Drug and Alcohol

What Is Alcohol Nose?

Alcohol nose is one of the most recognizable symptoms of excessive drinking. Learn more about alcohol nose, alcoholism, and more in our blog.

What is Alcohol Nose?

Table of Contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

April 3, 2023

The Edge Treatment Center

Although alcoholism poses numerous health risks, it remains unclear why many people continue to abuse alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption can have detrimental effects on the mind, bodily organs, and systems – including the heart, digestive system, abdomen, central nervous system, and neurological functions.

The likelihood of developing oral, tracheal, and esophageal cancer in individuals with alcohol addiction is also higher. In addition, women who consume excessive amounts of alcohol have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis and breast cancer compared to those who do not. Moreover, heavy drinkers often neglect their nutritional needs by prioritizing alcohol, which can result in deficiencies in essential nutrients and minerals, inviting other health risks associated with these deficiencies. 

Individuals with an alcohol use disorder who desire to stop drinking may suffer from withdrawal symptoms. When addiction is developed to a drug or alcohol, the central nervous system adapts to the constant presence of the substance in the bloodstream. This leads to a substitution of the alcohol's depressant effects on the body's neural activity and muscle cell transmission. As a result, when the alcohol concentration or supply to the body is rapidly reduced, the brain remains hyperexcited or stimulated, resulting in withdrawal symptoms. The severity of alcohol withdrawal disorder can vary widely among binge drinkers, ranging from mild insomnia to severe complications such as delirium tremens in some cases, even death. Alcohol abuse and addiction also come with countless side effects that may harm the body. 

One side effect that is commonly attributed to excessive alcohol consumption is an alcohol nose.

There are various names for a sort of enlarged and bulbous-looking red nose, with "alcoholic nose" being one of the most popular terms used to denote them. This phrase comes from the common belief that a chronic alcohol addiction or alcohol abuse can be the reason for the abuser's nose to become red and for its structure to change noticeably. However, some counter-beliefs do point out other reasons for this change in the skin of the nose. This article will examine what an alcohol nose is and other factors and side effects associated with it. 

By the Numbers:

As reported by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), the deaths of 3,983 individuals below 21 years in America annually are caused by excessive alcohol consumption – 75.1% of which are males and the rest females.

What Is Alcohol Nose?

Alcohol nose is a layman's term that describes a swollen, red nose. However, it is a term that refers to a medical condition known as Rhinophyma. It is called an alcohol nose as it is commonly thought to be the result of excessive alcoholism, whereas this is not necessarily the complete truth.

Many studies can highlight the disconnect between the two. The condition has many other names, most of them continuing to connect to it to the consumption of alcohol. These are:

  • Rum nose 

  • Whisky nose

  • Potato nosDrinker's nose

  • Cauliflower nose 

  • Gin nose/gin blossom 

  • Bulbous nose

It is important to note while alcohol does cause many adverse side effects to the body and mind, there is not enough evidence to prove the connection between an alcoholic nose and the consumption of alcohol. 

What Really Causes Alcohol Nose?

The medical term for an alcoholic nose is Rhinophyma. This skin condition falls under rosacea, which causes extreme inflammation and redness. Rhinophyma is the most severe variation of the four types of rosacea conditions. An alcohol nose usually starts as one of the milder types of rosacea and grows worse with neglect over the years – if it is not treated correctly. 

Why Does Rhinophyma Cause Alcohol Nose?

Rhinophyma gives the appearance of a red nose due to blood vessels that break beneath the skin on or around it, leading to redness and a swollen appearance. An alcohol nose can look bumpy and bulbous as well. If the condition gets more severe, the redness can spread to the cheeks and even take on a purple hue, while the nose can look even bumpier and disfigured. 

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Does Alcohol Cause Rhinophyma?

Facial redness or flushing is a common effect of alcohol consumption. However, it is important to note that drinking can trigger flushed skin, but it cannot be attributed as a cause of rosacea. Excessive drinking can aggravate rosacea and Rhinophyma, leading people to think there is a cause-and-effect relationship between them. The actual cause of Rhinophyma is not yet clear, but there are genetic factors, complexion, and ancestry factors that are often believed to be prone to the condition. 

Therefore, drinking can cause an increase in the effects of an existing rhinophyma problem and can also increase the risk of developing the condition, acting as a trigger – but it is not a direct result of drinking. 

Actual Reasons for Alcohol Nose

Two major factors can be linked to an alcoholic nose, i.e., Rhinophyma. They are linked mainly to ethnicity and heritage - these are:


Rosacea is a Rhinophyma symptom commonly triggered by certain drinks and food items. It is typical in individuals with a fair complexion and is most often attributed to those with a European background. Due to rosacea, these people experience a flush in the cheeks while eating or drinking foods such as spices, hot drinks, chocolates, and alcohol. 

Although not everyone with rosacea has Rhinophyma, it can be a common contributor. In the same way, just because some people's skin gets flushed after drinking alcohol, it does not have to mean drinking causes Rhinophyma or an alcoholic nose. However, because drinking can worsen rosacea, it can also be a factor in worsening Rhinophyma - and that is why the alcoholic nose ends up being associated with drinking. 

