Alcohol intolerance

Alcohol intolerance can cause immediate, unpleasant reactions after you consume alcohol. The most common signs and symptoms of alcohol intolerance are nasal congestion and skin flushing. This condition is sometimes inaccurately referred to as an alcohol allergy. Alcohol intolerance is caused by a genetic condition in which the body is unable to break down alcohol. The only way to prevent alcohol intolerance is to avoid alcohol altogether.

In some cases, what may seem to be alcohol intolerance is caused by a reaction to something else in an alcoholic beverage — such as chemicals, grains or preservatives. In other cases, reactions are caused by combining alcohol with certain medications. In rare instances, reactions to alcohol can be a sign of a serious underlying health problem that requires diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Alcohol intolerance symptoms — or symptoms of a reaction to ingredients in an alcoholic beverage — can include:

  • Facial redness (flushing)
  • Warm, red, itchy bumps on the skin (hives)
  • Worsening of pre-existing asthma
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

When to see a doctor

You may not need to see a doctor if you have a mild intolerance to alcohol or something else in alcoholic beverages. You may simply need to avoid alcohol, limit how much you drink or avoid certain types of alcoholic beverages that seem to be causing your symptoms. However, if you have a serious reaction or you suspect your symptoms could be linked to an allergy or underlying health problem or a medication you're taking, see your doctor.

© 1998-2015 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of use