Alcohol intolerance: seriously? Has anyone experienced this?
May 6, 2016 3:56 AM   Subscribe

I have been on a journey since October to figure out what the hell is wrong with my body.

I was getting random bouts of indigestion, churning, flatulence, cramping, etc. It especially would happen at night, and located to the left side of my stomach (like directly to the left of my bellybutton). See previous thread. I've been eliminating and experimenting with my diet, and it turns out that if I don't drink alcohol, the problems go away. (I'm not sure if I can drink coffee again... too afraid to try at this point.)

...and by not drinking alcohol, I mean NO alcohol. E.g., I had not had a drink since last Friday, and I had a finger of tequila last night with club soda. BOOM, last night, I woke up at 3am, stomach churning, unable to sleep. I'm exhausted this morning. It seems like as I look back over the last month or two that my discomfort and problems arise directly after I drink alcohol. (Yes, after last Friday I felt like crap for a day or two too.) So it appears... no alcohol = no issues.

Has anyone else experienced alcohol intolerance? How did/do you cope? (Yes, I know—"just don't drink alcohol." Looking for maybe some tips for social drinking, etc.) Did your intolerance ever "just go away"? Is there any hope that I will be able to indulge again without paying a heavy fine?
posted by uncannyslacks to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Also, I forgot to note: I have had a CT scan of my abdomen: "normal." I have had an MRI of the same: "normal." There's no Crohn's or major issues present, it would appear.
posted by uncannyslacks at 3:58 AM on May 6, 2016

After a misspent youth I find that I can't abide alcohol. Half a glass of wine, a few sips of beer or a gulp of a cocktail and bad things start to happen. So I get it. I pretty much drink NO alcohol now. Just can't deal with it. Happily, it's also pretty disguising to me taste-wise so I'm not missing it.

I don't make a big deal of it, if I feel like going out with friends, I order a non-alcoholic drink and enjoy my time with them. Luckily, my friends are adults and don't get all gross-drunk so there's no real difference in our discourse.

If going out and getting shit-faced is a cultural thing, that's going to change. You'll be the only sober person among drunk people and I think you'll find that it quickly gets old. But if you're just getting together with your buddies, the social part of it is WAY more important that what's in your glass.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:08 AM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd also question the soda. You can try different probiotics and see if that helps. I've never had these issues with alcohol but I have with sweets and diet soda after a stomach illness. Lots of pre/probiotics help. Or it could be something totally different(IMNAD). You could ask a doctor about this particular complication when you go again.
posted by Kalmya at 4:47 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

What medications are you taking?
posted by lizzicide at 4:48 AM on May 6, 2016

It could also be histamine intolerance, which is aggravated by alcohol. Might be worth looking into.
posted by egk at 4:48 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it's a thing. My husband gets bad migraines after drinking and I get really sick really fast. So I think everyone's tolerance levels are just different because I've also known friends who can drink an incredible amount and be fine.

The way I deal with it socially is to order a drink and nurse it all night. Or I get something non alcoholic. Not sure what else you can do. Maybe talk to your doctor if you are concerned.
posted by FireFountain at 5:10 AM on May 6, 2016

It's also a thing for me, though it's not my stomach. Even a few sips of alcohol will ruin my sleep and affect my mood for a day or two. I can't take the downside so now I just don't drink at all and so far I haven't missed it.

I used to drink with no problems, so this is something that changed in my body/brain.
posted by duoshao at 5:21 AM on May 6, 2016

seconding Ruthless Bunny. This happens to me as well and when I was younger I thought I had to drink more and build up a tolerance and it will go away. It didn't, it actually got worse. Beer made me feel worse than vodka. Wine was on a whole other level. I didn't like the taste of alcohol then and I still don't after that uncomfortable experience. I'd rather drink tea, water or juice than feel miserable long-term for a short-term consumption of alcohol. For me, it was all unpleasant, start to finish.
posted by lunastellasol at 5:26 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Tequila for me is the absolute worst alcohol. I went through a phase of intense stomach issues a few years ago - lots of cramping and gastro distress - but I discovered that tequila would take a good night and make it bad. I don't have the same problem with rum, vodka, etc. Some beers also kicked off some issues.

I'm not encouraging you to get back out there and try all the booze, but just know that tequila is a horse of a different color.
posted by bunderful at 5:28 AM on May 6, 2016

"Since last friday" until last night is hardly a long time to go without a drink, so it's possible the timing of your symptom-free period and the return of your symptoms is coincidental.