Enzyme Deficiencies

It is found that among the Asian population, many people suffer from a deficiency of alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme is required to metabolize alcohol and break it down. When alcohol is consumed, it enters the cells of blood vessels and dilates them, making the consumer feel warm. If there is a deficiency of this enzyme in the body, it is more likely for you to get flushed on the consumption of alcohol – this condition is sometimes also referred to as "Asian flush'' as it affects people of Asian heritage. 

How Can I Identify the Onset of Alcohol Nose?

Common signs of Rhinophyma are:

  • There will gradually be a change in appearance

  • The nose will start looking swollen and bulbous in shape

  • The skin around the nose will start to thicken

  • Oil glands on and around the nose will start to become more visible

  • The skin of the nose and around it, sometimes even the cheeks, will start to turn red – even purple in more severe conditions 

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Am I at Risk of Alcohol Nose?

As an alcoholic nose is not a medical condition, it is a term used in place of the condition of Rhinophyma. Some attributes that can make someone prone to the condition are:

  • Being male: Men are more prone to alcoholism

  • Fair complexion – more people with fair complexion have been reported to develop alcoholic noses than those with a darker complexion

  • Age factor – individuals between the age of 50 and 70 years are more prone to the condition 

  • Someone who has a family history of skin conditions 

  • Celtic heritage 

  • Someone who already has rosacea 

While these are typical conditions for an alcohol nose to develop, it is not limited to them. 

What Triggers Alcohol Nose?

As discussed, an alcohol nose does not directly result from an alcohol problem or excessive drinking. Many other factors can lead to this condition. Some other triggers of alcohol nose rhinophyma can include:

  • Harsh cosmetics and skincare products that contain chemicals

  • Spices and hot foods

  • Exposure to direct and harsh sunlight 

  • Hot beverages 

  • Sharp winds

  • Intense physical activities 

  • String emotions such as stress, anger, sadness 

  • Extreme temperatures 

Alcohol is a trigger for sure, but this does not mean everyone who consumes alcohol is prone to it or experiences rosacea or Rhinophyma. It is one of the rare side effects of alcohol abuse that only a very small percentage of users are exposed to. If someone who already has the condition drinks, that is a different situation – their Rhinophyma may get much worse if they drink excessively. 

Stigma Around Alcohol Nose

As alcohol nose is most commonly linked to drinking alcohol in excess, there is a lot of negative stigma around it. People suffering from the condition are often shunned for it, as the person against them usually assumes they have developed it because of drinking. This makes it difficult for the affected individuals to seek help and get proper treatment. 

Because of such unjust and incorrect judgments, people prefer to take a back seat at social events and limit themselves from going out wherever it can be avoided. When such judgment is passed on one's character and substance use habits, it is effortless for someone with an alcohol nose to develop various mental issues. The condition has been studied and understood and continues to be treated separately from an alcohol use disorder.  

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How to Treat Alcohol Nose

As an alcoholic nose or Rhinophyma is a medical condition, it requires medical intervention. Long-term medication can be administered to treat the issue, or surgery can be done to fix it more quickly. Let us look into both of the options in better detail.

Surgery for Alcoholic Nose

Surgery is the most common option if your condition has advanced to a state where you really wish to reverse it. The enlarged blood vessels and overgrown tissues in the nose are permanent changes that can only be removed successfully by surgery. Surgery methods that are usually opted for include:

  • Cryosurgery – the process of exposing the overgrown tissues to shallow temperatures to freeze them and remove them 

  • Dermabrasion – removing the top, unwanted layers of the nose skin with small rotating tools 

  • Laser resurfacing done with the help of a carbon dioxide laser

  • Invasive surgery with the help of scalpels 

Medication for Alcoholic Nose

Once someone is affected by an alcoholic nose or rhinophyma, it is impossible to reverse it with medicine fully. Managing the problem with only medication alone is very difficult, but its side effects, such as redness, can be controlled to some degree. This is done with prescription medicines administered by skin specialists or dermatologists. Some medications that are being used for managing alcohol noses are:


Some commonly administered oral and topical antibiotics that help reduce inflammation and redness are metronidazole, minocycline, tetracycline, and sulfacetamide.

Topical Ointments

Azelaic acid, found in Azelex, and tretinoin, found in Retin-A, are topical medications that help manage inflammation and redness. 

Oral Medication

Orally administered medication such as oral isotretinoin capsules helps stop skin glands from secreting oils and worsening the situation. 

If you or your loved one is suffering from this condition but are too self-conscious to reach out for help, remember – nothing is more important than getting better. The longer the tissue disfiguration and overgrowth remain on the skin, the more permanent it becomes.

So get medical advice and professional help to manage your alcohol nose today! 

Afraid of Getting Alcohol Nose? How Can the Edge Treatment Center Help?

Alcohol nose is just one problem alcoholism creates. The Edge Treatment Center is the nation's leading long-term outpatient drug rehab. Our team provides a range of evidence-based therapies and holistic treatments, such as individual and group therapy, family therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and aftercare support. Regardless of whether someone is seeking assistance for the first time or has struggled with addiction, The Edge Treatment Center offers hope for recovery. Contact us today to learn more about their addiction treatment programs and start your journey to a better life. 

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