If You Experience These 9 Subtle Symptoms After Drinking, You Might Be Alcohol Intolerant

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When it comes to drinking, there's a big difference between feeling tipsy or drunk, and experiencing the symptoms of alcohol intolerance. The latter is something else entirely, and may explain why you always feel sick after hitting up the bar with friends, or sipping some wine on a relaxing evening at home.

If you have strange symptoms soon after, it could be due to the fact your body doesn't process alcohol properly. "Alcohol intolerance means your body, specifically the digestive system, does not have the proper enzymes to break down alcohol or the toxins contained in and produced by alcohol," John Mansour, PharmD, RPh, CEO and co-founder of B4, tells Bustle. "There are other ingredients in alcohol that can cause the intolerance, such as grains (gluten/wheat), histamines, sulfites, artificial flavorings, grapes and more. In rare cases, the reaction to alcohol may be a sign of Hodgkin's Lymphoma [a cancer of the lymph nodes]."

If you think you might have alcohol intolerance, you can weigh the pros and cons — depending on the severity and cause of your symptoms — and simply have fewer drinks. "If someone is alcohol intolerant they don't necessarily need to avoid alcohol at all costs but just need to know their limits and drink slowly with food," board-certified gastrologist Dr. Daniel Motola MD, PhD tells Bustle. If you experience any of these symptoms after drinking, however, do ask your doctor for some advice, so you can stay safe. Here are a few signs you might be alcohol intolerant.

1. Feeling Unwell Right Away

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While nobody feels great after having one too many drinks, somebody with an alcohol intolerance may feel sick right away. "The first sign of alcohol intolerance is usually the general feeling of malaise and discomfort or not feeling well from as little as one drink," Mansour says. This symptom alone can make drinking unappealing, and you may want to talk to your doctor if it keeps happening.

2. Nausea & Vomiting After Few Drinks

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Along with the feeling of malaise, you might experience digestive troubles, such as nausea. "You can have a multitude of symptoms: nausea, stomach or abdominal pain, [and] vomiting," Mansour says. Again, this is likely to happen to anyone if they drink too much, but is a feeling that will crop up pretty much instantly for someone who is intolerant.

3. Excessive Gas

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According to Dr. Tania Elliott, a leading allergist in NYC and Chief Medical Officer of EHE, it's also common to experience "excessive intestinal gas, bloating, and abdominal pain." So if you can't seem to hit up the bar without feeling super uncomfortable after even one drink, then alcohol intolerance may be to blame. For a more certain diagnosis, talk to your doctor about your symptoms, and see what the best ways to proceed are.

4. Diarrhea

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In the same vein, Dr. Elliott says people with alcohol intolerance may even experience diarrhea, which is never fun when you're out with friends, or stuck in a cab, and suddenly have the urge to go. As with the other symptoms, take note if this happens even after one drink.

5. Flushing Of The Face

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One of the most common signs of alcohol intolerance is reddening of the face, which happens when "people are missing a key enzyme needed to break down alcohol," Dr. Elliott says. "This results in flushing of the face, and feeling the symptoms of alcohol intoxication with lower amounts of it."

6. Migraines

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"The most major mental symptom that can occur from alcohol intolerance is a migraine, which can be triggered due to a histamine release," Mansour says. This is different from the headache others might get the day after drinking, which is usually due to dehydration.

7. Runny Nose


Do you get a runny nose after drinking? This could, again, be due to the histamine response, which is common when you're allergic to something. "Most reactions are mediated by a histamine pathway and it behaves like any allergy," Dr. Luiza Petre, a board certified cardiologist, tells Bustle. "A histamine release is the final byproduct on the battleground between our body and anything considered a threat." As a result, Dr. Petre says the release of histamines leads to swelling and redness of the nasal passages, and ultimately, a runny nose.

8. Swelling Of The Hands

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If you notice that your hands get puffy too, alcohol may be to blame. "Alcohol intolerance symptoms and signs range from stuffy nose to swelling of the hands, feet, rash and itchy bumps," Cali Estes, PhD, founder of the Addictions Academy, tells Bustle. "Physically it is uncomfortable for a few hours, and irritating, at best. Mentally it can be distracting as it can affect your concentration."

This type of reaction can be avoided, however, by reading ingredients and knowing which types of drinks you can and cannot have. "I recommend finding a beverage your body can tolerate," Estes says. "Speak to your doctor and try to find out the specific ingredient causing these allergic/intolerant reactions."

9. Changes In Blood Pressure

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While this symptom might be difficult to pinpoint in your body, it is important to know that alcohol intolerance can lead to a drop in blood pressure. "Alcohol intolerance can include a number of symptoms such as physical aches and pains ... and physiological changes in breathing and blood pressure," Sheila Shilati, PsyD, addiction expert and COO of Seasons in Malibu, tells Bustle.

So to make sure you're staying safe, talk with a doctor to find out the best way to avoid these symptoms. "Alcohol intolerance is a way of your body informing you that it is rejecting what is being put in it to process," Shilati says. "Typically, it is best to avoid alcohol altogether in order to minimize intolerance symptoms. However, in some cases, certain alcohols might have greater effects than others." You might, for example, feel fine after drinking wine, but experience side effects after drinking beer.

"It is important to discuss these symptoms with a primary care provider and make an informed decision about the impacts of drinking," Shilati says. That way, you can have alcohol — if you want to — without making yourself sick.