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  • Having your face turn red after a couple of drinks is a common occurrence for many people. This may occur due to a disorder or due to alcohol sensitivity. It all depends on the person and their body.

    While facial redness is not always serious, you may want to be cautious if alcohol use causes your face to turn red. 

    Causes Of Alcoholic Face Changes From Drinking Alcohol

    There are multiple reasons your face could be turning red after drinking alcoholic beverages. Some of them include:

    Alcohol Sensitivity

    When the body breaks down alcohol and ethanol, it uses metabolites to process it and flush it through the body. Those with an alcohol sensitivity build up higher levels of a specific metabolite, acetaldehyde.  

    Acetaldehyde is a toxic metabolite to the body and, as it builds up, it causes the blood vessels in the face to dilate and create a red flush.

    This alcohol sensitivity can also cause high blood pressure and increased heart rate.

    Enzyme Deficiency

    Many people in the Asian population have a deficiency in aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2),  the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the body. 

    Without enough of this enzyme, alcohol can reach toxic levels in the body and cause the blood vessels and capillaries to dilate and redden the face. It can also make the skin feel warm. 

    Besides flushing, this enzyme deficiency can also create other side effects like: 

    • rapid heartbeat
    • headache
    • nausea
    • vomiting

    Rosacea

    People with Northern European backgrounds can have some form of rosacea if they redden when they drink alcohol. But alcohol isn’t the only thing that can lead to this skin condition. 

    The dilation of the blood vessels in the face can occur when having chocolate, hot beverages, or even spicy food. 

    As rosacea tends to occur in sporadic flare-ups, you may not always experience flushing every time you drink. The more you drink, the more the alcohol affects your body and the likelier you are to have facial redness.

    Who Is Affected By Red Face From Drinking?

    Whether someone’s face turns red or not after drinking primarily depends on their genetic makeup.

    Those without the liver enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 don’t have the ability to break down the metabolite acetaldehyde and make alcohol less toxic in the system. Because of this lack of liver enzyme, alcohol consumption can turn their faces red. 

    Many people can lack this gene, but it’s most common in those from East Asia or who have Eastern Asian ancestry. Up to 540 million people worldwide don’t have this enzyme.

    Can Alcoholic Face Changes Be Prevented?

    The only way to prevent flushing of the face is to stop drinking or to limit your alcohol intake to only a drink or two. This is especially the case if you have an enzyme deficiency. 

    If you have a drinking problem and need help quitting alcohol, detox programs, as well as inpatient and outpatient care, are likely recommended.

    Even if you don’t have a problem with flushing, limiting your alcohol intake can be beneficial. Excessive alcohol use can lead to all sorts of health problems that can include:

    • liver disease
    • cirrhosis
    • certain cancers
    • high blood pressure
    • heart disease
    • stroke
    • memory problems
    • digestive issues
    • alcohol dependence

    While an alcohol flush reaction is not immediately dangerous in most cases, it is likely a sign that you should stop drinking because your body is already having a difficult time processing alcohol.

    Treating Alcoholic Face Changes

    There are several treatments you can try for flushing of the face due to alcohol. Most include medicines like:

    • histamine-2 (H2) blockers: Taking these can control facial flushing by slowing the breakdown of alcohol into acetaldehyde in your bloodstream. Common H2 blockers include Pepcid, Zantac, and Tagamet.
    • brimonidine: This is a topical therapy that lessens the redness in the face temporarily. It works by reducing the size of the small blood vessels in the face. 
    • oxymetazoline: This is meant to treat rosacea but can work for flushing from alcohol as well. It narrows the blood vessels in the skin so the redness is less likely to show on the surface.
    • lasers/light-based therapies: This improves the look and reduces the size of visible blood vessels on the skin, reducing redness. 

    It is important to know that these medications and therapy do not deal with an ALDH2 enzyme deficiency and that they can block important symptoms that could signal a bigger problem.

    If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder or substance abuse issues, call our helpline to learn about our treatment options today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2022 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on July 4, 2022
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