If you have suddenly gone off alcohol because of intolerance or sudden allergy to alcohol, your body is trying to tell you something. When you drink alcohol you experience the effects in many different body systems including the liver, brain, nervous system, and even your skin. When you drink large amounts for long periods of time your body is affected in many ways and developing an intolerance is not uncommon.
If you can’t drink alcohol anymore without getting sick you may notice severe reactions even after just one drink. This is commonly noted by symptoms such as:
- Stuffy nose
- Flushing in the skin
- Red face
- Bumps on the skin
- Asthma attacks or wheezing
- Drop in blood pressure
- Nausea, Vomiting or Diarrhea
Why Have I Suddenly Gone Off Alcohol?
People who have suddenly gone off alcohol are experiencing one of two things: either an allergic reaction or loss of production of an enzyme that helps you break down alcohol.
An allergic reaction to alcohol is usually an allergic reaction to something the drink is made from not the actual alcohol itself. This could be things like sulfites (preservatives), the grain used, the fruit used, or other chemicals used in processing. Allergic reactions can also be caused by histamines that develop in the fermentation process. If you have gluten intolerance (celiac) any wheat based drinks like beer will give you a reaction.
An actual intolerance to alcohol happens because you don’t have the right enzyme to filter the alcohol out of your body. This is genetically common to Asians, but can happen to anyone. This enzyme is known as ALDH (aldehyde dehydrogenase). It is made by the liver and breaks alcohol down into a substance like vinegar. If your body starts making less of this enzyme, you may develop a sudden intolerance to alcohol. If you can’t break the alcohol down, it stays in your bloodstream and can be toxic.
Sometimes if you have suddenly gone off alcohol, you may have a health condition that needs evaluated by a doctor. For instance, Hodgkin lymphoma causes pain after drinking.
Suddenly Gone Off Alcohol: What to Do?
If you can’t drink alcohol after being able to drink previously see your doctor. They can test for causes of alcohol intolerance. These tests include:
1. History and Physical
The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and which alcoholic drinks cause them. The doctor may ask about a history of allergies in you or close family members. You will also be examined physically to look for signs of conditions that may cause alcohol intolerance.
2. Allergy Testing
You may be tested for allergies to grains or fruits. This is usually done with a pin prick on the skin with allergenic substances and the doctor watches for a local skin reaction.
3. Blood Testing
Your blood may be tested for allergic antibodies called, immunoglobulin E. These levels are higher with certain allergenic foods. They aren’t very accurate but can be helpful. You may also be tested for levels of ALDH, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.
If you are having any kind of alcohol intolerance the following tips can help relieve your symptoms:
- Avoid alcohol or the alcoholic drinks that give you symptoms.
- Try an over-the-counter antihistamine to reduce milk symptoms like itching, hives or flushing. Severe reactions are a medical emergency.
- If you know that you are allergic, use a medical alert bracelet. Your doctor may need to give you an EpiPen (epinephrine injection device) if you have had a severe reaction.
- If you know what your allergy is, check the labels on alcoholic beverages to see what they are made from. Look for sulfites, grains, fruits, and nuts used to make the drink.
What Others Have Experienced and Tried
“I was always fine with alcohol, but on New Year’s Eve I decided to have a rum and coke. It was made very weak, but I threw up all night. Something made me really sick in it. I took a Benadryl and the reaction stopped. A few days later, I drank a beer by the pool and nothing happened. I will stay away from rum from now on.”
“I have found when I show signs of alcohol intolerance after periods of heavy drinking is to avoid alcohol for a while. Usually, if I give myself six months or so I find I can drink again.”
“When I try to drink more often than usual I get a bad reaction to alcohol. My body seems to only be able to handle alcohol once every two to three months. If I drink more often than that, it feels like I drank poison. I just save the drinks for special occasions and I seem to do okay with that.”
“A few years back I had suddenly gone off alcohol for seemingly no reason. I went to a few different doctors and they couldn’t find the reason. After numerous tests, they found out I have celiac disease with gluten intolerance. Beer is made from grains with gluten and wines are aged in barrels that are lined with a paste made from wheat. Even though hard liquor is gluten free I can’t tolerate any of it. I have just quit drinking alcohol and enjoy other things when I am out.”
“I recently started having bad headaches and vomiting for up to three days after drinking alcohol. The headaches are like migraines and the last time it happened, I almost went to the emergency room thinking I was poisoned. I drank tons of water and the reaction stopped. Turns out that alcohol is very dehydrating and I wasn’t drinking enough water after drinking alcohol.”