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Drinking Habits

Do Redheads Have a Higher Alcohol Tolerance?

April 4, 2024
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 4, 2024
18 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
April 4, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
April 4, 2024
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Reframe Content Team
April 4, 2024
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The Facts Behind Redheads and Alcohol Tolerance

  • Among the common misconceptions about redheads is the stereotype that they have a high tolerance for alcohol.
  • There is no connection between red hair and alcohol tolerance. Tolerance is affected mostly by our habitual drinking behaviors.
  • The Reframe app delivers myth-busting facts about alcohol and allows you to take stock of your drinking habits to avoid the negative effects of developing a high alcohol tolerance.

What do your genes say about you? Think about the tone of your skin, whether or not you have your father’s nose, or if you inherited your family’s creaky knees.

Our genes are the blueprint for our body, and they influence every part of us. Certain genetic makeups produce strikingly different appearances in humans — as is the case with redheaded people.

There are a lot of misconceptions about redheads. Maybe you’ve heard of some stereotypes and wondered, “Are they true?” In this article, we’ll dive into a few common beliefs and solve the mystery of whether redheads react differently to alcohol.

Genetics of Skin, Hair, and Eyes

A redhead women holding a glass od wine

Our genes act as blueprints for who we are. They produce proteins that serve as building material and control just about every process in our body. During the embryonic stage, they are responsible for building our physical organs and tissues. Throughout our life, they determine our looks and influence many aspects of our physical and mental health.

Human genetics is extremely complex. Genes can undergo countless mutations, and the interplay of our 20,000-25,000 genes can produce nearly an infinite number of combinations. As a result, it should come as no surprise that no two people are exactly alike. Even identical twins develop genetic variations throughout their lives as environmental factors trigger mutations in their genes, and epigenetics influences which genes get expressed and which ones get silenced.

For example, the MC1R gene is responsible for determining our skin, eye, and hair color. MC1R instructs pigment-producing cells in our body on how to produce melanin. There are several types of melanin that function in different ways throughout our body, but two are responsible for our pigmentation:

Genetics of Red Hair

People with red hair carry a certain combination of MC1R mutations that results in low amounts of eumelanin and higher amounts of pheomelanin, producing orange hair, which is often referred to as “red” or (for better or worse) “ginger.” This same ratio usually applies to a redhead’s skin, although this isn’t always the case.

In the United States, about 25% of the population carries the genetic mutation responsible for red hair. The chance of two genetic carriers having a child who inherits it is about 2%. Unsurprisingly, around 2% to 6% of Americans have red hair, and the U.S. is home to the largest redhead population in the world.

The MC1R gene influences a wide variety of functions in our body, including the predisposition to infections, certain types of cancer, and some kidney diseases. For those with red hair, there are some special considerations that result from the way their MC1R gene functions.

Other Effects of the Red Hair Gene

Besides determining our skin, hair, and eye color, the MC1R gene also plays a role in pain perception and the effectiveness of certain medications, specifically anesthetics. Those with red hair may have unexpected reactions to pain (they can be more or less sensitive) and often require about 20% more local and general anesthetic.

Myths and Misconceptions About Redheads

Redheads have long been the target of myths and superstitions, likely owing to their distinct appearance and the rarity of their coloring. Unfortunately, redheads have also faced hate and discrimination stemming from these incorrect beliefs.

Let’s debunk a few of them!

  • Redheads are all quick to anger. There is no evidence linking the MC1R gene to temperament. (We all get angry sometimes, no matter what our hair color might be!)

  • Redheads can’t absorb vitamin D. They absolutely can! In fact, lighter skin is more adept at synthesizing vitamin D in low-light conditions.

  • All redheads are Celtic or Scandinavian. While red hair is more common in these populations, it appears all over the globe.

  • Redheads are bad luck. In ancient legends, redheads were depicted as being witches or evil spirits and were sometimes accused of bringing bad luck. These superstitions are purely cultural and are not grounded in reality. Unfortunately, this discrimination continues to this day in many cultures.

Another major misconception involves redheads and alcohol tolerance. We know that genetics are responsible for redheads being resistant to anesthetics, but does this extend to alcohol? Do redheads have a higher alcohol tolerance? Let’s look at how our genes influence the effects of alcohol.

Genetics and Alcohol

Genetics and Alcohol

Genetic factors certainly do play a role in alcohol’s impact on our body. Genetic differences can affect everything from how we metabolize booze to our susceptibility to alcohol-related health issues. Let's explore some key genetic factors that determine how alcohol affects different people.

  • Alcohol flush reaction. The alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) enzymes metabolize alcohol in our body. Certain genetic variations can produce enzymes that are less effective at breaking down the toxic by-products of alcohol, resulting in facial flushing, nausea, and an increased heart rate. The alcohol flush reaction is sometimes called the “Asian flush” due to its common occurrence in East Asian populations — 30% to 50% of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are estimated to have this genetic variation.
  • Susceptibility to alcohol use disorder (AUD). Emerging research is shedding light on the heritability of mental health and behavioral disorders, including AUD. Certain gene variations, especially those linked to the brain's reward system, have been shown to increase the risk of alcohol dependence.
  • Tolerance to alcohol. Genetic makeup can determine our tolerance to alcohol. This pertains not only to metabolic rate but also to how the central nervous system reacts to alcohol due to variations in neurotransmitter systems.
  • Sensitivity to the effects of alcohol. Some of us are genetically predisposed to feel the effects of alcohol more intensely. This sensitivity can manifest as feeling intoxicated more quickly or experiencing more severe hangovers.
  • Risk for alcohol-related diseases. Genetics influence the risk of diseases associated with alcohol use, like liver disease, certain cancers, and heart disease. Genes affecting how alcohol impacts various organs, particularly the liver, contribute significantly to these risks.

