A person may experience sickness after drinking alcohol due to an intolerance or sensitivity to an ingredient. It may also be a sign of a hangover or result of a lack of water or sleep.

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Alcohol is the intoxicating substance present in wine, beer, and spirits. Alcohol acts as a depressant, which means it slows down the body’s systems and relaxes a person.

Some people may be unable to drink alcohol without experiencing immediate feelings of sickness, or they may develop this over time after a prolonged period of drinking.

The cause of alcohol-related sickness may develop for various medical reasons, such as an intolerance to alcohol or another ingredient present in the beverage.

This article looks at the links between alcohol and sickness and provides an overview of alcohol intolerance, including the signs, when to consult a doctor, and causes. Finally, it examines how alcohol tolerance changes over time and offers support and guidance on alcohol use.

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People may feel sick after drinking alcohol as a result of the following:

  • hangovers
  • drinking to excess
  • dehydration
  • digestive issues, such as:
  • a lack of sleep
  • a lack of food
  • genetic conditions such as an intolerance to certain ingredients or alcohol

In 2017, researchers explored how if a person consumes alcohol chronically and in larger quantities, it may promote inflammation throughout the body, resulting in widespread symptoms.

Read more about throwing up after alcohol.

Alcohol intolerance occurs when the body does not have the correct enzymes to break down the toxins in alcohol.

Alcohol intolerance may cause a person to experience immediate reactions after they drink alcohol, or they may develop it hours after, the day after, or even later in life.

Signs of alcohol intolerance

Signs and symptoms of alcohol intolerance may include:

If a person develops a mild intolerance to alcohol or an ingredient in beverages, they may be able to manage it themselves simply by avoiding or limiting alcohol or certain drinks.

However, if they want to have tests to check their alcohol intolerance, they can contact a doctor to ensure they are drinking safely.

Moreover, if a person has a serious reaction after drinking alcohol, they should consult a doctor sooner to determine what may be causing their symptoms.

Alcohol intolerance can result from a genetic condition where the body cannot break down alcohol to digest it correctly. Doctors refer to this as a person’s metabolism of alcohol. This condition is usually genetic and is common in people of Asian descent.

The reason for it being more prevalent in people of Asian descent is that there is an accumulation of acetaldehyde, the primary chemical in ethanol, which develops due to a genetic condition that causes them to be unable to metabolize acetaldehyde.

Other ingredients that may cause intolerance reactions include:

  • sulfites or other preservatives
  • chemicals, grains, or other ingredients
  • histamine, a byproduct of fermentation or brewing

In some cases, reactions may also result from an allergy to a grain such as corn or wheat in alcoholic beverages. If a person combines alcohol with certain medications, this may also cause a reaction.

There are different reasons why a person’s tolerance to alcohol may change over time, including:

Genetics or lifestyle factors

It is possible for a person’s tolerance to certain ingredients to change over time, and an intolerance may just happen suddenly due to genetics. People who have asthma, hay fever, or other allergies to foods may have a higher risk of developing an alcohol intolerance.

Certain events in a person’s life or lifestyle factors could also trigger an intolerance. Tolerance results from drinking substantial amounts of alcohol over long periods of time.

Changes in metabolism with age

Aging also lowers a person’s ability to metabolize alcohol due to reduced enzyme activity, which therefore lowers their tolerance. As alcohol is a depressant drug. Over time, it may cause people to experience differences in their reactions and senses, which alcohol may heighten. These differences could include:

  • a change or loss in vision
  • reduced hearing
  • impaired judgment
  • delayed reaction time
  • lack of balance

Changes to body mass with age

A person’s tolerance may also change over time due to a decline in body mass in older adults. This may result in higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood and more significant effects from drinking.

Changes to health and functions with age

In addition, older adults also experience a change in their renal function and balance of water and sodium, which raises their risk of dehydration. This suggests that if they drink alcohol, they may become dehydrated quicker and feel the effects more.

As a person ages, certain health conditions or medications may mean they have different reactions to alcohol than they previously did.

Research shows that older females are more sensitive than males to the effects of alcohol.

Reducing intake or stopping drinking may help a person feel more in control of their consumption and avoid experiencing a reaction or symptoms related to their alcohol use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of legal drinking age may choose not to consume alcohol or that they drink in moderation. This involves limiting consumption to two drinks or fewer per day for males or one drink or fewer per day for females.

Individuals may also explore alternative alcoholic beverages or nonalcoholic options that they can tolerate. They may also find that eating certain foods, taking supplements, or exercising may help with their reaction. They may also discuss possible medications for their reactions, such as antihistamines.

Additionally, people may seek support from family and friends or advice from a medical professional if they require longer-term support.

People may be unable to drink alcohol without feeling sick as a result of a hangover, lack of sleep or food, or alcohol intolerance. An alcohol intolerance occurs when someone’s body lacks the enzymes to suitably digest alcohol. As a result, a person may experience facial flushing and skin and digestive issues.

Over time, a person’s tolerance may also change due to changes in metabolism, body mass, and bodily functions as they age. Alcohol intolerances are usually genetic but may also occur without a known cause.

If someone requires support with their alcohol use, they can speak with a doctor to discuss the recommended guidelines for alcohol intake.