Ethyl Alcohol Intolerance

This is kind of a weird symptom of my chronic illness(es), not sure which one causes it (since there’s so much overlap between them). However, I wonder if anyone else with ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia, or Dysautonomia/POTS (or any other illness) has experienced this: ethyl alcohol intolerance.

This was actually one of the earlier symptoms I noticed, back in 2014 after my return from Afghanistan, when I still felt for the most part “healthy,” before my downward health spiral. A single drink, whether it be beer, wine, or bourbon, would give me a terrible headache and make me feel hungover.

Prior to my military deployment to Afghanistan, I enjoyed my alcohol. I didn’t drink to excess, but I did routinely have a beer with my dinner, or the occasional “wine and cheese” night with my wife after the kids went to bed. Some days I even went “wild” and had two drinks in a single sitting! Point being, I was never a “heavy drinker,” sans the occasional epic fail in college, my brother-in-law’s wedding reception (still a cringe-worthy memory), or the time I tried to match pace with an Aussie friend of mine whilst bar hopping together in Japan. (Another epic fail that to this day amazes my wife how I managed to make it home, in a cab, giving directions to the driver in a foreign language with a BAC of probably .5…er, OK, really, really drunk).

Anyway, while I was in Afghanistan, alcohol was forbidden, verboten, off limits, do not pass go, banned by a G.O. (General Order). Sorry for the terrible pun…sometimes I just have to laugh at the silliness of my life circumstances, and as a father of four I have a certain reputation to keep up in terms of telling the occasional “bad dad jokes.” We had this abomination called “near beer” which was that non-alcoholic beer that tastes like, yeah. Not something you’d want to reach for to quench your thirst.

After I returned from Afghanistan, I had a celebratory beer with one of my friends from my deployment. No issues. On a few other occasions over the following months, I drank without issue. But then, out of the blue, wham, a single drink made me feel like I’d been hit by a bus. I got no buzz, but skipped straight to the feeling of a next morning hangover, halfway through my drink…from a single drink.

This frustrated me to no end, and at first I assumed I had just become a “light weight” after a little over 6 months without any alcohol in my system. So I did what any self-respecting drinker would do and kept on trying. But every drink I had just made me feel sicker, so I stopped drinking at all except on special occasions (which I paid for dearly afterwards), and before long I was a teetotaler, not due to some moral conviction or avoidance of alcoholism either in myself or the family, but because why would I want to put something in my body that I was basically allergic to?

I think the last alcoholic drink I had was in 2015, and I haven’t looked back. Now I’m pretty sure alcohol reacts badly to at least one or more of the medications I’m taking, so I suppose I couldn’t drink either way. But still, it was a weird early warning sign of my illness, and an annoying one at that. Chronic illness had to take away my vitality, ability to exercise (I used to love the runner’s high I started many of my days with!), staying awake later than my children, and even my ability to enjoy a tasty adult beverage. Thanks a lot, chronic illness.

P.S. I still have a bottle of Dom Pérignon I purchased to celebrate my military promotion from Captain to Major. It’s sitting collecting dust. I suppose some day before it turns into vinegar I’d best pop it open. After all, it’s Dom Pérignon! But I’ll pay dearly, probably for days, dare I have a glass of it.


Celebratory beer with a friend the day I got back from Afghanistan.

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