If genes influence alcohol’s effects so much, does the gene responsible for the striking appearance of redheads have anything to do with alcohol tolerance?

Redheads and Alcohol Tolerance

It may seem reasonable to assume that redheads have a unique tolerance to alcohol because they are often resistant to pain medications and anesthetics. The key to debunking this myth lies in the difference between tolerance and resistance.

Tolerance refers to the ability to metabolize and adapt to the effects of a substance over time. When we drink regularly, we find ourselves having to drink more to achieve the same effect. Resistance, on the other hand, is the inherent ability to withstand the effects of a substance.

Redheads are often more resistant to anesthetics, but they do not have a higher tolerance to them. Current research shows no correlation between the MC1R gene and alcohol tolerance or resistance. In other words, the notion of redheads having a different alcohol tolerance solely due to their hair color gene is more myth than reality.

Do redheads react differently to medications? Certain ones, yes. But the same isn’t true for alcohol. There’s no connection between people with red hair and alcohol tolerance!

A number of factors influence how alcohol affects our body, including age, weight, biological sex, diet, metabolism, and health status. People with red hair develop alcohol tolerance the same way as everyone else, and their coloring does not influence their reaction to alcohol.

Tips for Safe Sipping

Still, redheads — and everyone else — can follow a few simple rules to drink safely and avoid building tolerance.

Personal health and safety should always be considered when drinking alcohol. Our genetics play a big role in how alcohol affects us, but our everyday behavior defines the role alcohol plays in our life. Let's consider some tips for developing responsible drinking habits.

  • Understand your limits. Everyone has a different tolerance level for alcohol. Learn your body’s signals so you know when it’s time to stop. Pay attention to how your body reacts to alcohol and adjust your consumption accordingly. If you think you’re developing tolerance, take a break by doing a dry or damp challenge
  • Consider genetic factors. As we've discussed, genetics play a significant role in how our bodies process alcohol. If you know you have certain genetic predispositions, such as a family history of alcohol intolerance or alcohol use disorder, be extra mindful about your drinking habits. If you regularly have a bad reaction to alcohol, consider exploring the world of mocktails!
  • Stay hydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic and often sends us running to the bathroom all night, leading to dehydration if we don’t replenish our body’s water reserves. Consider sipping water alongside alcoholic beverages or alternating between booze and non-alcoholic options like water, soda, or a mocktail.
  • Eat before drinking. Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach leads to faster absorption and more intense effects. Eating a meal before a night out can slow down the absorption of alcohol and reduce its immediate impact.
  • Don’t mix alcohol and medications. Medications are intended to alter the function and chemistry of our body, and many interact negatively with alcohol by intensifying its effects or causing harmful reactions. Always consult with a healthcare provider about the safety of drinking while taking medication.
  • Be mindful of social pressure. Don't let social situations pressure you into drinking more than you're comfortable with. It's okay to say no or to choose non-alcoholic options. With the rise of the sober-curious movement, many bars and restaurants offer a variety of mocktails.
  • Know when to seek help. If you find it challenging to control your drinking, even in the face of negative consequences, seek professional help. There are many resources available for support and treatment. Consider a support group, an alcohol reduction app like Reframe, or a therapist specialized in alcohol misuse.

Alcohol can be a part of our life, but it's vital to prioritize health and safety. Understanding individual tolerance levels, considering our genetic makeup, and practicing mindful drinking allows us to make smarter decisions about drinking.


There are many factors that inform our response to alcohol, but hair color is not one of them! The biggest influences are age, weight, height, biological sex, diet, health status, and tolerance.

Our relationship with alcohol is as unique as our hair color — what works for one person may not work for another, and our relationship with booze may change over time. Stay informed, stay curious, and, if you do choose to drink, always be responsible and safe.

Summary FAQs

1. Do redheads have a higher alcohol tolerance?

There is no connection between redheads and alcohol tolerance.

2. Do redheads react differently to drugs?

Many redheads are less sensitive to pain medications and anesthetics. Typically, people with red hair require about 20% more anesthetics than those without red hair.

3. What causes red hair?

Red hair is the product of a certain collection of mutations in the MC1R gene, which determines our skin color, hair color, and eye color. The MC1R gene causes redheads to produce a combination of melanin compounds (skin and hair pigments) that blend together to form red hair.

4. Do genetics affect our alcohol tolerance?

Sort of. Our genes influence how alcohol affects us. Some of us metabolize alcohol more quickly, which gives us a type of built-in tolerance. Generally, drinking habits are the biggest influence on tolerance.

Ready To Change Your Relationship With Alcohol (No Matter What Color Hair You Have)? Try Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet hundreds of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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