Why Indians are alcoholics and Asians can’t drink

When Asians don't hold their liquor as well it's probably because of their genes.

When Asians don’t hold their liquor very well it’s probably because of their genes.

A bit of a controversial post for some perhaps, but we’re gonna take a look at the genetic differences between races in relation to alcohol. The idea came up when reading an article on Mayas (Indians in central America) and how they showed higher rates of alcoholism. Another good example are the native Australians, the Aboriginals. Now a friend once told me about a teacher who told him there is no such thing as different races. Well, tell that to the thousands of white runners following a few Kenyans in a marathon. Of course there are differences. And not all are as clear to see as a skin color or the shape of the eyes (not to mention other body parts). Let’s check out the racial differences where it comes to the use of alcohol.

So let’s start with the alcoholism part. How come native Americans and Aboriginals are in general more likely to get hooked on booze? It’s all because their bodies usually break down ethanol into water and acid way slower than the other races. Let’s first describe this process. When you drink alcoholic drinks the ethanol is metabolized (transformed) into something called acetaldehyde. This is being done by an enzyme in your body called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). So the more ADH your body produces, the faster the process. Apparently a lot of Native Americans miss out on this enzyme (according to analysis on chromosome 4 and 11) and that increases the risk of becoming alcoholic.

Unlike the American Indians the Chinese and Japanese produce a lot of ADH. 85% of their population produces unusual high activities of this enzyme. Where Caucasians score less than 21%, African Americans less than 10% and Native Americans as well as Asian Indians 0%. These numbers and further explanation can be found in the book Casarett & Doull’s Toxicology: The basic Science of Poison by Curtis D. Klaassen.

Now don’t jump to any conclusions that Asians are great drinkers. Because the metabolizing isn’t quite done yet. The acetaldehyde that originated after the first step still isn’t the acetic acid and water it’s supposed to be. This process is caused by another enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH 2). Now about half of the Chinese and Japanese (Koreans way less by the way) lack the normal amount of this second enzyme. The result is that in many cases the acetaldehyde builds up very fast when Asians start drinking. First of all because of the big amount of ADH and second because of the lack of ALDH 2. This is very unfortunate since acetaldehyde makes you way more sick than ethanol itself. This genetic disadvantage is the reason that a lot of Asians can’t hold their liquor. A clear sign of a high acetaldehyde-level is that the face turns extremely red.

Of course these are just generalizations. For sure there are plenty of small Asians that would outdrink any big guy and not every Indian is destined to become an alcoholic when he hits the booze. However this genetic differences between races should not be ignored. And of course it’s very interesting to find out why they are here. A common assumption that Native Americans lack a sufficient amount of ADH is that they weren’t exposed to alcohol until the Europeans introduced it. Just like the Aboriginals never tried it before Australia was discovered.

At least for the Indians in America this “alcohol evolution theory” seems off target. The Mayas drunk a corn drink called atole and balché, which is made out of honey. Aztecs had pulque, distracted from the agave plant and Inca’s also had their corn drink: chicha. All way before any European ever set foot on their continent. So this theory might work on the Native Americans in the United States or the Aboriginals, but definitely not everywhere.

There is still more research to be done about why the metabolism of certain races is different. And maybe even a solution can be found to optimize the alcohol related fun for everyone. I mean White people run the highest risk for skin cancer, while Blacks suffer most from prostate cancer and we’re looking for cures for that too right? So let’s not be racist and help the Indians and Asians too.

Micky Bumbar

Also check out why Jews in general drink very little alcohol.


Other posts on LOTD you might like:

Story of San Simon, the Guatemalan saint who loves drinking

Why alcohol can make women clingy and men unfaithful

Why smoking and drinking go so well together

More scientific posts about alcohol

Recipes for hangover cures from all over the world

137 thoughts on “Why Indians are alcoholics and Asians can’t drink

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  4. The differences between members of the same ‘race’ are larger than the differences between ‘races’. Adaptations to enivronment aren’t ‘races’, they’re localised adaptations. ‘Race’ is a construct with the intention of dividing humanity, it serves no positive purpose and has been comprehensively proven by science to be a complete myth.


    • Pfff… Why would it divide us? Or better put: why would we let it divide us. People who deny that we are all different are ignorant and weak. They better accept that we are all different and that’s pretty awesome. A world with only blond hair and blue eyes would be pretty boring.


      • We are all different. So-called “race” is a minor part of that, and most difference between humans is not “race” based. Ever heard of Pygmies and Watusis?

        The problem is that you are assigning racial stereotypes based on limited and inaccurate percentages. And to add to the problem, even the old and limited data you supply does not provide support for the stereotypes you further. Your own data would imply that more than 40% of Asians hold their alcohol better than “Caucasians”. But you forget to look at your own data. You mention two enzymes, but forget the rest of the metabolic process, where genetic and cultural norms play an important part.

        And you imply that Caucasians have “normal” levels of enzymes, even though there are less total “Caucasians” on the planet earth than there are a single group of Chinese-speakers, the Han.

        Ignorance is bliss.


      • And thanks for telling us about the “Kenyan Race”, who run faster in marathons than the “Nigerian Race”.

        Humans have genetic differences. The most often applied factor in “race” definitions, skin color, is the result of a very small number of genetic differences that are mostly direct responses to climate differences, and has little impact upon other human traits.

        But even people who share almost 100% of the same genetic material still react differently to alcohol, as anyone who has gone drinking with twins can tell you.


      • Miss Tamara, thanks again for your contribution. I do not base my “race theory” on drinking dear. Are you gonna deny that whites,blacks and yellows look completely different? You can get all technical, but normal people just call that different races. I really don’t know what crolled up your ass. We have no bad intentions or judgements here. Why do you feel you need to blow smoke here? Is your life that boring? I suggest you find yourself a shitload of booze and about 1042 cocks. You can write your own article on “genetic differences” on that experience.


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  6. Micky,

    You are wrong. The Chinese were one of the first, if not THE first people to produce alcoholic beverages. Check out some old 8500 years old recipe beer from Chateau Jiahu. Europe didn’t know how to producte until maybe less than 1000 years ago.


  7. Actually, Asians have way more better ability to drink alcohol. Americans drink one bottle of beer whole day. We drink 30% alcohol 1-2 bottles each person. What a conservative people, american.


      • I absolutely agree with you Matthew. The average American is quite a bad drinker. Guess the anti-alcohol lobby is quite powerful there. No beers till you’re 21? What the hell?!
        Let’s not use them as a standard for the white race but rather the Europeans haha…


      • The problem, Micky, is that you are confused about genetics. There are a few traits that the groups you call “races” share. But that doesn’t mean they share other traits. And there you confuse statistics with “race”. As the sources you quote show clearly, there is nothing in alcohol resistance that corresponds with the “racial” concepts. Virtually 100% of people of sub-Saharan genetic origin have dark skin. But the statistics you cite are often very far from 100%, sometimes not even approaching 50%, and they refer only to partial contributing factors to alcohol resistance. They are “tendencies” that refer sometimes to a minority of the people you are labelling. You define their proportions as “racial”. It is a false paradyne.


      • I don’t really see any problem here. The only one who seems to have some issues here is you. It’s 8th of December, the Bulgarian students holiday, so I’m gonna get drunk now if you don’t mind.


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