But in answer to your question, there aren't really a lot of tips for not drinking. I barely drink alcohol (maybe 10 drinks a year at my peak, but for reasons haven't had any alcohol in 2-3 years). The way you you do it is you just drink something else. What were you drinking since last Friday? Keep drinking that.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:53 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Looking at your last question, it sounds like you had an endoscopy and your stomach was inflamed? Not sure if your doc called it "gastritis" but as I understand that's the term for inflammation/irritation in the lining of the stomach--there's some decently good information on the Mayo Clinic website and other places if you search for that about lifestyle changes to help cope. I've been dealing with the same issue (chronic gastritis of unknown cause) for about a year, and have found that alcohol is a huge trigger for stomach pain. So are a few of the other common irritants--chocolate, coffee, and citrus.

I've talked to a few people who have had similar issues with overproduction of acid in the stomach and it's pretty common to hear that they ended up needing to avoid anything that irritated their stomach for a long period (between a few months and a year or two), but were eventually able to start drinking coffee/alcohol/citrus/whatever again with no problem, once they had fully healed.

I'm not sure about "tips" exactly but it has helped me abstain from stuff that make my stomach irritation worse when I frame it as giving my stomach an extended break to heal. Knowing that if I "cheat" for one night then I'm very likely to just set back the clock in terms of when I can stop worrying about this stuff is fairly motivating; living in a constant state of nausea and stomach pain is really no fun.
posted by iminurmefi at 6:11 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've had gastritis that was exacerbated by alcohol, and yeah, it did go away. I cut down on things that were irritating my stomach, and once it had calmed down, having one drink (or more) stopped giving me stabby pains. But you have to cut down for a lot longer than a week! Try bitters in seltzer or club soda. (You may also find that some kinds of alcohol irritate you and others don't, and the kind that doesn't is fine -- it's more important to cut out things that are causing gastritis than to cut out alcohol as a category.)
posted by babelfish at 7:21 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you always drink alcohol mixed with sodas? Were you still drinking club soda, etc., during your alcohol-free week?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:29 AM on May 6, 2016

Tips for social drinking: There may be asshats who try to force you to drink. Remember that alcohol is not your friend right now and neither is anyone who tries to force it on you. So order a non-alcoholic beverage (something you like, ideally, so you don't feel like a sad sack) and just pick a line to tell people that works for you. Try one or all depending on your level of comfort with disclosure:

1. Yes, please. I'd like club soda.
2. Nope, can't do alcohol these days unless I want my belly to turn inside out later, which is painful and gross.
3. No thank you, I'm sticking with club soda.
4. You're not drinking alone, I'm sitting right here with my club soda.
5. No thanks, I prefer club soda.
6. No thanks, I prefer club soda.
7. No thanks, I prefer club soda.

Saying no to booze won't be a problem if you are hanging out with other adults who like to have one or two drinks together because they enjoy each other's company. They care about you, not what's in your glass. If you are spending time with alcoholics or party animals, however, they may do their best to get alcohol down your gullet whether you want it or not. No matter one's age, peer pressure is real and often damaging. A friend of mine, who does not drink, was harassed at a party recently by coworkers who tried to bully him into drinking. They apparently found his lack of interest in alcohol threatening or a downer or boring or whatever. So practice being a broken record if you are worried about getting pushback on your choice not to drink. Practice saying no to alcohol. If it feels like too hard or awkward to say no, consider skipping parties or other places that might put your health at risk.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:04 AM on May 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nthing that in my experience, if your stomach needs time to heal/calm down, you're going to need to abstain from alcohol for 6 months to a year or more. Stomachs take a long time to heal and if you think about it, alcohol is a really harsh thing to put into your body.
posted by purple_bird at 9:07 AM on May 6, 2016

Alcohol gives me an upset stomach too. Sad but true. Sometimes the churning gut is worth it, sometimes not. For me, it's not worth it to sip crappy wine at a gallery opening or a tepid beer in an awkward bar. If I drink, it's something I really like (in my case that's fancy hipster bourbon cocktails), in an appropriate place, with fun people around, so know I'll really enjoy it. But that kind of drinking is better in pretty much every way anyway, so it's not that bad on balance.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:14 AM on May 6, 2016

Have you had your liver enzymes tested? Your liver processes alcohol and if your liver is not healthy, alcohol can be a big problem.
posted by theora55 at 12:05 PM on May 6, 2016

I have a fairly pronounced alcohol intolerance due to a genetic lack of the liver enzymes mentioned above. The symptoms you describe do not really match what happens when I drink. I (and everyone in my family who also deals with this) mainly get extremely flushed, fatigued, and very nauseated shortly afterwards, not hours later. I've heard it described as skipping the fun drunk parts and skipping straight to alcohol poisoning.

