Out to Drink (Alcohol) with Food Allergies
By Carlo Steinman
Take some time to look up the ingredients of major base alcohols (e.g., many beers contain wheat, gins are flavored with nuts, some vodkas are made with wheat, while others are made with potatoes or other grains).
Once you’ve identified which base alcohols are safe, take a look at common mixers and liqueurs to see whether they contain any of your allergens. For example, if you are allergic to dairy and cream is added to your pina colada, then this can cause an allergic reaction.
- With bases and additions identified, you can begin to see what cocktails are out there that are safe for you; pick some you might enjoy.
- After some experimentation—which you can do safely in your own home with friends or family—you’ll naturally develop some drinks that you like and some that you don’t.
- Be sure to always ask specifically for what you want – bartenders and waiters are used to it, because people often have preferences on particular alcohol brands or preparations.
- Always read menus carefully because some restaurants and bars will add non-traditional ingredients.
- Ask about cross-contact - a blender or shaker may not be washed properly, leaving allergen residue
- When you see something on a menu that you don’t understand, ask! Bartenders will be happy to tell you.
- Stick with brands and drinks you know to be safe.
- Remember that cross-contact can occur with drink stirrers, shakers and other utensils used to mix drinks as with condiments like slices of lime or orange
- Always drink responsibly, and enjoy!
While epinephrine auto-injectors can be carried easily in everyday life in a bag or pants pocket, it can sometimes be harder to know where to carry your medicine when going out. For a typical night out at a bar, regular places to carry medicine are generally appropriate, but for a dressier night out or a night at a club with bag check, traditional options may not be available. The outfit you have planned might not have a place to put your medicine.
Still, medicine must be carried. So, get creative. Pockets are often a safe bet for someone wearing pants, but not always an option. For those without pockets, jackets can be a useful place to store medicine, if you are going to keep your jacket with you. A purse or other bag that’s kept close can also be a great place to store medicine. In addition, if you’re going out with friends and one person has offered to hold everyone’s stuff, it can be appropriate to drop your medicine into their bag or jacket, assuming that they’ll always be nearby and that you feel comfortable about it.
One of the biggest benefits of everyone carrying a phone these days is that you’ve already got something you need to hold on to when you go out! So, wherever you keep your phone, whether it’s your hand, your pocket, your bag, or somewhere else, that’s a great place to put your medicine.
As everyone with food allergies knows, it’s great to have trusty go-to's. The great thing about alcohol is that, in its base form, it’s the same everywhere. A bottle of Budweiser in St. Louis will have the exact same ingredients as a bottle of Budweiser in London or Tokyo. You know what you’re getting.
Once you’ve identified what you like, you’ll be able to confidently go out for drinks. You can always direct a bartender to use a particular alcohol, or if they serve a particular beer.
To make it easier, you can go to a few bars and ask the bartender what types of beer and what brands of alcohols they have available. From that, you will know what is common in your area, and you can pick a go-to with that information. Having a regular, go-to drink is very common. Most people have one, something they’ll order when they’re out at a bar or restaurant. Then, going out is easy, because you know what you want and you know what you’ll get!
You walk into a bar, look around, and see that on every table there’s a complimentary bowl of nuts, including some to which you are allergic. What do you do?
Much of the answer depends on your particular situation, including how reactive you are to the allergen. Ultimately, you have to make the decision that makes you the most comfortable. Some potential strategies include:
- Asking a friend or someone working at the bar to move the snacks away from where you will be sitting
- Asking the bartender or barback to wipe down the area where the food had been, to avoid residues
- Avoiding those areas
- Choosing a new bar or restaurant
While there’s no one right approach, safety should always be an important priority. Friends, dates, or whoever you are with will understand.
Meeting someone at a bar is always an interesting and potentially nerve-wracking experience, and it’s made more complicated for people with food allergies. Not only do you have to decide whether the person you’ve met likes you, but you also have to decide how to approach the topic of your allergies. Like many situations, it comes down to making choices that you personally feel comfortable with, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
For example, someone with a broad number of allergies and a history of reacting to trace amounts of an allergen might not feel comfortable kissing someone without first asking what he/she had for dinner. On the other hand, someone with more mild allergies or allergies to less common foods may feel comfortable taking that step. It ultimately comes down to personal comfort and safety levels, because you are the arbiter of your own safety and your own body.
