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Updated on June 15, 2023
4 min read

Is Alcohol Intolerance the Same as An Alcohol Allergy?

Jordan Flagel
Elena Borrelli M.S.PAC
Written by 
6 Sources Cited
Jordan Flagel
Written by 
6 Sources Cited

What is an Alcohol Allergy?

 An alcohol allergy is when the immune system creates antibodies to fight off a ‘perceived threat’ from compounds in the substance. People with an alcohol allergy have more severe reactions than those with an intolerance.

For those who suffer from an alcohol allergy, even a slight amount of alcohol can be enough to trigger an adverse reaction. However, it’s more common for people to experience an alcohol intolerance rather than an allergy.


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Alcohol Intolerance vs. Alcohol Allergy

Alcohol intolerance is a genetic disorder caused by the lack of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) or aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) in the body. These are enzymes that process alcohol.

Alcohol intolerance is an inherited trait. People of East Asian descent often have it, and a characteristic symptom of this condition is facial flushing.

On the other hand, an alcohol allergy is an immune system response. It typically creates a much more severe reaction to the components found in alcohol.

Though symptoms differ, alcohol intolerance and an alcohol allergy can cause:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pains
  • Rashes
  • Trouble breathing

What are The Symptoms of Alcohol Allergy?

Common alcohol allergy symptoms include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Hives or rash
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Weakness and collapse
  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a severe reaction. It can cause a rapid heart rate, weak pulse, nausea, and vomiting. 

If any of these symptoms occur after ingesting alcohol, seek help immediately.

Alcohol Allergy
Alcohol Allergic Reaction

Allergic Reaction to Alcohol Photos


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What Causes Alcohol Allergy? 

Certain types of grains or preservatives in alcohol can cause an alcohol allergy. The body’s immune system treats one or more of the compounds found in alcohol as dangerous. Your body then creates potent antibodies to fight the ‘infection.’

There are many typical food allergens found in alcohol, including:

  • Barley
  • Hops
  • Rye
  • Wheat (gluten)
  • Grapes
  • Seafood proteins
  • Egg protein (found in both red wine and white wine)
  • Sodium metabisulfite
  • Sulfites
  • Yeast

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Is Alcohol Intolerance the Same as Being Drunk?

No, alcohol intolerance and being drunk is not the same thing. The former is a physical reaction to alcohol, while the latter is due to consuming too much alcohol.

The symptoms of alcohol intolerance can occur even with small amounts of alcohol. The symptoms may not be like typical drunkenness, including flushing and other effects. However, the inability to properly break down alcohol leads to higher blood alcohol levels, even after consuming small amounts. Alcohol intolerance may also cause you to drink less because of its unpleasant effects.

How to Prevent Alcohol Intolerance

Unfortunately, there are no drugs or treatments to avoid or lessen the symptoms of alcohol intolerance. The best way to prevent alcohol intolerance is to limit or avoid alcohol consumption.

Some research suggests that people with mild symptoms of alcohol intolerance can get used to excess acetaldehyde in their bodies.4 However, this is not typically recommended as acetaldehyde is highly toxic if the body cannot break it down.

When to See a Doctor

A mild alcohol intolerance won’t require a trip to the doctor. Its symptoms are minimal and will go away after drinking. Limiting your alcohol intake or avoiding it altogether is the best course of action.

However, if you experience severe symptoms, seek emergency medical attention immediately. These symptoms may indicate a serious health condition requiring immediate treatment.

Alcohol Allergy Diagnosis and Treatment

If you’re concerned about how a loved one reacts to alcohol, consult a doctor about an alcohol allergy evaluation. Doing so may help avoid potentially life-threatening symptoms while out drinking. 

A true alcohol allergy requires diagnosis using the same methods as food and environmental allergies. To evaluate for an alcohol allergy, your healthcare provider may:

  • Perform a physical exam
  • Order a skin prick test to show if you are allergic to any specific ingredients found in alcohol
  • Order blood tests

If you react in public, assess the situation and treat it accordingly. Lie down if possible and contact a healthcare professional, even if it is not life-threatening.


Alcohol intolerance and alcohol allergy are reactions you may have when drinking alcohol. While most symptoms of these two conditions are minimal, you should avoid alcohol consumption to prevent them from worsening. Consult a doctor to evaluate for a potential alcohol allergy and receive proper treatment.

Updated on June 15, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on June 15, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Gonzalez-Quintela et al. "Alcohol, IgE and allergy." Addict Biol, 2004.
  2. "Alcohol Allergy." ASCIA, 2019.
  3. Vally, H., Thompson, PJ. "Allergic and asthmatic reactions to alcoholic drinks." Addict Biol, 2003.
  4. "Alcohol "Flush" Signals Increased Cancer Risk Among East Asians." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2009. 
  5. Morozova TV., Mackay TF., Anholt, RR. "Genetics and genomics of alcohol sensitivity." Mol Genet Genomics, 2014.
  6. "ALCOHOL ALLERGIES: DO THEY EXIST?" Ramapo College Of New Jersey.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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