Whatever is the problem, I assure you that a life without alcohol really isn't the dry wasteland people make it out to be. You just order something non-alcoholic and go about your day. Get a ginger ale or club soda with lime if you're really worried about people getting on your case, but reasonable people won't make a big thing about it if you don't.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:40 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had gastritis caused by antibiotics that started last November. I have just now gotten to the point where I think I've basically finally weaned myself off of the omeprazole. My symptoms sound a lot like yours, except that alcohol (or at least wine) actually didn't bother me that much, but citrus was awful. However, I would feel it to some extent no matter what when I tried to stop the drugs.

Given the extremely long time it took me to taper off of omeprazole I find it hard to recommend you use it if you have no other problems with your stomach when you eat normally and just don't drink alcohol. In my case my stomach needed a long time to heal the ulcers/gastritis, and then a long time to wean off the omeprazole and get back to normal stomach acid. Stomachs can take a long time to heal from irritations is my general impression from my own experience and the doctors.

All that aside, I do understand the desire to be able to have your normal habits, including some alcoholic drinks, and I don't think you should have to live a life without them if possible. If I were in your shoes, I'd try a couple things:
Zantac or Pepcid before bed after drinking (which is a different antacid than omeprazole/prilosec)
Drinking something easier than tequilla, perhaps a beer or a little wine, and seeing what happens

If neither of those helps, you can just cut the alcohol for a month or two or go back to the doctor and see what they say. I suspect though that you will need some time for this to heal.
posted by ch1x0r at 1:55 PM on May 6, 2016

If I drink, I almost always throw up that night (even after like... 4 beers) and then I wake up with the kind of hangover that people who say "oh I get bad hangovers" are not talking about. More accurately, I'd say I wake up with the symptoms of being poisoned.

constant vomiting, diarrhea, fever, hallucinations, inability to eat, weakness, mood swings, narcolepsy.

There's nothing wrong with me, I'm just like.. actually allergic to alcohol.

I also love beer. I can handle one beer, two if I drag it out over a long amount of time and dont' go to bed for awhile after finishing. I just drink these beers, and suffer the headache and the possible nausea, because I enjoy socially drinking a bit, and the trade off is worth it for me. I can usually handle ONE drink of anything, so I often do that and just nurse it.

I also go out and get a drunk a couple times a year and then have the worst day of my life the next day. I make the decision that I'd like to just turn it up at this bachelorette party or whatever, and I just do it, and suck it up and spend the rest of the weekend on the floor.

The easy answer is don't drink. The "what works for me" answer is to drink if you want, but be aware of and prepared to accept the consequences. Don't complain about how bad you feel if you made the choice to feel bad.

Also, experiment with different kinds of alcohol. I can tolerate more dark beer with low hops than light beer. I can tolerate 2 glasses of dry red wine, I can tolerate two pints of dry cider. All of these I will feel alright the next day. 2 vodka and soda? Two caesars? 2 budweisers? I'll just sleep in the bathroom.
posted by euphoria066 at 3:55 PM on May 6, 2016

This is not a question we can answer here, or even make constructive guesses about. This is what doctors refer to as a "broad differential diagnosis," which is doctor-speak for "idk man, could be anything." There's just not enough information here to be able to start narrowing things down. You obviously have a problem of some kind (a sudden change like this would seem to indicate that something is wrong) but who the heck knows what that is.

Get thee to a gastroenterologist (again) and keep working on it. Talk to them about a list of possible causes and find out what you can do to start narrowing down the possibilities.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:40 PM on May 6, 2016

IAMAD, so obviously take this with a big grain of salt, but I remember from my time in Japan that a lot of the Japanese people out there drinking with me (or around me, as I don't actually drink - and if someone gives me shit about it, I say I'm not allowed to for health reasons) got really red in the face after a tiny bit of weak Japanese beer, and then someone would always claim that they lacked the enzyme to digest alcohol. I'm not sure if this is actually true (or if it's a "us Japanese just cannot pronounce an 'r' sound, it's genetic" kind of crap), but if it is, you might have the same problem. Could you ask a doctor about this?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 3:38 AM on May 7, 2016

For what it's worth, I went through a few weeks back in February where any alcohol caused immediate, terrible sinus congestion (which is how most of my myriad other allergies manifest). I was so sad that I couldn't drink without being miserable -- miserable enough that it wasn't worth it. Then it stopped happening, and I could drink and feel normal again. No idea what that was about.

So yeah, maybe it'll just go away. Be nice to your body. It might just need a break.

While I was experiencing my short-lived allergy, I drank mostly seltzer with lime (free!) when I went out with friends.
posted by katieinshoes at 5:32 AM on May 7, 2016

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