Alcohol impacts our entire body, and causes many side effects that aren’t often spoken about. One common symptom is excessive sweating. If you frequently experience day or nighttime sweating after drinking, it could be an important sign that you’ve developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Learning more about this alcohol-related symptom can help you understand why night sweats after alcohol can occur, and how to find relief.
What causes sweating in association with alcohol use?
Sweating after drinking alcohol can be a result of a few common causes. Three of the most common conditions and circumstances that cause alcohol-related sweating include:
- A short-term brain reaction
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- A hereditary skin reaction
All three of these conditions happen for different reasons, and can vary in severity. If you’re concerned with day or nighttime sweating after alcohol use, speaking with a physician is the best way to determine the exact cause of your symptoms and how to make positive changes for your health and wellbeing.
Here is some background on each condition to inform a conversation with your healthcare provider.
Sweating due to alcohol’s toxic effect on the brain
Alcohol can cause various reactions in the brain that cause us to sweat directly after consumption. The specifics of these mechanisms are still partially unknown, and require further research. However, from what we do understand, it appears that alcohol can affect our brain fluid as well as our hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. This brain reaction after alcohol intake can raise heart rate, increase blood flow, and widen blood vessels, causing profuse sweating after alcohol is consumed.
Managing your drinking post-quarantine
Because alcohol increases blood flow and often causes sensations of overheating or excessive perspiration, heavy drinking is especially risky in cold weather. While alcohol makes us feel warmer, it also inhibits our biological functions that actually help raise body temperature, such as shivering and respiratory rate. Moreover, alcohol impairs cognitive function, so someone under the influence may not recognize the risks of cold weather. The combination of “feeling warm” but having a decreased body temperature and cognitive awareness contributes to an increased risk of hypothermia when drinking in cold environments.
Aside from the dangers of drinking in cold weather, the sweating associated with the brain’s reaction to alcohol doesn’t pose an immediate medical threat. However, it can be an important sign to take a closer look at your alcohol intake. If you experience sweating after drinking, it’s vital to speak to a medical professional to determine if the sweating is non-threatening, or a sign of alcohol withdrawal or another dangerous reaction.
Sweating due to alcohol withdrawal
If you experience sweating after you stop consuming alcohol, it’s possible that you’re experiencing a common alcohol withdrawal symptom. Many people are unaware that withdrawal-related sweating can occur anywhere from a few hours to several days after you last consume alcohol. Let’s explore why that is.
Alcohol acts as a depressant on your central nervous system. After an extended period of drinking, the brain and body learn to expect alcohol in its system. The central nervous system enters a hyperactive state in order to counteract the depressive effect of alcohol. This is often called “alcohol dependence.” When alcohol is then removed, the central nervous system remains significantly over-excited. This causes heart rate to increase and blood vessels to widen, leading to sweating and other uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms.
It’s important to remember that this experience varies for every individual. Some moderate drinkers can have significant withdrawal symptoms, while some heavy drinkers may not experience any. Withdrawal-related sweating is usually accompanied by other symptoms of withdrawal, including:
- Alcohol shakes and tremors
It’s vital to keep in mind that these are only the mild symptoms of withdrawal. Other symptoms can be life-threatening and include vomiting, heart palpitations or rapid heart rate, confusion, hallucinations or seizures. Alcohol withdrawal can be deadly and the symptoms should not be ignored. You should seek medical attention immediately if night sweats are occurring after abstaining from alcohol and in the presence of any of the other alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are not permanent. After you make a plan with a medical provider to stop drinking alcohol safely, the brain and body will regain their natural balance over time, and withdrawal symptoms will decrease. You can meet with a specialized physician, such as myself, to learn more about evidence-based treatment options, including medication to stop drinking and specialized alcohol therapy.
If you believe you might be experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal, please contact your healthcare provider immediately and visit https://findtreatment.gov/ to find a location to get supervised detox near you. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.
Sweating as a result of skin reactions to alcohol
Another circumstance where alcohol consumption can lead to sweating is an alcohol-related skin reaction. This form of alcohol intolerance is less common, and primarily occurs in two situations.
Firstly, some people have a genetic variation of the liver enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, which is called aldehyde dehydrogenase.² People with this genetic variation may experience unique alcohol-related sweating. Their reaction is often best described as a “flush,” characterized by redness, sweating, and hot or burning sensations on the face and other body parts. People with this condition can be at a higher risk for alcohol-related hypertension and esophageal cancer.
The other group that may get this skin flushing reaction are people who have an alcohol-related hypertensive disorder. There is no direct health threat from either of these sweating episodes, but the sweat and flushness can be uncomfortable. The best way to reduce both of these skin reactions is to reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption entirely.
Finding relief for night sweats from alcohol
If you experience alcohol-related night sweating or other alcohol-related perspiration for any of the reasons highlighted above, you are not alone. If your night sweating is disrupting your sleep and life, changing your relationship with alcohol can make a big difference. Reducing or eliminating your alcohol intake can provide relief for this common symptom, and improve your overall health and happiness. As a physician on the Monument platform, I meet with patients everyday in online alcohol treatment to help them reach their goals. Monument offers several evidence-based treatment options for alcohol use disorder, including medication to stop drinking, specialized therapy, and therapist-moderated support groups. We’re here to help you change your relationship with alcohol on your own terms.