Alcoholic nose is a slang term used to describe the red, swollen nose that is thought by some to accompany chronic alcohol use. While this stereotype does have some element of truth to it, there is some debate on how much alcohol actually affects the appearance of your nose.

What Is Alcoholic Nose?

“Alcoholic nose” is a term given to the medical condition rhinophyma when it’s thought to be caused by alcohol use. Rhinophyma is derived from Greek and literally means “nose growth.” While rhinophyma has traditionally been believed to be due to alcohol use, multiple studies show that this connection is very weak, and some researchers doubt there’s even a connection in the first place.

Other Names for Alcoholic Nose

Alcoholic nose is also known by many other names, including: 

  • Whisky nose
  • Rum nose
  • Potato nose
  • Gin blossom
  • Drinker’s nose
  • Cauliflower nose
  • Bulbous nose
  • Gin nose

What Does an Alcoholic Nose Look Like?

Rhinophyma, the condition often referred to as alcoholic nose, has a red, swollen, lumpy appearance. The nose may also have a purple-colored appearance and could be mistaken for having warts or other skin blemishes that look like protruding lumps.

What Causes Alcoholic Nose?

While the idea that alcohol causes rhinophyma has been popularized in movies and illustrations, studies do not support this stigma. However, alcohol may still play a very small role in increasing the risk of developing this condition.


The underlying condition that causes rhinophyma is rosacea. Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that affects the blood vessels in the face, leading to a flushed appearance of the facial skin. Rosacea also causes an increased number of pimples and poorer skin quality.

Drinking can increase the effects of existing rosacea and may increase the risk of this condition developing. However, many people who use alcohol heavily do not develop rosacea, and rosacea does often occur in people who do not drink alcohol or only use it in moderation.

Signs of Rosacea

Signs of rosacea can include:

  • Blushing or flushing in the face
  • Burning feeling in the facial skin
  • Small, visible veins in the face
  • Swollen bumps or pimples
  • Eye problems


Rhinophyma is essentially severe rosacea in the nose area. Rosacea affects the nose more in men and the cheeks more in women, which makes men much more likely to get rhinophyma than women. Rhinophyma has not been shown to be connected to alcohol use, and calling rhinophyma an “alcoholic nose” is not medically correct.

Signs of Rhinophyma

Signs of rhinophyma can include:

  • Gradual change in appearance
  • Swollen, bulbous-shaped nose
  • Thickening of the skin on the nose
  • Visible oil glands on the nose
  • Red or sometimes purple coloration of the nose

Who Is at Risk for Alcoholic Nose?

Because an alcoholic nose is not really a medical condition, no one has a risk of developing it. However, people can be at risk of developing rhinophyma, which is sometimes referred to as an alcoholic nose. Some of the risk factors for developing rhinophyma include:

  • Male gender
  • Fair complexion
  • Age between 50 and 70 years old
  • Family history of skin conditions
  • Celtic heritage
  • Rosacea

Alcoholic Nose Treatment

While “alcoholic nose” is not a medical condition requiring treatment, rhinophyma can be treated. The main treatment option for rhinophyma is surgery; however, there are some medications that may provide a small degree of help.


Once rhinophyma is present, medications are unlikely to make it go away. Medications used to treat rhinophyma include topical medications that can be applied to the skin. These would primarily be antibiotics that can treat infections that may be making rhinophyma worse, or anti-inflammatory medications that help reduce continued inflammation. 


Surgery is the main method used to treat rhinophyma. There are many different surgical options that use plastic surgery techniques. During a rhinophyma surgery, the physician will remove the extra skin that builds up on the nose and reduce skin growths to help the nose return to its normal shape, size and appearance.

Alternative Therapies

While surgery is the most commonly used method of treating rhinophyma, there are also alternative therapies that can be used to try treating rosacea, the underlying cause of rhinophyma. These are not used in the medical community, but they may be useful for some people. Alternative therapies:

  • Topical vitamin B3 (nicotinamide)
  • Topical Indian chrysanthemum extract
  • Topical amargo extract

While these alternative therapies could provide some benefit, you should always speak with a doctor before attempting to use alternative therapies.

Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

While misusing alcohol over a prolonged period of time may not be likely to cause an alcoholic nose, there are many other ways alcohol can affect your body. Alcohol can cause liver disease and kidney problems as well as increase your risk of cancer, heart attack and stroke. Using alcohol heavily, especially over a long period of time, can have a devastating effect on your health.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake can help. Located on a 15-acre campus in the beautiful mountains of Colorado, our state-of-the-art facility can provide you with the ongoing support needed for lifelong addiction recovery. Contact us today to learn more about treatment programs that can help you begin the journey to a healthier, alcohol-free future. 

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.