Why Does Alcohol Make Your Face Turn Red?

The “alcohol flush reaction” is a common experience for many people after a few drinks and occurs due to the body’s difficulty digesting alcohol. Aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) is an enzyme that helps break down acetaldehyde in alcoholic drinks. If you have a faulty version of the gene that controls this enzyme, acetaldehyde builds up, causing a red face and symptoms of alcohol intolerance, such as nausea and headaches. This reaction is common among East Asian populations.

Understanding the immediate effects of alcohol on the body provides insight into this reaction. When you drink, alcohol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, affecting the central nervous system within minutes. Initial euphoria and lowered inhibitions are followed by impaired judgment, coordination, and reaction times. Alcohol also affects organs: the liver struggles to metabolize it, leading to acetaldehyde buildup; the heart rate increases; blood vessels dilate, causing flushing; and the stomach lining can become irritated, leading to nausea.

For those with alcohol flush reaction, even small amounts of alcohol can cause discomfort and pose health risks. Awareness and moderation are crucial for managing these symptoms and maintaining health.

It is estimated that at least 540 million people, or 8% of the population of the world, have this issue, especially those of East Asian descent, with between 36 and 70% of those with Korean, Japanese, and Chinese genetics affected (this is sometimes called “Asian flushing”). People with Jewish ancestry are also primarily represented in these statistics. Along with the red face that comes with drinking, people with this specific genetic issue who consume alcohol may also experience:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
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Is Having a Red Face from Drinking Dangerous?

The alcohol flush reaction (red face after drinking) that many people experience is not dangerous, but it could be a serious warning sign of other health issues. People who become flushed while drinking has a higher chance of developing high blood pressure, which may, in turn, increase the chances of stroke and heart disease in the future. When looking at a specific study, scientists found that Korean men who were considered “flushers” drank more than four alcoholic drinks a week, which gave them a higher risk of getting high blood pressure in the future compared to Korean men who didn’t drink alcohol at all. 

Those who experience facial flushing after drinking may also be associated with a higher risk of developing cancer, especially in the esophagus in East Asian men. However, this association was not found in women from the same area. Facial flushing, therefore, may be one way to help identify people who are at risk of developing these diseases in the future.

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Tips for Treating Redness Caused by Drinking

red face symptoms

If you are wondering how to treat a flush response to red face from alcohol, you should talk to your doctor. They may suggest trying medications called histamine-2 (H2) blockers to help control the development of a red face while drinking. They can slow the breakdown of alcohol into the troublesome acetaldehyde in the bloodstream. Common brands of these H2 blockers include:

  • Tagamet
  • Zantac
  • Pepcid

Your doctor may also choose to use Brimonidine or Oxymetazoline. These temporary topical ointments reduce the size of blood vessels in the face and are often prescribed for the treatment of rosacea. Laser therapy and light-based therapies can also help reduce the appearance of redness on the face. It’s important to be aware of medicine that disguise the symptoms of someone’s alcohol intolerance, which might make you think you can drink more alcohol after taking it. This is very dangerous if you have an ALDH2 deficiency. 

All these treatments are temporary fixes to an underlying issue, and they do not address the Aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 deficiency and can mask essential symptoms of alcohol intolerance. If you are looking for a more permanent solution, a luxury rehab in Florida can help you to address the root cause of your alcohol intolerance and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

How to Prevent Facial Flushing From Alcohol

Limiting alcohol consumption is good for anybody, even without facial flushing. Alcohol-related deaths make up 5% of all deaths worldwide, and regular alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing diseases and medical problems like:

  • Liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Memory and cognitive issues
  • Insomnia
  • Serious digestive problems
  • Weight gain

Moderate drinking may work for many folks, with one drink per day (seven per week) for women and two drinks per day (14 per week) for men as the maximum amount, but for others, abstinence may be the best choice, especially if facial flushing is an issue.

Regular consumption of alcohol, including heavy or binge drinking, can affect your health, work and finances, relationships with others, and mental health. Being honest with yourself about how your drinking affects your life is the best way to keep yourself in check and know when it may be time to get help to quit drinking.

See how quitting alcohol can improve your appearance here:


How Quitting Alcohol Changes Your Appearance

Need More Support? Alcohol Treatment at WhiteSands

If you believe you may have an alcohol use disorder, feel the need to drink to avoid withdrawal symptoms, or just get through the day, it may be time to seek professional help to quit. It is never recommended to stop heavy drinking on your own, as it can be dangerous to your health or even deadly, especially if you try to quit “cold turkey.” Participating in 28-Day Drug and Alcohol Addiction Rehab Programs can provide the structured support and medical supervision needed to safely detox and begin the recovery process.

WhiteSands Alcohol and Drug Rehab In Tampa can help you detox safely from alcohol, without suffering, with 24-hour medical supervision and care, followed by a comprehensive rehabilitation plan with inpatient rehab, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient program options. We will help you work through underlying issues such as trauma and mental illness in dual diagnosis treatments. We also provide therapy for social problems and medical care for physical health issues as you gain coping skills, life skills, and recovery techniques that will last you a lifetime, all within our luxury rehab programs.

If you believe you may be an alcoholic or want more information on alcohol use disorder, safe medical detox, and the trauma-informed luxury rehab programs in Florida we offer, contact us today to find out more about how we can help you.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

Jackie has been involved in the substance abuse and addiction treatment sector for over five years and this is something that she is truly eager about. She has a passion for writing and continuously works to create informative pieces that not only educate and inform the public about the disease of addiction but also provide solutions for those who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.