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What is Alcohol Flush Reaction and Why is it Different from a Hangover?

If you have had a hangover in Key West, you know how awful it can make you feel. From nausea to fatigue, hangovers are no fun.

Hangovers occur when people drink more alcohol than the body can easily metabolize. This can lead to dehydration. But the problem with hangovers is actually a bit more complex than standard dehydration. Why? Alcohol breaks down into acetaldehyde by the body. Acetaldehyde is toxic, and part of the reason why a hangover feels so bad is that this toxin has built up in the body.

Eventually, even with a hangover, the acetaldehyde is broken down into the harmless acetic acid by an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH-2).

The Difference Between a Standard Hangover and Alcohol Flush Reaction

For people with alcohol flush reaction (AFR), even a little bit of alcohol can cause a negative reaction. This is because people with alcohol flush reaction cannot easily break down the acetaldehyde like most people can. They have a variant in their genes that creates an ALDH-2 deficiency.

Symptoms of alcohol flush reaction includes fatigue, dizziness, itchiness, and headaches. The most well-known symptom of AFR are red blotches that appear on the skin. Heart rate and blood pressure can also be affected. If someone with alcohol flush reaction drinks too much alcohol, they can become very sick and even die.

Alcohol flush reaction can also cause cancer, specifically esophageal cancer. It also increases the risk of hypertension. Health experts recommend that people who have AFR should avoid alcohol entirely.

What Causes Alcohol Flush Reaction?

Alcohol flush reaction is due to a gene mutation, and it occurs most commonly in Asian people. It affects approximately 36% of East Asians, according to Wikipedia. This is why it is also called the Asian flush or Asian glow. However, AFR can occur in people of any race, although it is rare for people of European or African descent.

There is no cure for alcohol flush reaction. Some people take antihistamines to reduce the skin reactions such as redness and itching. This will not help the metabolism of acetaldehyde in the body, however. A very serious case of alcohol flush reaction might require a trip to the emergency room or hospital.

Part of the problem for people with alcohol flush reaction is that their bodies may actually break down the alcohol more quickly than normal, while being unable to efficiently metabolize the resulting acetaldehyde.

The only positive to having the alcohol flush reaction gene is that it definitely lowers the incidence of alcoholism in people who have it. Getting sick each time you drink is a fairly strong counter-incentive to becoming addicted to alcohol.

Do You Have a Hangover in Key West with Alcohol Flush Reaction?

While we cannot cure an alcohol flush reaction, we can certainly help you recover from a night of drinking too much. Hangover Hospital offers a variety of IV and injection therapies to help people recover from too much drinking. Contact us for help the next time you have symptoms of a hangover or a mild alcohol flush reaction.