Why can't I drink anymore?
April 17, 2009 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Why can't I drink anymore?

A few years ago I stopped being able to drink alcohol. Up until my late 20s I would drink on the weekends, sometimes more, sometimes less. Over the course of a year or so I gradually stopped being able to do so. Now if I drink I get immediately light-headed. After that, I start to feel tired and vaguely nauseous. I never get a buzzed or drunk feeling, but I'll still feel crummy when I wake up the next day. Any theories? Maybe an allergy? Or my liver isn't processing alcohol correctly?
posted by diogenes to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you had a checkup recently and a liver enzymes check?
posted by phearlez at 1:07 PM on April 17, 2009

Assuming you are not a long term alcoholic (advanced cirrhosis can lead to extreme alcohol sensitivity -- less alcohol = more drunk for longer), you may want to tested for hepatitis.

It would probably be a good idea to stop drinking at this point until you have seen a doctor.
posted by rr at 1:27 PM on April 17, 2009

I've had physicals and basic bloodwork done and everything comes back normal. I was never an alcoholic. Just your typical 20-something social drinker. I stopped drinking years ago. I only thought to ask this question because another askme question got me thinking about it.

I feel fine. I just can't drink. I'll ask my doctor about a liver enzyme check and hepatitis next time I see him.
posted by diogenes at 1:47 PM on April 17, 2009

Um, IANAD, and I don't want to panic you, but a few years ago, I had a friend who suddenly lost his tolerance for alcohol and started getting sick whenever he drank. It turned out to be liver cancer. The guy died.

There are, I'm sure, a million and a half different reasons why the way a person's body processes alcohol might change over time. However: Organ cancers (as I understand it) are notoriously hard to catch in their early stages. Many of the signs of organ cancer (like changes in alcohol tolerance) can be easy to ignore or dismiss.

Please do go to the doctor as soon as you can. Okay?
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:49 PM on April 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

A few years ago I stopped being able to drink alcohol.

I think if he had liver cancer to the point where it reduced alcohol tolerance, he'd know it by now.
posted by geoff. at 1:56 PM on April 17, 2009

Maybe you are getting older? When I was in college I could hit it pretty hard. These days I get buzzed after a beer or two and feel a little rough the next day after three. A six-pack is about my limit if I want to be functional in the morning. More than a few of my friends noticed the same thing happening as they got into their late 20s and early 30s.
posted by indyz at 1:57 PM on April 17, 2009

... liver cancer. The guy died

Jeez palmcorder, what's the bad news? ;)
posted by diogenes at 1:57 PM on April 17, 2009

You're getting older. Personally, I used to drink just a ton up until my early thirties, but after the birth of my son I slowed down and now I can manage to drink a couple of beers and that's it.

There are some people who are not able to process alcohol all that easily, and perhaps your metabolism has changed a little.

I generally avoid anything stouter than an India Pale Ale. In fact, I drink mostly white wine now, or Gin or Vodka.

If you're drinking red wine and feeling sick the next day, you may be allergic to sulfates.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:09 PM on April 17, 2009

Jeez palmcorder, what's the bad news? ;)

I'm glad you're giving me a ;) for that, because I really don't mean to be shrill or alarmist about this. It's just that, well, I once saw a lovely, bright, 23-year-old gothy nerd-boy get eaten up by that fucking disease, and when I saw this post my heart kind of leapt into my throat.

And I do agree-- cancer seems pretty unlikely. Still, it seems like it would be prudent to go to the doc and have the extraordinarily bad stuff ruled out. Then you can focus on whatever minor pain-in-the-ass is actually causing your problem.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:14 PM on April 17, 2009

IANAD, but the possibilities are many. I have had a similar experience, especially with vodka, which makes me feel awful even in tiny quantities. I would say with a great deal of certainty that your liver is unhappy. There's also a chance that you have some sort of yeast/fungal infection that feeds off the sugar in the alcohol and complicates the issue.

Getting some serious liver-check up work would be good, along with not drinking at all until you know what's up. Also, if this has been going on for a while, there's a good chance your pancreas is also affected.

Symptoms of an unhappy liver (not a medical term) can include fatigue, nausea, darker urine, lighter stools, nightmares, etc. Because it's a "quiet" organ, you don't often notice until the symptoms have gotten out of control.

There are herbal products on the market, such as this one that I have been taking for a while that help in restoring function. So I'd say, talk to doctor, if it's just liver being unhappy and not cancer, try the herbal pills.

And, fyi, getting "old" and your liver getting clogged up go hand in hand. Years of bad choices = unhappy liver.
posted by anniek at 2:29 PM on April 17, 2009

Thanks palmcorder. I appreciate your comments. I agree that it's worth ruling out. I will talk to my doctor about it. I've never mentioned the drinking thing to him because I figured it wasn't important, but it makes sense to let him know and see what he thinks.
posted by diogenes at 2:31 PM on April 17, 2009

I have read that coffee is beneficial to the liver, in reasonable quantity. I've seen several articles recently about the benefits of coffee, so adding it to your diet might be worthwhile. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is pretty toxic to the liver, so if you take a lot of acetaminophen, you might want to reconsider. When you drink, do you get flushed, i.e., red-faced? that's a symptom of alcohol intolerance.

