Addiction Recovery - Drug and Alcohol

Alcohol Red Nose: Why Do So Many Drinkers Have Red Noses?

An alcohol red nose is one of the most tell-tale signs of a problem with alcohol. Our blog explores this condition, its causes, and treatment.

Alcohol Red Nose: Why Do So Many Drinkers Have Red Noses?

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

October 2, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

Alcoholism comes with numerous health risks. It can affect the brain, organs, bodily functions, and systems. Alcohol can potentially impact almost every body part, including the heart, abdomen, liver, central nervous system, digestive system, and neurological functions.

Someone with alcohol addiction is also more vulnerable to developing mouth, esophagus, trachea, and breast cancer cancers in women. 

Another side effect that is generally connected to excessive consumption of alcohol is an alcohol red nose. Popularly known as “alcoholic nose,” the condition is when someone develops a red, enlarged, bulbous-looking nose. It is commonly believed that the alcoholic red nose stems from alcohol abuse or chronic addiction.

However, there are contradicting beliefs that attribute other causes for the reddening of the nose and the structure of the nose noticeably changing. 

Stats About Drinking:

Reports by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), show that 3,983 youngsters below the age of just 21 die yearly in the United States – due to excessive alcohol consumption. According to a 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), alcohol-related causes contribute to the deaths of approximately 88,0005 each year.

What Is an Alcohol Red Nose?

Alcohol red nose is the common term used to describe someone's red, swollen nose that is believed to be caused by heavy consumption of alcohol over the years. This is not always entirely true. It is the term used for the medical condition known as Rhinophyma. Many studies have successfully shown that an alcoholic nose and drinking at extreme volumes may not always be connected. The condition is often referred to by these names as well:

  • Bulbous nose

  • Potato nose

  • Cauliflower nose 

A few names that mostly continue to connect the reddening of the nose to alcohol consumption are:

  • Whisky nose

  • Drinker's nose

  • Rum nose 

  • Gin nose/gin blossom 

It is important to keep in mind that although alcohol is known to have many adverse health effects on users, adequate evidence is not available to attribute an alcoholic nose directly to alcoholism. 

Actual Causes of Alcohol Red Nose

An alcohol red nose is medically known as Rhinophyma. A skin condition known as rosacea, which leads to redness and inflammation of the skin, has four types. Rhinophyma is the most extreme variation. Alcohol nose typically starts as one of the milder types of rosacea, but with time, if it is not appropriately treated, the problem usually matures into Rhinophyma. 

Alcohol Red Nose: Why Does the nose turn Red if Someone Has Rhinophyma?

When someone has Rhinophyma, the blood vessels under the skin of their nose usually break and give the skin a red and swollen appearance. Sometimes this can make the nose look bulbous, bumpy, and disfigured.

If the condition is left unmanaged and worsens, there are chances that the redness will spread across the cheeks and sometimes even start turning purple. In addition, the nose usually starts looking bumpier and even more disfigured. 

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Alcohol Red Nose: Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Rhinophyma?

It is not uncommon for someone who is drinking alcohol to feel flushed or for their skin to become red. However, becoming red and having flushed skin differs from Rhinophyma or any other branch of Rosacea. While drinking cannot directly cause the condition, excessive drinking can trigger or aggravate the problem.

This is why people are usually under the impression that alcohol consumption can cause Rhinophyma. However, the real reasons for the skin condition are not yet evident, though many factors have been studied to influence it. This means that drinking can increase the impact of an existing rhinophyma and the risks of the skin problem – but it is not a result of drinking and drinking only. 

Factors that Cause Red Alcohol Nose

One's complexion, genetics, and ancestry factors are quite often observed to be contributors to the alcohol red nose. However, the two dominant causes of alcohol red nose are majorly connected to ethnicity and heritage.

They are:

Skin Problems Like Rosacea

Common to people with fairer complexion, Rosacea is a symptom of an alcoholic nose or, Rhinophyma. Certain foods and drinks can trigger it and are mostly associated with individuals with a European heritage. This specific category of people experiences flushed cheeks when they eat or drink products like hot drinks, chocolate, spicy foods, and alcohol.

It is not necessary that everyone who has Rosacea also has Rhinophyma, as Rhinophyma is the most severe type of Rosacea – but Rosacea can still be a common cause of Rhinophyma. Similarly, just because some people experience reddening skin while drinking, there is no solid evidence to link the skin condition to alcohol consumption.

However, as Rhinophyma develops with the worsening of Rosacea and drinking can have that effect, drinking can worsen an existing Rhinophyma problem. This is why the two are typically linked.

Genetics

The Asian population has been found to be deficient in an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme is responsible for helping break down alcohol and metabolize it. When someone drinks alcohol, it enters the cells of their blood vessels, and the blood vessels dilate. When this happens, the consumer starts to feel warm. If there is insufficient alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme in the body, the consumer is likely to become flushed.

As this condition affects individuals of Asian heritage, it is sometimes called an 'Asian flush'.

Triggers of Alcohol Red Nose

Alcohol is not the direct reason for an alcoholic nose, though the name does contradict this statement. Many other factors can cause an onset of an alcoholic nose. A few of the other factors that can trigger an alcoholic red nose or Rhinophyma can include:

  • Skincare products and cosmetics that contain harsh chemicals

  • Having spicy food

  • Direct sunlight

  • Drinking hot beverages

  • Strenuous physical activities 

  • Intense feelings like stress, rage, and sadness

  • Extreme temperatures – hot or cold  

  • Alcohol

Alcohol cannot be eliminated as a trigger for an alcoholic nose, but this does not have to mean that everyone who drinks alcohol should develop the condition. Rhinophyma is one of the lesser-seen impacts of alcohol abuse and affects a tiny percentage of users. It is different for people who already have an alcoholic nose – if they drink excessively, their condition will most probably worsen with time.

