Alcohol nose, or drinkers nose, is a skin condition commonly characterized by a bumpy, red or swollen appearance of the nose and cheeks. For years, it was widely believed that this condition was caused by alcohol use disorder or alcoholism. However, new research released in 2015 proved otherwise.
According to the report, rhinophyma (the medical name for alcoholic nose) actually has nothing to do with how much or how little a person drinks. With very little connection between rhinophyma and alcoholism, how did the myth of alcoholic nose start and why is it still perpetuated today?
What Is Alcoholic Nose?
Alcoholic nose is a skin condition commonly characterized by a swollen, red and bumpy appearance on the nose. While this look is frequently referred to as alcoholic nose or drinkers nose, it’s actually a skin disorder called rhinophyma.
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Rhinophyma is a subtype of another skin condition called rosacea, which causes chronic inflammation of the skin. The chronic inflammation causes broken blood vessels and pustules on or around the nose, giving it the red, swollen and bumpy look often associated with alcoholic nose.
Of the four subtypes of rosacea, rhinophyma is thought to be one of the worst. It forms gradually over the years and is typically the result of not treating a less severe form of rosacea early on.
While women are diagnosed with rhinophyma, the condition is much more common in men. People with fair skin or those with a family history of rosacea are at a higher risk of suffering from the alcoholic nose.
Can Alcoholism Cause Rhinophyma?
It was previously thought that excessive alcohol consumption was the cause of rhinophyma – hence the nickname alcoholic nose or drinkers nose. Alcohol abuse can cause vessels to enlarge in the face and neck creating redness or flushed skin. Due to this, the idea that alcoholism could cause rhinophyma held up for many years.
However, a study published by the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine in 2015 disproved this theory. Many of the patients that participated in this study were clinically diagnosed with rhinophyma but did not suffer from alcoholism or even drink regularly.
While this study disproved the theory that alcohol abuse causes drinkers nose, researchers were not able to uncover what did cause rhinophyma in their patients. However, there is evidence to suggest that ethnic and genetic predisposition may cause this disfiguring skin condition as it runs in families of English, Scottish, Scandinavian or Eastern European descent. Despite these facts, the known cause of rhinophyma remains a mystery today.
How Alcohol Affects Rosacea
Although alcohol abuse does not cause rhinophyma or rosacea, it can aggravate the condition. As many as two out of three patients with rosacea experience flare-ups when they consume alcohol.
Alcohol aggravates symptoms of rosacea because drinking enlarges the body’s blood vessels. When the blood vessels are more open, they allow more blood to flow to the surface of the skin, creating a flushed look that is typically referred to as the ‘alcohol flush.’ The redness can spread anywhere on the body but is most noticeable on the face, shoulders, and chest. For those already suffering from redness due to rosacea, alcohol can make this symptom increasingly worse.
According to a survey of patients suffering from this skin condition, red wine is more likely to trigger flare-ups or worsen rosacea than other drinks. Doctors theorize it’s because of an additional chemical in red wine that also works to enlarge blood vessels, letting far more blood than usual flow to the surface of the skin.
In order to manage these symptoms of rosacea, doctors suggest that patients with this condition:
- Avoid red wine
- Don’t cook with alcohol
- Have a tall glass of water in between every alcoholic drink
- Drink in extreme moderation
- Dilute alcohol drinks with seltzer water
- Stop drinking alcohol
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Since everyone has different levels of sensitivity to alcohol, those suffering from rosacea will have to test and build their own boundaries to avoid severe flare-ups of alcoholic nose. A recent survey of rosacea patients found that 90 percent of responders found that limiting their alcohol consumption helps greatly to reduce sudden outbreaks.
The Stigma Of Addiction And Alcoholic Nose
Although alcoholic nose has nothing to do with drinking, the general public still widely associates this condition with alcohol abuse. Due to this close association, those that suffer from rhinophyma often feel self-conscious not just because of their appearance, but because others might assume that they’re an alcoholic. This assumption brings up a much larger issue surrounding the addiction community – the stigma surrounding those suffering from this heartbreaking disease.
People who have rhinophyma are so scared of being labeled as an alcoholic that some report avoiding social activities or going out on a regular basis. In doing so, the stigma of addiction continues to thrive. This stigma results in prejudice, avoidance, rejection, and discrimination against people who have an addiction because others are unwilling to show compassion to those different from them. Unfortunately, the shame of addiction often prevents those with alcoholism from reaching out for help.
The reality is, there are more than 15 million Americans suffering from an alcohol use disorder according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Of this population, less than eight percent will receive detox treatment for alcoholism. To get more people suffering from alcoholism the help they desperately need, the stigma surrounding addiction must be broken.
People can start deconstructing the stigma of addiction by:
- Learning about the disease
- Talking about addiction with others
- Breaking down misconceptions about addiction
- Recognizing fact-based warning signs of alcohol abuse
- Speaking up when someone is mistreated because of their addiction
- Offering compassionate support to those struggling
- Avoiding hurtful labels like “addict” and “drunk”
The misconception that rhinophyma equals alcoholism is an outdated stereotype that can breed negative self-esteem and social anxiety. It can also prevent those actually suffering from alcoholism from getting the help they need.
Despite being widely considered a symptom of alcoholism, rhinophyma had nothing to do with alcohol consumption. This misguided and popular thought process perpetuates the stigma of addiction and prevents those suffering from alcoholism from seeking help.