Alcohol Intolerance


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Alcohol intolerance is when you suffer an adverse reaction after alcohol consumption, which is usually followed by unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. It is sometimes mistaken for alcohol allergy, which is an immune reaction rather than digestive as is the case with alcohol intolerance.

What causes it?

It occurs because the body is unable to break down alcohol. Your body can’t break down the alcohol because it doesn’t have the right enzymes need to remove the toxins in the alcohol.

Although, sometimes it is caused by a chemical which has been added to the alcoholic drink rather than the alcohol itself; in which case this is not classed as alcohol intolerance but another type of food intolerance. For example, the reaction may have been triggered by the grain in the alcohol, so it could actually be a wheat and/or gluten intolerance rather than an alcohol intolerance. In some rare cases, alcohol make interact with medication and cause an adverse reaction, this may also be misdiagnosed as alcohol intolerance.

In very rare cases, excessive pain after drinking alcohol can be sign of a more serious underlying condition, for example – Hodgkin’s disease (a type of lymphoma – a cancer of the white blood cells).

Who’s affected?

Alcohol Intolerance is caused by a genetic trait that means your body is unable to digest alcohol fully. This genetic trait is passed from generation to generation by autosomal recessive inheritance. It is said that Caucasians are able to metabolise alcohol three times faster than those of Asian descent. Usually alcohol intolerance symptoms only surface after quite a large amount of alcohol is consumed. However, in Asians even small amounts of alcohol can have the same effect as large amounts in Caucasians would have. One of the most apparent symptoms seen is flushing in the skin, which has been labelled ‘Asian Flush.’

Below is a list of other factors which could cause you to be affected:

  • Having another food intolerance
  • Having Hodgkin’s Disease
  • Taking certain medications such as antibiotics
  • Taking alcohol dependence medication (Anatbuse), which can have similar affects as alcohol intolerance
  • Alcohol intolerance can be genetic; running in families as with most food intolerances.

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