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Alcohol Red Nose: Identifying the Onset of Rhinophyma

Common signs of an alcoholic nose or Rhinophyma that can help you identify the condition are:

  • You will start to notice a gradual change in appearance 

  • The skin around the nose area will start to get thicker 

  • The shape of the nose will start looking rounder and more bulbous

  • The nose will look and maybe feel swollen 

  • The oil glands around the nose and in the nose may usually start to become more evidently visible 

  • The nose and the skin around it will start to turn red 

  • Sometimes the cheeks will also become red 

  • In more severe cases, the skin will start to turn purple from red 

Alcohol Red Nose: Am I Prone to Developing an Alcoholic Nose?

The alcoholic nose is not a medical condition; it is the term used alternatively to one – Rhinophyma. A few factors can be attributed to people likely to develop Rhinophyma. These can be:

Fair Complexion

Far more individuals have been reported to be suffering from alcohol nose as compared to those with a darker complexion 

Gender

Alcohol nose has been most commonly found in males 

Age

People who are aged between 50-70 years are more vulnerable to developing Rhinophyma  

Family History

Individuals with a family history of the condition are prone to alcohol red nose

Heritage

People who belong to the Celtic heritage may be likely to develop an alcoholic nose

Existing Rosacea

Someone who has Rosacea and does not manage it or get it treated adequately might see it worsen into Rhinophyma 

While people from these backgrounds and exposures are more likely to develop an alcoholic nose, not everyone who fits the bill will necessarily be prone to it. 

As the alcohol red nose condition is assumed to be an effect of drinking excessively, it comes with a lot of negative stigmas. This is why someone with an alcoholic nose is usually shunned for it in society. The fear of judgment makes it difficult for people suffering from the condition to step forward and seek proper help and treatment. 

Individuals with an alcoholic nose become prone to such negative and unjust social opinions, leading them to shut everyone out. As a result, they start trying to avoid social events and soon become prey to mental health issues. When they feel judgment being passed on their appearance, character, and drinking habits, they can easily develop emotional and mental issues such as anxiety and depression.

This continues to happen even though the condition has been observed, studied, and understood to be a separate issue from alcoholism – it is also treated differently! 

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Looking for Treatment for Your Alcohol Red Nose 

Treating an alcoholic nose or Rhinophyma requires medical intervention. A few long-term medication plans can be offered to patients with an alcoholic nose. Surgery is also an open option if you are looking for a quick solution. 

Treating Alcohol Red Nose with Surgery

When you develop an alcoholic nose, and it advances into severe stages, you will find enlarged blood vessels and overgrown tissues in and around the nose – these are permanent and irreversible changes. It is impossible to completely reverse an alcohol nose at such a stage with just medication. Surgery is the only way to remove these successfully.

Some surgery options to consider:

Dermabrasion

This surgery includes the removal of the top, thickened layers of the nose using small rotating tools 

Cryosurgery

If you opt for cryosurgery, the overgrown tissues of your nose will be exposed to shallow temperatures to freeze them. Once frozen, they are removed. 

Laser Resurfacing

This is a surgery in which the unwanted tissues of the alcoholic nose are removed with the help of a carbon dioxide laser.

Invasive Surgery

Invasive surgery is the traditional type of surgery that will get you your required results by removing the tissue with scalpels and other invasive methods. 

Treating Alcoholic Nose with Medication 

Rhinophyma, or an alcoholic nose, cannot be reversed with just medication, but some medicines help manage the problem. There are a few medicines that can help control the side effects of an alcoholic nose. These medications are typically prescribed by doctors, dermatologists, and professional skin specialists.

Some of the medicines that are the most effective in keeping side effects, such as redness, at bay are:

Oral & Topical Antibiotics

Some common topical and oral antibiotics that are beneficial in helping reduce inflammation and redness of the skin are:

  • Minocycline

  • Metronidazole

  • Tetracycline

  • Sulfacetamide

  • Topical Ointments

Topical medicinal ointments that are commonly used to manage inflammation and redness associated with alcohol red nose include:

  • Azelaic acid, administered under the brand name Azelex

  • Tretinoin, administered under the brand name Retin-A 

Oral Medication

Capsules such as Oral isotretinoin are typically administered to stop skin glands from secreting oils and to make the situation worse.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an alcoholic red nose but is hesitant to seek help, remember that nothing is more important than getting better. The longer the overgrown tissues and enlarged blood vessels remain the way they are they will just keep getting worse and become more permanent. So, get clinical guidance and expert assistance to deal with your alcohol nose today!

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Would you like more information about mental health or drug addiction? Reach out today.

Alcohol Red Nose Can Be a Sign of a Serious Problem. The Forge Recovery Center Will Help

Developing an alcohol red nose may be a sign of a serious problem with alcohol. Sadly, alcoholism is often fatal if left untreated. Fortunately, it’s a disease that responds well to the right treatment.

Alcohol abuse can convince a person they’re alone. They’re not. The Forge Recovery Center is more than an addiction center, it’s a community devoted to recovery and long-term sobriety. Our evidence-based treatment for alcoholism is guided by a trauma-informed philosophy recognizing the needs and dignity of our clients. We offer a safe place where the roots of addiction can be explored safely and effectively.

You’re not alone in your struggle. Join a community in recovery today – reach out to The Forge Recover Center and learn more about our effective alcoholism treatment program.

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