What You Need to Know About Alcohol Allergies

Toasting with seltzer and a splash of cranberry or a virgin strawberry daiquiri may be just what the doctor ordered. While it is rare, there are a number of people who actually suffer from an alcohol allergy. So while others can sit at the bar and order alcohol, you might have to opt for a non-alcoholic beverage. Or perhaps, by learning more about your allergy, you can find other options that you are not allergic too.


The research about alcohol allergies is limited but mostly focuses on aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2).  This is the enzyme that is responsible for digesting alcohol so that it can be turned into acetic acid or vinegar once it is in the liver. Some people have a gene that inactivates ALDH2 so that the alcohol cannot turn into vinegar. 

Common symptoms that may indicate an alcohol allergy include:  

  • Hives - Can be a sign that your body is hypersensitive and can be very serious. Can become itchy and very painful. Can lead to anaphylaxis.
  • Swelling of nose and mouth - Can indicate an allergy to histamines and can lead to difficulty breathing.
  • Flush Reaction - A true allergy usually involves a flush reaction along with aches and pains.
  • Elevated Heart Rate - Often accompanies a flush feeling, hives, and dizziness.
  • Stomach Cramps - Intense stomach pain, cramps, nausea and upset stomach can indicate an allergy to histamines, which causes blood vessels to swell to give this reaction. 

    Many people who believe they suffer from an allergy to alcohol are often actually allergic to an allergen that is found in the alcohol. Most common allergens in alcohol are:

    • Barley - Often found in beer 
    • Yeast - Often found in beer
    • Rye - Often founding whiskey
    • Wheat - Often found in beer
    • Gluten - Often found in beer
    • Histamines - Often found in red wine
    • Sulfites - Often found in white wine

    For those with a true alcohol allergy, it is best to avoid consuming any alcohol at all. Even the smallest amount can trigger serious symptoms. For those allergic to the allergens, the reactions can also exacerbate any other allergies one might have. Reactions to any alcohol related allergy should be taken seriously as they can grow more intense quite quickly. Stopping drinking at the first sign of a reaction is very important. 

    Fortunately, today’s market offers many non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic beverages, as well as specialty drinks for those with food allergies. There are gluten-free beers and sulfite free wines to name a few. Those who cannot partake in alcohol at all, dress up seltzer with a splash of juices or ask for a virgin version of a favorite drink.  

    So don’t count yourself out, but instead find a new beverage that is safe to have with your alcohol allergy. Cheers!

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