When it comes to drinking, there's a big difference between feeling tipsy and having symptoms of alcohol intolerance. The former is when you get a little loosey-goosey at the bar; the latter is more like you feel sick after sipping on a glass of wine while relaxing at home.
If you have strange symptoms soon after drinking, your body may not be processing 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 pre-drinking supplement 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]."
"Alcohol intolerance is a way of your body informing you that it is rejecting what is being put in it to process," Sheila Shilati, PsyD, COO of rehab facility Seasons, tells Bustle. "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.
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 gastroenterologist Dr. Daniel Motola M.D., PhD, tells Bustle. If you experience any of these symptoms after drinking, talk to your doctor about the best way to move forward. Here are a few signs you might be alcohol intolerant.
John Mansour, PharmD, RPh, CEO and co-founder of pre-drinking supplement B4
Bryant, A. J., & Newman, J. H. (2013). Alcohol intolerance associated with Hodgkin lymphoma. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 185(8), E353. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.120974
Wüthrich B. (2018). Allergic and intolerance reactions to wine. Allergologie select, 2(1), 80–88. https://doi.org/10.5414/ALX01420E