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Red Face from Alcohol: Causes, Symptoms

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 6/08/2022

A red face from alcohol is caused by an inability to digest alcohol properly. Many people have this condition and the medical term for it is alcohol flush reaction. While having a red face from alcohol consumption is typically harmless (aside from feeling flushed), it can be a sign of underlying conditions. If your face turns red from alcohol there can also be many other symptoms you can experience. 

People who experience flushing when drinking alcohol likely have a problem with the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 gene. The aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 gene is responsible for breaking down alcohol, specifically acetaldehyde. When there is too much acetaldehyde in the body it leads to red skin, feeling warm, and flushing.

What are the Causes of Turning the Face Red after Drinking Alcohol?

People can turn red after drinking alcohol for several reasons. First and foremost, people can be sweating because alcohol can raise body temperature. Another factor that contributes to having a red face after drinking alcohol is if someone has trouble digesting it. The aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 gene is responsible for alcohol digestion and some people have a faulty version of the gene. In these cases, it doesn’t create enough enzymes to break down the acetaldehyde that’s within alcohol.

Which Enzyme is Responsible for Red Face from Alcohol?

The enzyme responsible for a red face from alcohol is acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a substance that’s found within alcohol and causes the face to become red. The enzyme can also make people feel warm and flush. Depending on how much alcohol is consumed red face from alcohol can be mild or severe. It’s also important to note that some people don’t experience red faces from drinking alcohol.

Are Some Types of Alcohol More Likely to Cause Flushing?

Yes, some types of alcohol are more likely to cause flushing. That said, it depends on the person and their background. One example is an individual who has rosacea. With rosacea, red wine is more likely to cause flushing and turn the face red. On the other hand, liquor can also make some people feel flush faster. While red wine and liquor are the types of alcohol that cause the most flushing, having more than a few beers can also cause this problem.

Who is More Prone to Show Red Face Symptoms After Drinking?

Some people are more prone to have a red face after drinking than others. These groups are based on ethnicity, enzyme deficiencies, and even preexisting conditions. The most common people prone to red face symptoms are listed below.

  • People that lack the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme, which is responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde 
  • People who have rosacea, which is a condition that makes people turn red because of vasomotor hyperactivity or instability. Rosacea can also cause things like chocolate and spicy foods to cause flushing
  • Older people can also develop flushing after drinking alcohol because the body becomes less efficient at processing the substance

It’s also important to note that the Asian population is most likely to have an enzyme deficiency for alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme. 

What are the Statistics about Red Face from Alcohol?

Some statistics provide insight about red faces from alcohol. These statistics cover risk factors, populations that struggle with a red face the most, and more. These statistics are listed below.

  • Red face after drinking alcohol is found in 36% of the Eastern Asian population 
  • A red face after drinking doubles the risk of esophageal cancer in otherwise healthy individuals 
  • Men and women are both equally as likely to have the condition but women can become flush from alcohol for other reasons
  • 8% of the total population has develops red face when drinking alcohol

These are only some of the statistics that cover the severity of red face that’s caused by alcohol. 

What are the Health Risks of Red Face from Alcohol?

Several health risks occur when your face turns red from drinking alcohol. First and foremost, alcohol consumption is toxic to the body’s cells and can cause damage to cells. When someone experiences a red face from alcohol, alcohol can enter the cells and raise toxic levels in those cells much faster. This can lead to feeling warm, more intoxicated, and the skin turning red. 

Consuming alcohol in this way is dangerous because it can damage cells in the body and increase the risk of developing certain cancers. People who have rosacea are also more likely to experience discomfort from alcohol consumption. Depending on the individual, there can also be many other negative health effects. Some include an increased risk of heart disease or stroke because of how flushing interacts with blood pressure.

Does Flushing from Alcohol Raise Cancer Risks?

Yes, flushing from alcohol raises cancer risk. While more research needs to be conducted in this area, early data shows that people who experience flushing from alcohol are more likely to develop esophageal cancers. These are cancers that occur in the throat and esophagus. In fact, the risk is much higher than in people who don’t have a red face after drinking alcohol. 

What is the Prevention of Red Face from Alcohol?

The best way to prevent your face from turning red is to avoid consuming alcohol. People with rosacea should avoid red wines and people who experience flushing should stick with alcohol that has lower alcohol by volume. These are the only safe ways to prevent a red face from alcohol. 

However, some people take antihistamines to prevent facial discoloration when drinking alcohol. While the other symptoms of flushing remain, discoloration is harder to notice. We recommend against combining anything with alcohol, especially if it makes you feel flush or turns your face red. Doing so is dangerous and potentially fatal.

What are the Treatments of Red Face from Alcohol?

The best way to treat red face from alcohol is to not consume alcohol. If you don’t consume alcohol you won’t have to worry about treating the red face that’s caused by drinking it. That said, some medications have proven useful in reducing flushing after drinking alcohol. Taking these medications when drinking alcohol is not always a good idea and you should always consult with your doctor before doing so.

Which Medications Can be Used for Red Face?

Medications that can be used to treat red face caused by alcohol are antihistamines or histamine-2 (H2) blockers. These medications function by slowing down the rate at which alcohol converts into acetaldehyde in the bloodstream, which is what causes facial flushing. Some common treatments for flushing include Pepcid, Zantac 360, and Tagamet. There are also topical medications like brimonidine, which can reduce redness when applied.

Will Red Face Go Away if I Stop Drinking?

Red Face from alcohol will go away if you stop drinking. Because alcohol consumption causes a red face, not drinking alcohol prevents it from happening. That said, some people can still develop a red face and flush for other reasons. People with rosacea, for example, are more likely to have a red face from consuming spicy foods and sweet foods (depending on the person). While alcohol consumption can get rid of red face for some, it doesn’t get rid of red face for others.

What are the Other Harms of Alcohol similar to Red Face?

A red face is not the only harm that comes from alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol leads to many harms and negative health effects. Alcohol also becomes more dangerous when it’s abused for several years. Below are the other harms of alcohol that are similar to red face and flushing.

  • Esophageal cancers 
  • Alcohol-induced respiratory conditions
  • Decreaser’s flush 
  • Red ear syndrome 
  • Rosacea 
  • Carcinoid syndrome 

These are only a handful of the harms of alcohol. Consuming alcohol can be dangerous for everyone, especially when abused. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism, we recommend seeking help as soon as possible.