed at parties, celebrations, and for leisure in some cases. Because this has been marketed to you since childhood, you decide to drink. Something happens, though. You start breaking out in hives, and your skin turns red. These could be symptoms of alcohol intolerance. Let’s discuss what alcohol intolerance is, the symptoms of it, and methods of prevention.

What Is Alcohol Intolerance?

Alcohol intolerance is a genetic (inborn) disorder wherein a person can’t break alcohol down properly within their body. This intolerance can cause uncomfortable reactions when someone drinks, such as a stuffy nose or reddening of the skin. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol will be broken down in the liver by an enzyme (a protein that causes a chemical reaction) called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). This transforms it into a compound called acetaldehyde, a toxic compound. This is swiftly broken down by another enzyme into something much less toxic. In someone with an intolerance to alcohol, their body doesn’t have the ADH enzyme to break it down. Without having this enzyme, an ingredient within the alcohol may cause a reaction in the body. This can also happen when medications are mixed with alcohol.

Symptoms and Complications of Alcohol Intolerance

Symptoms of alcohol intolerance are similar to those of an alcohol allergy. The symptoms of alcohol intolerance can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Runny/stuffy nose
  • Low blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Hives (itchy bumps on the skin)
  • Flushing (redness of the skin)

There are some complications with alcohol intolerance as well. People with an intolerance to alcohol tend to get migraines when they drink. Migraines are stressful headaches that are persistent. Another complication of alcohol intolerance is a severe allergic reaction. There is a slight difference between alcohol intolerance and an alcohol allergy.

Alcohol Allergy vs. Intolerance

Alcohol intolerance and alcohol allergies are very similar. These conditions are similar to the point where it can be difficult to tell which condition someone is suffering from. However, there are two things that separate these conditions: genetics and ingredients. Alcohol intolerance is mainly a genetic disorder, whereas an allergy is usually to an ingredient in the alcohol. Alcoholic drinks can have several different components in them, and one of those components can cause an allergic reaction. Some of these would include:

  • Gluten/yeast
  • Proteins within grapes
  • Egg/seafood proteins
  • Barley, wheat, or hops
  • Sulfate

These substances can cause different allergic reactions, like rashes, difficulty breathing, and even can trigger asthma.

Prevention of Alcohol Intolerance

The best method of prevention is simply not drinking alcohol. There isn’t something that can prevent the reactions to alcohol, unfortunately, so the best precaution would be to stay away from alcohol entirely — either that or avoid the substance that causes a reaction. Reading labels is helpful as it will show what ingredients and additives are in a drink, but it might not list all of them.

Diagnosing Alcohol Intolerance

Alcohol intolerance can be diagnosed in a few ways. Alcohol intolerance can be self-diagnosable as some of the symptoms are very apparent (skin flushing, for example). Another way to diagnose is a skin test. A skin test will show what additive might be causing the allergic reaction. Your skin will be pricked with a small amount of the substances possibly causing your reaction. If your skin reacts (could be a raised bump or redness of that small area), then you are allergic to that substance and you’ll know what to avoid. Still another way to diagnose alcohol intolerance is through a blood test. This will measure your immune system’s response to a substance. A blood sample will be sent to a lab for results, but these tests aren’t as accurate as a skin test. One last test is the ethanol patch test. Most alcoholic beverages are something called ethyl alcohol or ethanol. In this test, a physician will take a small amount of ethanol and put it on a patch. This patch will be applied directly to the person and will be there for about seven minutes. That patch will be removed and a reaction will be observed. If there is redness, itchiness, or another adverse reaction, then one might be intolerant to alcohol. This is a great test to tell pure intolerance as opposed to a skin test that would show different allergic reactions to ingredients.

Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcohol Intolerance

While alcohol intolerant people may not drink as much, there is still a possibility that someone with alcohol intolerance can develop alcohol use disorder (AUD). People may look past the effects of their intolerance and keep drinking for the effects of alcohol. This can be dangerous as there are certain diseases that people with alcohol intolerance have a higher risk for. These diseases include:

  • Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease
  • Certain cancers (head and neck)
  • Liver diseases

One of the most common liver diseases for someone with AUD is a disease called cirrhosis


When misusing alcohol, one of the organs affected the most is our liver. The liver is what processes alcohol, and each time a person drinks, their liver is damaged. However, the liver can repair itself, leaving very minimal scar tissue. Cirrhosis of the liver slows this process down and leaves more and more scar tissue. This scar tissue prevents the liver from doing its job (breaking down enzymes). Late-stage cirrhosis is dangerous as the liver will start to fail. Symptoms of cirrhosis can be:

  • Pain in your upper right side
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Accidental rapid weight loss
  • Feeling lethargic (tired and sluggish)

This is the early stage of cirrhosis, whereas the late stage of cirrhosis has these symptoms:

  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin)
  • Darkening color of your urine
  • Brain fog (confusion, memory loss)
  • Easily bruising/bleeding
  • Edema (swelling in your lower legs, ankles, and feet)

AUD is a common disorder, but Vertava Health can help. Let’s discuss rehab for alcoholism. [inline_cta_six]

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Vertava Health Mississippi offers comprehensive treatment plans for all of our clients. We believe that every client is different and tailor treatment plans to the individual. However, most of our clients will participate in a detox program.

