Can You Become Allergic to Alcohol?

Daniel emailed me to ask for my thoughts on the question “Can you have an alcohol allergy?” He recalled that I had mentioned I was allergic to alcohol in a talk I gave to a group of alumni of the Sunshine Coast Health Centre.

Dr. Neill NeillI was a functioning alcoholic when I was younger. But in my mid thirties I began having unexplained physical illness symptoms that eventually got me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota.

During the prior year I had been hospitalized for a duodenal ulcer and later for a gall bladder attack, neither of which actually existed. I periodically got a sharp pain that ran from my left chest over my shoulder and down my left arm, so they checked me for heart problems. My heart was and is strong. I had periodic severe lower abdominal pain suggesting a hernia; I may have had a phantom hernia, but not a real one. My morning weight varied as much as 7 lbs with no change in activity, diet or alcohol consumption.

At the end of a week of testing, the Mayo Clinic doctors concluded there was nothing physically wrong with me, but I may have become allergic to alcohol. They suggested as a test that I stop drinking for five months and see what happens.

I stopped drinking and all symptoms were gone within a month.

Subsequent to that experience of three decades ago, especially in my work in the field of energy psychology, a new phrase has come into use. We now use the phrase “allergy-like reactions.” Yes, the immune system may be involved, but the mind is definitely involved.

In the 1970s the Mayo Clinic doctors called what I had an allergy. Today without immune-system testing they would probably say I was having an allergy-like reaction to alcohol.

Both allergies and allergy-like reactions can often be treated with energy psychology. I am not the expert on treating allergies with energy psychology; my colleague Sandi Radomski, author of Allergy Antidotes, is the expert.

However, I have had clients with violent allergic reactions to cats and dogs—trouble breathing, eyes swelling shut, etc.—completely overcome their allergy in the course of our doing energy work on other issues.

So in the end I don’t know whether I had developed a true allergy to alcohol or had developed an allergy-like reaction to alcohol. But I don’t think it matters. It was the kick in the pants that led to my recovery from alcoholism.

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18 thoughts on “Can You Become Allergic to Alcohol?

  1. what is alcoholic neuropathy? Have heard the term and interested in understanding, It is just amazing when you read the comments from other people and it is like they are just describing the events of your own life.

  2. If I have 1 glass of wine or beer I have severe sneezing feel ill and runny nose, … I used to drink a bottle of wine easy. Now I have asthma, I’m sure the alcohol has given me it.

  3. Im a recovering alcaholic,sober for well over 4 years now,as far as this allergic reaction to alcahol,YES,some people do develop terrible symptoms,even mental instabillity while drinking,but after quitting all the symptoms go away.I have walked this walk and I do talk the talk,Alcahol is poision,It will destroy every fiber of your being.Yet its the most deadly drug by far in the U.S.A.. but its legal.Now thats a social injustice in itself.This war on drugs is turning there head when it comes to alcahol,pot hasnt killed no where as many people as alcahol.

  4. This happened to me. I had also been a functioning alcoholic. It first started with nausea. For over a year nausea and vomiting occurred daily. Then over a period of about a month I started developing hives and then these strange itchy bumps on my scalp. Then things spiraled out of control. My lips began to swell but in a truly bizarre way. My bottom lower lip would swell, but only on one side. After a benadryl, the symptoms would slowly disappear. Then the bottom lip would swell, top half and finally there was a situation where my lips got so large so quickly I was really frightened the skin might rupture. While all this was happening, the hives, scalp bumps and nausea and vomiting continued. My doctor was asking about personal care products, laundry detergent, soaps, deoderant, etc., while prescribing Prednisone to battle the histimine craziness. Then she suggested I stop the daily scotch drinking. I put down the bottle and almost like a miracle, all the allergic symptoms stopped within 36 hours. I haven’t had a drink since. I have been symptom-free since. Am I allergic to booze, specifically scotch, or less specifically to alcohol in general? I don’t know, but I won’t have another drink to find out.

  5. I am 58 years old, but have never had high bp, high heart rate or really bad heart problems. I WAS told a had slight mitral valve prolapse which has never bothered me before. They also claim I have a heart murmur. Now as I am getting older they SAY I have high bp and I seem to have palpitations sometimes to where it makes me feel weird.

