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Acute Alcohol Sensitivity

For those who have alcohol intolerance or alcohol allergy, those not-so-cute symptoms can hit them soon after a sip of alcohol.

Alcohol Intolerance

People who can not tolerate small or moderate amounts of alcohol have a variation of a gene that prevents them from efficiently breaking down alcohol. Acetaldehyde, a toxic alcoholic byproduct, builds up. Individuals with alcohol intolerance may experience a variety of uncomfortable symptoms soon after drinking alcohol.

Alcohol Allergy

In some cases, the immediate, awful reaction to alcoholic drinks may be caused by allergy to ingredients in the beverage. An allergy to ethanol is rare, but people may be allergic to the additives or the grains used to make the final alcoholic product. 

Common allergens in alcoholic beverages include:

  • Sulfites or other preservatives

  • Grains such as corn, wheat, or rye

  • Histamines

  • Artificial fruit flavoring

  • Gluten and yeast


Signs and symptoms of alcohol intolerance and alcohol allergy may include:

  • Flushing of the face, neck, and shoulders

  • Red and itchy skin bumps (hives)

  • Worsening of preexisting asthma

  • Low blood pressure

  • Headache

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fast beating of the heart

  • Diarrhea

  • Runny or stuffy nose


The surest way to avoid feeling horrible after a drink is to avoid alcoholic drinks. Individuals who are aware of the triggers for their alcohol allergy can avoid drinks containing or made from those ingredients.


Palmer E et al. Alcohol Hangover: Underlying Biochemical, Inflammatory and Neurochemical Mechanisms. Alcohol Alcohol. 2019 May 1;54(3):196-203.

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