Alcohol Detox

When getting treatment, one part of it is getting rid of the toxins within one’s body. This process is called detoxification, or detox. Detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous. The change from drinking frequently to not drinking at all can cause some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares (bad dreams)
  • Not thinking clearly
  • Anxiety

Because of these unpleasant symptoms, we offer medically supervised detox. With a supervised detox, we will guide clients through the rough symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and possibly use medications to ease those symptoms. We will provide support for the toughest of times as well as address the mental and emotional tolls that detox can have on clients. After detox will come the next part of the client’s treatment plan.

Inpatient Rehab Treatment

Also called residential treatment, an inpatient program is one where the client will be staying at the treatment facility 24/7. This is a way for the client to be completely immersed in treatment and not have to worry about the natural triggers and stressors of life. One thing that makes this program immersive is that we are in a remote, peaceful environment with no electronics. Inpatient rehab offers individual therapy, daily medical support, extras such as arts and recreation, and much more. Inpatient rehab has a short-term program and a long-term program. The short-term program can last up to 60 days and is very intensive due to the shorter time frame. Long-term programs can last anywhere from 120 days to half a year. This form of treatment is best for clients with severe AUD or severe substance use disorders. These programs focus on integrating clients back into society. They focus more on social skills and different coping methods so clients can build toward a new life and a long-lasting recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Often called the gold standard of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy in which clients will tackle their inaccurate ways of thinking and replace them with new coping skills. CBT will aim to get at the root of behavior and give healthy ways to change. For example, if someone’s addiction is related to stress, the therapist will give different types of coping strategies for stress. CBT involves change and works to change two things: inaccurate behavioral patterns and thinking patterns. The strategies to change behavioral patterns consist of:

  • Learning to calm and relax one’s body
  • Facing one’s fears instead of avoiding them
  • Role-playing to prepare for certain situations with others

The ways to change thinking patterns include:

  • Using problem-solving to cope with stressful situations
  • Gaining a better understanding of other peoples’ motivations and behavior
  • Learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one’s abilities

CBT requires homework. These are activities that are supposed to be done outside of the therapy session. These can range from reading to interacting with a person. To get the most out of CBT, homework is necessary.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

The term “dialectical” means synthesis (blending) of two components, and this form of therapy focuses on blending two big components: change and acceptance. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has been used mainly to help people with borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but its properties and practices are also being used for many different mental disorders, including addiction. DBT has four different skills clients will learn. Two are change-based and two are acceptance-based. These four skills include:

  • Distress tolerance (acceptance-based): the client will learn how to accept stressful situations without changing them
  • Mindfulness (acceptance-based): the practice of being aware and present in the moment.; accepting the moment for what it is, and not thinking about the past or future
  • Emotional regulation (change-based): learning how to change the emotions a client wants to change while decreasing the vulnerability to other painful emotions
  • Interpersonal effectiveness (change-based): learning how to set boundaries and ask for what you want while still maintaining self-respect

Outpatient Treatment

This form of treatment is for clients who still have to balance work with treatment. Because we want our clients to get the best treatment possible, we offer an intensive outpatient program (IOP). Our IOP is as in-depth as our inpatient program, but the difference is that clients in IOP will be attending the facility and going home afterward. IOP offers the same services as our inpatient treatment and can be the transition that clients would make from inpatient rehab. IOP services take place in the evening, Monday through Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Requirements for IOP sessions are nine hours per week, so clients may not need to go to every session during the week.

Live Out Your Best Future at Vertava Health – Mississippi

At Vertava Health Mississippi, we offer the best care for our clients so they can live out their best futures. Located just outside of Memphis, Tennessee, in Southaven, Mississippi, we are dedicated to empowering each and every one of our clients by seeing them as individuals. Our individualized treatment programs address what that specific client needs so they can continue their road to recovery. Call (888) 956-6369 to start the journey to recovery.


What are the symptoms of alcohol intolerance? The symptoms of alcohol intolerance can include:

  • Skin flushing (redness of the skin)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Can you suddenly become intolerant to alcohol? Alcohol intolerance is a genetic (inborn) disorder wherein alcohol can’t be broken down by the body normally. If someone is having a reaction to alcohol for the first time, they may have an allergy to one of the ingredients in what they were drinking, or they may have been taking medication that interacted with the alcohol. If someone is not alcohol intolerant, then they will not suddenly become alcohol intolerant. How long do symptoms of alcohol intolerance last? Symptoms of alcohol intolerance can last from a couple of hours to about two days. This depends on the level of intolerance. What causes sudden onset alcohol intolerance? People are born with alcohol intolerance, so it’s not something that comes on suddenly. If you’re having symptoms like difficulty breathing or stomach cramping, this could be a sign of an alcohol allergy as opposed to intolerance.