A Physical Explanation for Alcohol Intolerance

A Physical Explanation for Alcohol Intolerance


People react to alcohol differently.  Our bodies are different from each other and some people have no problem metabolizing and processing normal (or even large) amounts of alcohol.   However, in some overly sensitive individuals, alcohol becomes off limits entirely because their bodies cannot deal with it.

In such sensitive individuals, their bodies are lacking in an essential enzyme necessary for metabolism, and minutes after consuming the drink, faces may flush, heart rates speed up, and nasal passages become swollen and stuffy. What has taken place? The enzyme known as Aldehyde Dehydrogenase that normally metabolizes alcohol in the liver is absent, and cannot prevent the immune system from labeling the incoming liquid as foreign and toxic to the body.

Ordinarily, alcohol is absorbed rapidly from the intestinal system. This is necessary since it is a toxin, and must be changed into a form that can be eliminated as a waste product. When this is impossible, the immune system sends out emergency alerts that all is not well. The body’s defense system, not used to dealing with such conditions, is somewhat confused as what to do.

Creative Commons License photo credit: TheDevilSaint

When this allergy alarm is sent out, the nasal passages are gorged with blood carrying histamine, thus the stuffiness. The heart rate increases in an effort to get help quickly to the problem area, and the face is flushed because this was the entry point for the ingestion of the offending toxin. Traces of it may still be lingering in the surface cells of the mouth.

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Why the immediacy in this allergic response? A rapid means of getting rid of the alcohol is necessary even when all metabolic processes are in good working order. It cannot be stored, and the natural way of dealing with it is to oxidize it.  When this is not possible, pandemonium breaks out. If it is not usable by the body for energy, a way must be found to get rid of it. The symptoms of this reaction are nothing more than an attempt to deal with the problem.

Wine, beer, and other intoxicating beverages may react differently.  The possibility exists that an ingredient in the grapes, corn, or wheat used in distillation may be the culprit rather than the missing enzyme. Whatever the situation, sensitive individuals should proceed with alcoholic drinks cautiously, if at all.

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