Amid the strobe lights and pounding bass, you’re sure to find me as the first person on the dance floor and the last person off. But you might be surprised to find out that in the midst of my movin'-n-groovin', there’s not a single sip of alcohol in my body…that’s right, Not. A. Single. Sip. Hard to believe? Well, it's totally true and totally normal for me—and has been for the past 3 years.
No, I don’t have a sponsor or go to an AA meeting every day. In high-school, I drank with everybody else (sorry mom) but I knew something wasn't right. I never really got "tipsy". I would just feel really hot—not the type of hot you feel on the outside— it was a heat that would burn from inside my body.
I grew up knowing that my dad had an "allergy" to alcohol and couldn't drink. My older sister found out in high school that she too had an allergic reaction to drinking. But in my stubborn youth, I refused to believe it was passed down to me too.
I tried different types of alcohol for years, thinking "maybe this kind of wine", "maybe this type of beer", "maybe tequila!" (bad idea) hoping that one of them wouldn't give me a reaction. It wasn't until a friend of mine sent me a video of something called "Asian Flush" that I finally understood it. Once I learned what was actually happening to my body when I drank alcohol, I was able to finally accept it. I included the video at the bottom of this post.
Usually I explain it to people by saying I'm allergic to alcohol. In truth, by nature we're all kind of allergic to alcohol. That’s why too much of it can cause severe reactions, like vomiting, or passing out. Our bodies are rejecting the substance.
My case is a little different. "Asian Flush" is pretty common in—you guessed it—Asians. And it is especially common in Asian-Americans. If you have any Asian friends who party with you, chances are they turn red when they're drinking.
Basically, somewhere along the timeline of the evolution of Asian genetics, our bodies mutated the enzyme that breaks down alcohol, causing that enzyme to either not work properly or not exist at all.
The deficiency causes accumulations of acetaldehyde to collect in our bodies, which, when not broken down by the enzymes, remains literally poison.
People who are affected by this condition are at higher risk of getting stomach or esophageal cancer due to the inability of our bodies to efficiently process acetaldehyde. The build up of this toxin is what causes our blood vessels to dilate and our bodies to turn red, hence, the term “flush”.
So there you have it! Being a 22-year-old young lady who doesn't drink is more taxing than you'd think! I wish I could print this blog post out and tape it to my forehead when I go out to a bar or club. It would spare me answering the same questions that I inevitably get asked. Hopefully I covered them all here!
Luckily, I'm a dancer (and goofball) by nature, so I fit in with the party crowd pretty easily. That's why it comes as such a surprise to people when I'm offered a drink and turn it down. Would I like to have a glass of wine every once in a while? Sure would. Do I thank my lucky stars that I'll never be black out wasted stumbling out of the club with one lost shoe and a night of regrets? You bet.