If you tend to drink on Friday, it may be that you feel crummy Saturday because you need to catch up on sleep or are too stressed.
posted by theora55 at 2:37 PM on April 17, 2009

Does the 'next-day' feeling change depending on what you drink? Many American beers (Bud, Miller, Coors, &c.) use grains other than barley to brew, one of which you may be allergic to (gluten allergy?). Could also be the amount of water you drink regularly (or lack thereof).

Liver disorders are a pretty tough nut to crack. It may seem like overkill to get tests other than the run-of-the-mill stuff, but getting them done will be worth it, if only for the peace of mind.

Age may be a factor, but I'd put less stock in that than in something else, like diet or exercise habits.
posted by Pecinpah at 3:09 PM on April 17, 2009

It doesn't seem to vary based on type of drink. I tried various forms of alcohol for a while to see if I could rule anything out: wine, beer, liquor - doesn't matter.
posted by diogenes at 3:20 PM on April 17, 2009

Any weight loss?

Heavier periods?

Weight loss and anemia from heavy periods (or any other cause) can lower your alcohol tolerance.
posted by sixcolors at 3:31 PM on April 17, 2009

This might seem random, but are you of (sorry for the colloquial term) Far Eastern descent? SE Asian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese?
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:33 PM on April 17, 2009

Have you added any medications to your regime in the last few years? I know that meds like antidepressants can a) greatly alter the effect that alcohol has on a body and b) bork up your liver. The combination of some meds + alcohol can aggravate liver issues. Please check that out with your doctor.
posted by 8dot3 at 3:57 PM on April 17, 2009

Okay, so maybe I have liver cancer too... but, here's what happened to me: I drink less.

For several years, I drank like a fish and routinely got drunk. It was enjoyable, until being drunk stopped being enjoyable. Basically, without much in the way of physiological change (aside from getting older), I simply found that being very drunk was more disorienting and vomitty than fun. So, when I'd go out, I wouldn't drink so much. I'd get buzzed, but I wouldn't get drunk. This was such a gradual process that I barely noticed it was happening. It was just the number of nights where I stumbled home slowly decreased, and the number of nights where I floated home rose. Eventually, I found that I wasn't consistently drinking enough to even get buzzed--I'd go to the bar for supper and some company, and have three beers over three hours.

So now, I can drink beers (or cocktails) all night as a beverage. But, if I try to drink fast enough to get drunk, I feel uncomfortably ill long before I get drunk. It's even difficult to catch much of a buzz because I'm so much more conscious of the effects. Doing a shot goes right to my head.

Basically, the allure of drunk isn't pushing me to drink quickly enough to get drunk *before* I get sick. And most of the shitty morning-after feeling is dehydration, which happens based on drinks drunk, not how drunk you get.

But, if you think it's something pathological (or you also feel unwell in other ways), of course talk to a doctor.
posted by Netzapper at 4:10 PM on April 17, 2009

I've read similar accounts. It seems that some people begin to find that alcohol makes them feel ill even in small quantities as they get older. Most of the cases I read about involved vomiting and terrible hangovers from very small amounts of alcohol. Google alcohol intolerance and you'll find plenty of info about Aldehyde Dehydrogenase deficiency as one possible explanation and also lots of other people asking about similar symptoms.

For what it's worth, I sympathize. I was never a heavy drinker, but I have a weird reaction to alcohol myself and it's irritating to be unable to drink socially. That said, it could certainly be worse.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 4:43 PM on April 17, 2009

It's entirely possible to be allergic to alcohol, and some diabetics react to alcohol in a similar fashion. I don't know if I'd go through the trouble of allergy testing under the circumstances, but your regular physician could do a glucose tolerance test for you.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:34 PM on April 17, 2009

I wouldn't say that some diabetics' reaction to alcohol is like an allergy - drinking alcohol can lower blood glucose levels for a time, as the liver turns to metabolizing the alcohol instead of putting out glucose. But it doesn't sound like that's the problem here.
posted by chinston at 6:35 PM on April 17, 2009

Is alcohol intolerance the only symptom that's changed over the years? Any family history of diabetes or other disease?

I ask because I have similar basic symptoms, but other stuff as well. Alcohol and I used to be friendly, but not overly so. But now I won't even drink half a glass of beer because I end up feeling lousy almost immediately. I've done bloodwork and talked to my doctor, and so far it's either irritable bowel syndrome, or celiac.
posted by gofargogo at 10:17 PM on April 17, 2009

This happened to me because of GERD; does your stomach frequently hurt? I was able to drink multiple martinis, then my stomach went to shit and now I can have 2-3 beers, tops, or I'm drinking Pepto after that for like 12 hours.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:35 PM on April 18, 2009

Seconding GERD, specifically the ulcer component. I knew that alcohol was hitting me harder, but I didn't know why. Turns out I had an ulcer, which probably decreased my stomach's ability to process alcohol. I also had symptoms of increased gut permeability, which could also be a factor.

How is your GI system besides the alcohol problems? Any weird pains? Cramps? Indigestion?

Also, what are you drinking? You could be gluten intolerant. Try just a gin and tonic next time.
posted by melissam at 4:15 AM on April 19, 2009

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