    NOW also, when I drink a lot (a bottle of wine, or 4 cocktails or so) the next day, I don’t really feel like it’s a hangover, but that my bp is high and my heart rate is high. Sometimes, I had pins and needles in my arms and hands and cannot make a fist. Then I feel like I will pass out. I can’t even get up to get myself any water or anything.

    I have gone to the ER about 4 times, and it SEEMS as though I RELATE it to the alcohol, but never had this problem before. The ER claims each time it’s anxiety or panic attack, but I have been in the medical field all my life and do NOT think I am experiencing this. I do have stress but handle it ok except drink too much to be numb, but I have done that for years with no problems. My liver was checked out to be ok as far as labs go, but they did say I had a fatty liver. They claim my heart is ok and they tried many bp meds which I hate to take–side effects, such as hair loss, tiredness, lethargy etc. I just don’t like meds.

    I have started exercising and notice my bp went down to almost perfect for about the time I exercised. Then had few too many, but did not get as bad as the symptoms I normally would get. My stomach was bloated and bathroom problems. Could my age be it? Could I have developed some weirdo thing?? I am so afraid of having drinks with friends because I pray they next day I’ll be ok. HELP!!

  6. Hi Louse,

    When I became allergic to alcohol, I had all sorts of weird physical symptoms. What they told me at the Mayo Clinic was to stop drinking completely for five months and see what happens. I did, and within a couple of months, I felt great, so I’ve never gone back to drinking. And I have never had those symptoms again.

    Pay attention to the best medical advice you can get, but in the meantime, if you suspect the long-term alcohol use is catching up with you, why not just stop drinking a see what happens?

  7. About 7 years ago I began having allergies to alcohol. Now if I drink I might get buzz a little before I start to vomit my body will not digest it. So I was curious I am a pre-Med student and so I began to research and I found out that our body naturally makes an ezyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase and if you body does not make enough of this enzyme than you will be allergic to alcohol. Solution: plan 1 do not drink or plan 2 you can take a supplement called cysteine 200mg per ounce of alcohol consumed so take 1 pill before you start drinking and 1 with each drink and 1 more when you are done. Along with that if you are allergic to citrus like I am you will have to take a 600mg vit c before you start to drink. Vitamin C helps with the making of this enzyme just like the cysteine supplement. Hope this helps.

  8. Millions of Americans suffer the same affliction. I myself have suffer severe illness after drinking a moderate amount of alcohol….In my younger days, I could drink heavy at night and
    be at the gym exercising early the next day…then..attend classes….then go to my night job (bar)…then go out with the bar crew after our shift….this was a 6 year ritual…with no problems or massive hangovers……Now if I have 5 or 6 Drinks ( I am 6’5″ – 280lb man) ….I will be physically ill for several days…..many of the same symptoms.

    I am in the Medical Field ( Cellular Biology) and have a PhD in Health Studies….So I was determined to discover the reason for my condition…….While the liver…and allergies may be the reasons for some…I believe that the Vast Majority of people who used to drink moderate to heavy in their youth…but cannot anymore is due to a condition that has yet to be classified or studied……..This condition could be referred to as Hyper Sensitive Autonomic Dysfunction. It involves our central nervous system (sympathetic & parasympathetic) Alcohol use will suppress the sympathetic by increasing the parasympathetic responses………with Normal People once the alcohol starts to dissipate …the sympathetic responses will slowly go back UP to normal…..With those of us who were born with a congenital condition ( pre-disposing us to a Highly Sensitive Sympathetic Response)… the alcohol leaves our bodies…our sympathetic response would go SKY HIGH……activating “Flu Like Symptoms” for days……Studies are published on the “Autonomic Neuropathy” …which is what this is……but certain people get autonomic neuropathy BEFORE they become ill with a Chronic Disease…..All of current studies on AN are for people who suffer from different Chronic Illnesses….NO ONE has looked into the possibility that certain people ( children of Alcoholics and or Drug Users) are BORN with a genetic predisposition to this AN.

  9. I’m an alcoholic and I could kill a bottle of vodka in no time. One day I was going through the ritual of puking my guts out and found myself so unfunctional I had a friend take me to the ER.


    The worst pain I’d ever felt in my upper left chest, heart palpatations, back pain, fever, vomiting, and sweats. My pancreas had swelled up and I felt like I couldn’t breath. It’s a big problem with alcoholics, check it out.

    I can’t drink anymore and when I do, even a glass has me violently ill. Sounds what the poster of this thread experienced.

