You are twelve years old and going to a sleepover at one of your friends’ houses. When you get there, one of your friends decided to swipe a small pint of vodka from his older brother’s room. You all take turns drinking from the bottle, coughing and gagging at the taste and smell. When it gets to your turn, you manage to take a sip and pass it on. Immediately, you feel a rush of warmth followed by a wave of nausea. Your friends think you are just being a wimp but you can’t seem to shake the feeling. You turn in early while your friends stay up all night.
Fast forward to your college days. Now you are of age and want to celebrate by going out with your friends. You get to the local bar and order a round of shots with some beers. Gathered around, you and your friends take the shots followed by some beer. Almost immediately, your head is spinning, your skin is flushed, and you feel nauseous again, just like when you were a kid. One of your friends sees you and gets you outside to take you home. Why does this happen every time you drink alcohol?
In 2021, 17.7% of Texans reported binge drinking at least once in 30 days. But what about those who find themselves unable to drink alcohol? SUN Behavioral Health Houston is here to fill in the gaps about alcohol intolerance and the risks heavy drinking can cause.
Alcohol intolerance is a metabolic condition in which the body cannot process alcohol. The liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol using an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). During this process, ADH turns alcohol into acetaldehyde. Then, with the help of another enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase, it is turned into acetate. The acetate is then turned into carbon dioxide and water with the help of other tissues.
In people with alcohol intolerance, a genetic mutation does not allow aldehyde dehydrogenase to turn acetaldehyde into acetate. This is problematic as acetaldehyde is a known carcinogen and very toxic to the body. Their body will still eventually process the acetaldehyde but at a much slower and less efficient pace.
While one drink can make you feel unpleasant, it does not necessarily warrant a trip to the doctor. If you are having a severe reaction that affects breathing or hives that do not go away on their own, seek medical attention. If you experience a reaction to alcohol due to a new medication, also contact your physician as soon as possible.
If you have a reaction every time you drink alcohol, check with your doctor. They may order an allergy test for grains found in alcohol or check your skin using ethyl alcohol. Your doctor will be able to distinguish between alcohol intolerance and allergy and work with you on treatment options.
The sudden onset of alcohol intolerance can be a symptom of a much more serious condition. Hodgkin’s lymphoma can cause alcohol intolerance symptoms to appear and are often presented with pain. If you have never had an issue with drinking before, it is time to see your doctor.
People of Asian descent are at high-risk for alcohol intolerance. A study reported that Koreans have a higher percentage of people showing signs of alcoholism while Chinese people are more likely to have alcohol intolerance. Taiwanese people also showed to be more likely to have alcohol intolerance.
There are factors that can affect alcohol use beyond just race. Environmental factors such as living abroad for school can influence a person into wanting to drink. If alcohol intolerance symptoms are mild, they may be able to drink and manage the uncomfortable symptoms.
For those with alcohol intolerance who continue to drink, there are higher risks of developing certain conditions:
If you or someone you love has alcohol intolerance but is still drinking heavily, they may have entered the stages of alcoholism. Continuing to drink alcohol can lead to more than just health complications and shouldn’t be ignored.
The symptoms of alcohol intolerance start almost immediately after consumption. This is especially true if you have not eaten anything, as alcohol is mainly absorbed in the stomach and small intestine lining. For some, they may feel similar to being intoxicated after one drink. Others will feel more of a hangover, with nausea and headaches. While some antihistamines can help with alcohol intolerance, it is better to avoid alcohol altogether.
If you or someone you love is living with alcohol intolerance and alcohol use disorder, help is not far away. At SUN Behavioral Health Houston, we have a full treatment for alcohol use disorder. Our staff ensures the safety and well-being of all of our patients, from detox to outpatient.
Alcohol Detox: Detoxing helps the body readjust to not having alcohol in the system. When alcohol is consumed on a regular basis, the brain and other organs become used to it. When alcohol is taken away, it can take time for the body to recover, but this process is very important to healing and long-term recovery. Alcohol withdrawal is one of the main reasons patients keep drinking. Our detox program is medically supervised, and our staff is also trained in medication management to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Our team meets with each individual patient to decide what treatment plan is right for them after detox.
Inpatient: Our patients stay at our facility 24/7 and participate in group and individual therapy. We create an individualized treatment course that can include dual diagnosis with mental health conditions as well as wellness techniques to create healthy habits. This provides a safe and distraction-free space for our patients to focus on themselves and recovery.
Outpatient: For our patients transitioning out of inpatient care or for those who do not need as much support as an inpatient stay. The patients come to our facility for therapy, medication management, and support throughout the day, 5 days a week. They do not stay onsite overnight; they are free to go home and then come back the next day.
It is still possible to be managing alcohol use disorder even when you have alcohol intolerance. SUN Behavioral Health Houston can help you reclaim your life from alcohol and develop healthy habits. Call us today at 713-796-2273 to hear more about all our treatment services.
You will have a reaction every time you drink alcohol, specifically experiencing flushing of the skin.
It is possible to become intolerant to alcohol suddenly. If this happens, seek medical attention as soon as possible as this can be a sign of a more severe underlying condition.
Depending on the person and how much alcohol was consumed, it can take 2-4 hours for symptoms to lessen.
Alcohol intolerance is most commonly caused by a genetic mutation. However, sudden onset alcohol intolerance can be a sign of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.