What are Alcohol Allergy Symptoms?

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alcohol allergy symptoms

Some people have a sudden adverse reaction after drinking alcohol. Learn why.

An alcohol allergy is a rare event where you have sudden symptoms that occur. These can happen when you drink even a small amount of alcohol. A true alcohol allergy is not the same thing as alcohol intolerance.

An alcohol allergy involves classic allergy symptoms, like hives, rash, wheezing, and such. Alcohol intolerance is what happens when your body doesn’t have the proper enzymes needed to break down the toxins. Keep reading to learn more about alcohol allergy symptoms.

Am I Allergic to Alcohol?

An allergy to alcohol is like many other types of allergies. Some people react when exposed to certain allergens. These can be food allergies, hay fever, or many other types of exposures that trigger symptoms. It is a sign that the body is not able to tolerate the substance.

These symptoms of alcohol intolerance include:

  • Nasal congestion.
  • Wheezing
  • Itchy throat.
  • Sneezing
  • Hives or rash.
  • Itchy mouth, eyes, or nose.
  • Swelling of face or throat.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Anaphylaxis
  • runny nose

Some people may not have ever had a problem with alcohol before, and then out of nowhere begin to have symptoms. If you have an alcohol allergy it is always best to avoid drinking, period.

Risk Factors for Alcohol Allergy

Alcohol allergies are rare. People who have an  allergic reaction to alcohol have an immune system response where the body makes IgE antibodies. These are what cause the symptoms to emerge when exposed to alcohol.

There are some risk factors that have been noted. These include:

  • Having Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • Having food allergies.
  • Having asthma or hay fever

One other cause could be a reaction between the alcohol and a medication.

Once the symptoms happen, you should see a doctor who can help you plan to get tested by an allergist. This can help you know exactly what it is that you are reacting to in the alcohol. The testing for this involves a skin prick test to see how your skin reacts to certain triggers.

The doctor will also ask about your health and any medical conditions, or if you have struggled with allergies before. Blood tests are also ordered by the doctor to look at the full health picture.

What Causes Alcohol Allergy Symptoms?

Why do some people have this type of allergy? The allergy symptoms occur because there is something present in the drink that triggers a response. These could be sulfites, which are added to wine and beer. White wine has higher levels of sulfites than red wines.

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It could also be histamines that are found in beer and wines. For people with celiac disease, the wheat, barley, or rye in certain liquors can also cause a response. These grains contain gluten, which is harmful for people with this disease.

Once you learn about what the culprit is, you can avoid those kinds of alcohol. If it were a gluten issue, then you would have to avoid beers and spirits like vodka. If it were a sulfite allergy, you would avoid wine and beer. But if you are allergic to any type of alcohol, you will have to avoid drinking altogether.

What is Alcohol Intolerance?

Alcohol intolerance is different than an alcohol allergy. An alcohol allergy is caused by the body reacting to a substance within the drink. On the other hand, an enzyme issue causes alcohol intolerance.

It has been found that being of Asian descent can increase the risk for intolerance. This is because of a gene that causes a problem with the ALDH2 enzyme. When this enzyme isn’t working right, the body cannot break down the alcohol in the system.

Other causes of intolerance might include:

  • Age. As people age their metabolism changes. Sometimes this makes them more sensitive to alcohol in later years.
  • Stomach problems. People with gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining, can have pain or other symptoms when they drink.
  • Liver problems. Someone with liver disease will not be able to tolerate alcohol.

Need to Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Sometimes, the symptoms of an alcohol allergy or alcohol intolerance come on quickly. All of a sudden it seems your body is sensitive to the alcohol or the effects of alcohol. If that happens to someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it can be a problem. It is hard to just avoid alcohol and  stop drinking.

If this describes you then you will need to access the help of a detox and rehab program. It is very risky to just stop drinking without expert support. Someone with a moderate to severe AUD will need to detox under close supervision.


For the body to safely adjust to the absence of alcohol you will need professional support. These detox experts will closely record vital signs and provide the meds to help you get through the detox. They also know to be on the look out for the DTs, which can be a health emergency. With support you will be able to safely finish the detox and then move into the treatment program.


Detox alone will not be enough. This is because to break the grip of the AUD you have to also learn how to manage triggers. The treatment program gives you the tools to cope with triggers and stressors in recovery. Treatment will involve many types of therapies and activities, as well as holistic methods. Rehab programs last from 1-6 months depending on the AUD severity.

Once both detox and rehab are completed you will engage in after care activities. These are the sources of support that will help you to sustain sobriety. If you have an alcohol allergy and must stop drinking, there is help for you.

Capo by the Sea Addiction and Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Capo by the Sea is a premier treatment program for substance use disorders. At Capo by the Sea, our expert and compassionate team members will guide you onto the path to recovery. For more details, call us today at (888) 529-2114.