  10. My dad was an alcoholic and I can count the times I’ve been drunk on my fingers of one hand so it’s not a lot. For the past year, if I drink I will develop this diss-associative symptom where I am very distracted and out of this world. It also involves flu symptoms. I had a shot worth of x-rated on Thursday and it is now Sunday. I got sick immediately.

    My Dr. prescribed antidepressants after coming home from new years with heart palpitations galore and the shakes. And that diss-associated feeling too. Since alcohol is a depressant i think antidepressants counteract my diss-associated ness. So I take half an antidepressant for three nights. Then I’m back to normal. I won’t ever drink a single drop of alcohol again. I can’t focus if I do. It’s not worth it. And I’m 23. And hardly ever drink anyway. So Maybe with my experience you can find a connection with this info in youur own theory.

  11. Hello,
    I am a 34 yr.old woman that is experiencing many of the symptoms you mentioned above. I have lead fun-filled and free spirited life resulting in drinks all around, very social. I normally can handle plenty and generally feel quite normal the next day. The past 3-4 months have been different though. For instance, last week after an evening of drinking with friends the next day I could of sworn I was having a heart attach.
    If it’s not that, I have what seems like an ulcer. Along with that comes severe anxiety. All episodes come along with diarrhea, sleeplessness, misery.

    I have a doctor appointment next week to do some blood work. However, I am certain this is all resulting in a development of an allergy to alcohol. I eat healthy, feel healthy (unless I’m having an attack). I like drinking socially but not if this is the outcome, what are your thoughts?

  12. I’m a 40 year old male and have been allergic to alcohol my entire life. When I was 14, I took a drink of my dad’s beer (no more than a ounce) and it put me in a coma for 2 weeks. At the time, doctors did not know what the issue was that caused me to end up in a coma. I was used as a testing rat to determine what was wrong. After a month and a ton of blood work and biopsy’s, they found that my kidneys shut down due to not being able to break down the alcohol in my system. So to this day, I have not had one drink.

  13. @Caine … The exact same thing happened to me. People just don’t believe you when you tell them it is that serious. It can make dating so hard sometimes!

  14. It sounds like Caine and Nat had a severe reaction to alcohol. But as for the others, get real! The only thing you have is DENIAL. Alcoholism is a progressive illness, so if you drink progressively more then you WILL start to become physcially, mentally, and emotionally sick because alcohol is toxic!

  15. I suddenly become very ill even with one drink. Never happened to me before until a month ago.

  16. After liqueur, my heart began pounding out of my chest, skin on fire and prickly, nose stuffed up, face very hot, my lower lip went numb, jaw pain and my throat was constricting and I pulled over. Someone called 911. At the hospital, my blood alcohol limit was over limit and life ruined.

    An allergist I saw said there is no test for allergy to alcohol, sugar or any ingredients that may have been in the drinks. My lawyer’s toxicologist said there’s no such thing as an alcohol allergy and not to ‘look for a way out’. He said we could try to replicate the symptoms while doing blood tests. You could not pay me enough to do that. Not accepting my punishment was not the case. I had something very frightening and very serious happen, and sources including Mayo describe my exact symptoms, its genetic link that many cannot process alcohol, and do refer to tests. I’m concerned about the conflicting info being given to people and would simply like to know the facts.

  17. I used to drink socially in high school and never had any problems. If I had it probably would have scared me enough about getting caught that I wouldn’t have done it anymore. It wasn’t until I was about 21 and old enough to drink legally that I thought I was allergic to some type of fruit. I would usually drink fruity drinks and within just a few sips my face, neck, chest and arms would get really red and hot, my lips swell, my skin burns and was blotchy. I started to switch up my drinks to beer, wine, rum and coke and everything would cause the same reaction. Beer is the only thing that does not cause as bad of a reaction so I really do feel like it has a lot to do with the percentage of alcohol in the drink.

  18. Comments like this can make someone worry, like me. I used to enjoy drinking Guinness, only on a Saturday night, but never got drunk and got away with having 5 cans without a problem. Until things went wrong, in January of this year, with my mental health caused by constant worrying. I have now developed a fear of having a sip of Guinness because I haven’t had it for 7 months. I am worried that my body might react differently to it now because I left it for so long. I started drinking Guinness in 1992. Would an allergic reaction start back then?

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