Does Alcohol Cause Hot Flashes?

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Drinking alcohol can make people feel hot for a variety of reasons. Alcohol-related hot flashes can occur while drinking or be caused by other conditions, such as withdrawal. Experiencing mild hot flashes is a relatively common occurrence. However, for some individuals, symptoms can be severe enough to cause physical illness and pain.

If you’ve been unable to curb your drinking despite experiencing adverse effects, such as hot flashes, you’re not alone. Guardian Recovery offers individualized treatment plans and integrated programs featuring multiple levels of care. Using evidence-based methods, such as medical detox, behavioral therapy, and relapse prevention strategies, we help individuals break free from alcohol dependence.

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Why Does Alcohol Make You Feel Hot?

Sensations of feeling warm or hot flashes related to alcohol are associated with several conditions, including vasodilation, hangovers, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, alcohol intolerance, and menopause.

Vasodilation

Alcohol use impacts thermoregulation, or the body’s ability to maintain its internal temperature. The body does this by widening blood vessels when you’re hot (vasodilation) and narrowing them when you’re cold (vasoconstriction). (1) Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol can cause hot flashes because it amplifies the effects of nitric oxide, which causes vasodilation. (2) This then increases blood flow in small vessels under the skin to expel heat, causing you to feel hot and flushed–even though the body is cooling itself through vasodilation.

Hangovers & Hot Flashes

Hot flashes often accompany next-day hangovers. This is because a night of binge drinking “robustly activates the sympathetic nervous system,” provoking an acute stress response. (3)(4) When alcohol is cleared from the body, the sympathetic nervous system, which coordinates this stress response, remains in an unbalanced and overactive state. This results in physical symptoms, such as increased body temperature, sweating, trembling, elevated heart rate, and high blood pressure.

Alcohol Withdrawal & Hot Flashes

As with hangovers, withdrawals cause hot flashes because of alcohol’s effects on the brain’s stress response. As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, alcohol releases inhibitory chemicals (GABA) that dampen the body’s stress response, causing relaxation. (5) However, through long-term exposure, alcohol dependence develops, and the CNS loses the ability to produce its own inhibitory chemicals. (6)

During withdrawal, the CNS rapidly rebounds from its dependence on alcohol. Without inhibitory chemicals to counterbalance excitatory chemicals, the CNS becomes hyperactive. (7) This can lead to hot flashes and other symptoms ranging from uncomfortable to life-threatening.

Alcohol Intolerance

Alcohol intolerance presents as an uncomfortable flushing reaction immediately after an individual starts drinking. Alcohol intolerance occurs due to a genetic metabolic disorder most commonly found in people of East Asian descent. (8) When a person is affected by this condition, their body cannot break down alcohol efficiently.

The body uses an enzyme (ALDH2) to neutralize alcohol so it can be removed from the body. (9) A person with alcohol intolerance has a genetic variant in the ALDH2 gene that renders these enzymes inactive. Their body, therefore, cannot break down a toxin called acetaldehyde into a non-toxic metabolite (acetate). As a result, toxic chemicals accumulate, leading to effects such as flushing, hot flashes, headache, stuffy nose, nausea, and vomiting.

Sulfite Intolerance

Sulfites are used as preservatives and are found naturally in many alcoholic drinks, such as wine, beer, sake, and others. Sulfites act as a preservative by releasing sulfur dioxide gas, which can be an irritant for those with sulfite sensitivity or intolerance. (10) Reactions can present as allergy-like symptoms, including flushing and hives that cause the skin to feel warm.

Menopause

Women going through menopause often experience hot flashes, and some women report that alcohol use can worsen them. In fact, the National Institutes of Health explicitly states that menopausal women experiencing hot flashes should avoid alcohol. (11) Because hot flashes are commonplace during menopause and alcohol itself can also cause them, the connection seems logical. Nevertheless, researchers are conflicted on whether or not alcohol increases or reduces a woman’s risk of having hot flashes. (12)(13) As a result, The North American Menopause Society suggests that because “drinking may trigger hot flashes for some women,” you’ll need to “determine whether it’s a personal trigger for you.” (14)

Alcohol Hot Flashes Could Be a Sign of Oncoming Hypothermia

In certain environments, hot flashes could be an early sign of hypothermia, a life-threatening result of the body losing more heat than it produces. Hypothermia is a medical emergency that can result in organ failure and death. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of hypothermia, (15) call 911 immediately and move yourself or the other person out of the cold. Also, remove wet clothing and try to warm up gradually while waiting for EMTs to arrive.

