When we drink, the alcohol rushes into our bloodstream, where the alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes metabolize, or break down, the ethanol into acetaldehyde. If this happens quickly, lots of acetaldehyde accumulates in a short amount of time, which can lead to adverse effects such as flushing, nausea, and headaches. Conversely, if the ethanol is metabolized slowly, the alcohol remains intact in the blood for longer periods, prolonging its more pleasant, euphoric effects.
The speed at which this process takes place, the metabolic rate of ethanol, is where the ADH1B gene comes in. A super efficient gene can make the effects of alcohol more unpleasant, while carriers of a “lazy” variant enjoy longer highs. This may influence the tendency of carriers of one or the other variant to drink more or less alcohol.
Francesc Francés, at the Department of Legal and Forensic Medicine at the UV, summarizes: “The main conclusion of this work is that this genetic polymorphism [the different variants of ADH1B carried by different people] seems to be linked to levels of alcohol consumption”, adding that “this association is even more evident in the male population, perhaps due to the existence of fewer inhibiting social stereotypes.”
The link between the “lazy” variant of the ADH1B gene and a greater alcohol consumption has long been proven by science within Asian populations. This study is one of the first to offer conclusive proof of this also being the case in the West.
Citation: Francés, F. i Andrés, C. Departamento de Medicina Legal y Forense Universitat de València. (Octubre-Diciembre 2015): ‘Asociación entre el Polimorfismo ARG48HIS en el Gen de la Alcohol Deshidrogenasa 1B y el Consumo de Alcohol en Población Española’, ‘Gaceta Internacional de Ciencias Forenses’. ISSN 2174-9019