Some people may think it’s not attractive to ask someone what they had for dinner, or to tell them about your food allergies when you first met them (whether on a formal date or someone you meet casually), but for many people, the nagging worry in the back of your head is enough to take you out of the moment. It’s all about striking the appropriate balance such that you feel safe and confident in your actions, which can allow you to focus on talking the talk and walking the walk.
- It can sometimes be an awkward situation to ask someone what they've had for dinner, and one strategy is to ask if they’re hungry. From there, regardless of whether they are or aren’t, you can work to find out what they had for dinner.
- Getting a round of drinks can also provide an opportunity, because asking what someone would like to drink can lead to a discussion of drink preferences and limitations. Alongside a story of, say, how you can’t drink tequila because you had too much at a party once, you can throw in that you don’t drink vodka because you have a wheat allergy, for example. This is an easy way to broach the topic in a normal night-out conversation.
- On the other hand, you can be completely upfront about your allergies and tell people right away, because you feel that your safety and comfort are going to be negatively impacted if you do not.
- If you have friends around you, for example someone acting as a wing-person, they can sometimes be useful in slipping your food allergies into casual conversation or bringing up what people did before going out, if the person with food allergies doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. Planning ahead with your friends about how you handle those types of situations can provide peace of mind and allow people with food allergies to feel more comfortable when going out.
Oftentimes, after a night out, people get hungry. Groups of friends, dates, individuals, or strangers exiting at the same time sometimes then choose to get food, both as a way of keeping good times going and as a way of satiating themselves. While this can be a frightening prospect, it does not have to be a no-go for people with food allergies.
For many people with food allergies, the first instinct may be to simply go home or not eat when you get to where people are going. Sometimes, this is the only safe option or the one that makes the most sense at the time. In other circumstances, some careful planning and advocating for oneself can lead to a more inclusive late-night dining experience.
Before going out, if you know the general area in which you will be going out, you can research the typical late-night spots. Maybe the pizza place around the corner isn’t going to work for you, but there’s an all-night diner a few blocks over that would be perfect for everyone. With that information in mind, you can propose the diner when people start to get hungry and then have a safe and happy meal.
The success of this strategy, and all such strategies, relies on advocating for yourself. This is easier to do among friends than among strangers, and how it’s phrased might differ based on the audience, but young adults with food allergies need to know how to speak up for themselves and work to bring people together around safe options. You’ll often find, after advocating for yourself, that a safe consensus is much easier to bring about than you would assume. Your friends, colleagues, and associates will want people in the group to be happy, whether it’s because of food allergies or any number of other factors. By advocating for yourself and making your needs known, you can bring about a successful resolution.
Sometimes, you might get yourself into situations where you feel pressure to drink. This can be overt pressure from someone telling you to drink more, situations where your friends or the people you are with are all drinking and you want to keep up and fit in, or an awkward situation that you think you’ll feel more comfortable in if you have some drinks. While this can be a challenge for anyone, it can often be particularly stressful for people with food allergies.
Because of the risk to safety that seemingly minor events can have, people with food allergies tend to want to be in control of their situations whenever possible, to have a good handle on their actions and choices. This lets them best maneuver how they decide to keep themselves safe. Such control can be harder when drinking, particularly when drinking heavily.
This presents an issue for situations in which you feel pressure to drink. The easiest solution is to be a good advocate for yourself. Tell people that you don’t feel comfortable drinking past a certain point, and people will almost always respect that, particularly if they’re people you know. After all, your friends care about you as a person, not as a receptacle for alcohol.
This is especially true the older you get, as the drink-to-get-drunk mindset often found among college students and recent graduates subside into people more concerned with enjoying themselves how they see fit, rather than policing other people’s actions. Thanks to that, it can be easier to stay in the amount of control that you would like to have, having the appropriate amount to drink, while still thriving in social situations.
One of the things to be careful about when it comes to going out drinking is the effect that alcohol can have on you. Not only do food allergic individuals have to worry about all the regular concerns of getting drunk, they also have to think about the potential impact of alcohol on epinephrine, if they were to have a reaction.
This can be an issue for a few reasons:
- First, if you’ve had a few drinks and you’re not thinking clearly, it can be more difficult to know whether you need to take epinephrine or not.
- Second, the actual act of administering epinephrine, should you need to inject yourself, can be complicated by any loss of motor functions caused by intoxication
- Third, alcohol can impact the effectiveness of epinephrine
This is not to say that food-allergic individuals should never consume alcohol, for fear of a reaction. Simply put, people with food allergies should take these facts into consideration and use them when they consider their limits and how much alcohol they want to drink at a given time.