• Anyone can have the enzyme deficiency that causes alcohol intolerance, but research suggests around 50 per cent of people of Asian descent do. (Linda Moon )Source: Linda Moon
Christmas time can be perilous for those born with the gene that can't effectively metabolise alcohol.
Linda Moon

14 Dec 2020 - 10:15 AM  UPDATED 28 Dec 2020 - 7:11 PM

No matter how sedate, respectable and even grandmotherly I become, I'll always be that girl who was taken away in an ambulance after one drink at the staff Christmas party.


One. Drink.

Not anything hardcore or spiked with illegal substances mind you — just your ordinary glass of wine.

As two ambos carted me away in the stretcher, arms flailing, I blabbered: "Lemme GO!" All class. "Zere's nuffin wrong wiff me." Never mind that I'd just been rolling around on the floor giggling hysterically in my work clothes … "I just can't DRIIIINK!"

It isn't my fault dad's Chinese ancestors preferred sipping tea to drinking beer; that my half-Asian liver views French Shiraz as an alien.

No one cared about my kidnap. Well into their third drinks, my colleagues eyeballed my ungainly exit with wary concern — as I'd transformed into Chucky. The bastards.

Seriously though, what was Al Grassby (the father of Aussie multiculturalism) thinking when he suggested we could all live, and presumably drink, in harmony. As I've discovered, Anglo cultural traditions and Asian physiology can be a recipe for disaster.

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In the hospital, the doc confirmed what I'd long suspected: "Your body doesn't produce enough aldehyde dehydrogenase, the liver enzyme that breaks down alcohol," he said.

Anyone can have the enzyme deficiency that causes alcohol intolerance, but research suggests that around 50 per cent of all people of Asian descent have it. Symptoms include facial flushing, heart palpitations, vomiting, low blood pressure, headaches, asthma and other horrible stuff when you consume booze. 

There was no advice about how to negotiate my aldehyde dehydrogenase deficient-self within a culture where imbibing alcohol is seen as normal as rice is in China.

It only takes a little bit for Linda Moon to feel the effects of alcohol.

For years I'd been that person abruptly thrown out of the pub or forced to crawl out of the restaurant after a solo drink — usually escorted by a grumpy friend or embarrassed boyfriend. There was also the (regrettably horrifying) time when one week into a new job where under the influence of one glass of wine, I made jokes about all my male colleagues over Friday office drinks. "You need to stick your moustache on your bald patch," I suggested helpfully to one poor fellow. On Monday, I apologised profusely to my pissed-off male colleagues. Miraculously, I remained employed, but never drank with my work companions again.  

Christmas time is the riskiest occasion of all. There's all that pressure to let your hair down, fit in, bond and have fun. "If you can't ignore your alcohol intolerance at Christmas when can ya?" So the thought process goes.

At Christmas, alcohol is not only lurking in plenitude at every social occasion, but it's also usually free (appealing to the cheap-skate in us). It's also culturally and biblically hip. Even Jesus turned his water into wine.

The Holy Bible should come with a culturally inclusive 11th commandment for those of us lacking the alcohol-metabolising enzyme – Thou shalt not drink alcohol.

"If ancestral genes turn you into a reluctant teetotaller, you'll get what it feels like to be the dork holding up a glass of juice (or even nothing) when someone proposes a toast."

But, if, like me, ancestral genes turn you into a reluctant teetotaller, you'll get what it feels like to be the dork holding up a glass of juice (or even nothing) when someone proposes a toast.

Thankfully, a growing array of delicious non-alcoholic options — think gourmet pear and apple ciders, kombucha, gourmet ginger beers, mocktails, spritzers and non-alcoholic craft wines, beers and spirits — have come to my salvation. Praise be! I'm no longer the dag in the corner sipping the pre-schooler apple juice from a coloured straw amongst the hipsters snogging their cool Young Henry's, Mai Tais, chardonnays and the like.

In fact, a greater quest for healthier living and our multicultural population means both abstinence and the consumption of non-alcoholic drinks are on the rise in Australia. Cheers to that!

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @LindaMoonWriter, Instagram @thewildemoon and the_soul_home, LinkedIn: Linda de-Wilde-Moon.

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