Heavy drinking can contribute to hypothermia because, as noted, alcohol induces vasodilation and causes the body to expel heat from its core. (16) Despite this, however, the person can continue to feel warm or hot on the inside. This illusory effect can prevent them from realizing their internal body temperature is plummeting due to external factors like exposure to a cold or wet environment (17)—especially when engaging in activities that can induce sweating, such as skiing or shoveling snow.

Furthermore, alcohol delays the onset and reduces the duration of the body’s shivering mechanism, which helps a person stay warm and prevents hypothermia. Unfortunately, alcohol use can also impair judgment and decision-making, further compromising a person’s ability to recognize a potentially life-threatening situation. (18)

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Warning Signs of High Blood Alcohol Concentration

For many people, hot flashes and feelings of warmth primarily occur during or after binge drinking. Although these effects may arise from consuming low-moderate amounts of alcohol, experiencing them may signify that you’ve drunk too much.

As your alcohol use increases, this will cause your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to rise, leading to a wide range of adverse effects. (19) When a person’s BAC is exceptionally high, they may be more likely to place themselves in dangerous situations they have little or no control over. This is why it’s important to understand that whatever alcohol-related effects you experience directly result from having an elevated BAC.

Common Effects of BAC Levels Include:

  • 0.02%-0.07% — Relaxation, altered mood, warmth/hot flashes, exaggerated behavior, and reduced focus.
  • 0.08%-0.10% — The above symptoms, in addition to impaired balance and coordination, slurred speech, and slowed reaction times.
  • 0.11%-0.19% — The above symptoms, in addition to significantly impaired balance and voluntary muscle control, possibly falls and injuries.
  • 0.20%-0.29% — The above symptoms, in addition to confusion, disorientation, altered pain sensations, nausea, vomiting, impaired gag reflex, and blackouts.
  • 0.30%-0.39% — The above symptoms, in addition to stupor, irregular breathing, loss of bladder control, loss of consciousness, and coma.
  • 0.40% and over — Coma, respiratory failure, and death.

Individuals who regularly drink to risky BAC levels are urged to seek professional treatment for alcoholism. Reducing alcohol intake or quitting altogether is the only way to prevent hot flashes or any of the above effects associated with drinking.

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Getting Specialized Treatment for Alcohol Dependence

If you’ve been struggling to curb heavy drinking due to uncomfortable hot flashes or other health issues, Guardian Recovery can help. We will provide you with a full spectrum of therapeutic programs and services tailored to address your unique needs and overcome obstacles to sobriety. We can help determine what level of care is right for you and design an individualized plan we believe will most effectively facilitate your recovery.

Contact us today to speak to an experienced Treatment Advisor and for a free, no-obligation assessment and health insurance benefits check. Learn more about our streamlined admission process and how we can help you navigate your recovery journey one step at a time.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/23352-vasodilation (2)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20522422/ (3)https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajpheart.00743.2020 (4)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761819/ (5)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4047525/ (6)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860472/ (7)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826827/ (8)https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/12634/acute-alcohol-sensitivity (9)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447097 (10)https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/other-allergy/sulfite-sensitivity-faq (11)https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/hot-flashes-what-can-i-do (12)https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03014460500421338 (13)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16087658/ (14)https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/exercise-and-diet/drink-to-your-health-at-menopause-or-not (15)https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-hypothermia/basics/art-20056624 (16)https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice/staying-safe-while-drinking/alcohol-and-cold-weather (17)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1811578/ (18)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424847/table/appd.t1/?report=objectonly (19)https://vaden.stanford.edu/super/learn/alcohol-drug-info/reduce-your-risk/what-blood-alcohol-concentration-bac

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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