Hi, my name is Doreen and I am alcohol intolerant.
I haven’t always been alcohol intolerant. In fact, this is fairly new for me. My journey with alcohol started when I was 16, but it wasn’t until I was 19 that I drank consistently almost every weekend. This felt normal for me as it seemed everyone else my age was doing the same. At that age, I loved drinking with friends. As a naturally shy person, alcohol was like a social lubricant that turned me into this outgoing person and ridded me of any social anxiety. What took me a while to realise was that alcohol wasn’t the magical cure for social problems that I thought it was. These problems were still there and alcohol was just causing me to ignore them instead of working through them. Pretty soon, the glamour of alcohol and partying every weekend started to wear off and it got boring. However, out of habit I continued to do it. I didn’t love drinking anymore but I didn’t know what else I was supposed to do with my friends. “Let’s grab drinks” was the go-to hangout invite. A year passed and I noticed my body couldn’t handle alcohol like it used to. I blamed it on getting older. I thought things weren’t too bad, I would get a sore stomach, a headache, and flushed cheeks sometimes from one drink, but it happened sporadically enough that I just brushed it off.
Then in April 2018, I was at a friend’s house party when my abdomen fell into one of the worst pains I ever felt in my life (only after two drinks). The pain was so intense, I got dizzy and threw up. Then I laid in the fetal position, sobbing for an hour, wishing the pain away. I remember refusing offers to call the ambulance because I was embarrassed and I promised my friends I would see a doctor the next day. The doctor gave me stomach cramp pills and my life continued. Over the next two years, this happened sporadically and because it didn’t happen often, I wasn’t worried. When it did happen, I would stop drinking for that night, throw up what I drank, wait somewhere private until the pain got less intense, and then head home. I definitely had thoughts of giving up alcohol. I started to have more movie and gaming nights on the weekends instead of going out drinking. But then I would miss my night time social life. I had no trouble filling my days with alcohol free activities (I was never a day drinker), but when night time rolls around, the only things open are bars and clubs. My friends and I felt like the only social things to do at night was to drink.
The second half of this year (2020) is when I started getting consistently bad reactions to alcohol. The first night, I was properly drunk so I just blamed it on that. The symptoms were bad abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea which did not stop until 10am the next day… I didn’t get a single second of sleep that night. Probably TMI...but it was the first time diarrhoea was added to my symptoms list. The next time it happened, I thought it was food poisoning (but my friends ate the same things and had no symptoms). The third time, I only had a few drinks and the symptoms happened again… another sleepless night. This is when I decided to go to the doctor since it happened 3 times in a row. My doctor told me I was alcohol intolerant (which I didn’t even know was a thing). I thought “well, there goes my social life”. I asked her if there was something I could take to prevent the symptoms… she replied “you could just not drink alcohol”.
The symptoms were really not worth continuing my relationship with alcohol, especially since it would happen before I could become tipsy. The first weekend that came by, I got cravings which surprised me because I never would have considered myself addicted. I just thought I drank as much as anyone my age. The second week, I craved again. Two and a half weeks, I caved and drank. The symptoms came and I thought “yeah alcohol is definitely not worth this pain”. So I tried to abstain again. This time I planned ahead. I organised exciting things to do on the weekend that would not be fun doing hungover. I went bouldering, I went for hikes and night time walks, and I told my friends that I don’t drink anymore. I got mixed answers on this one. Some were super supportive and some I felt I had to explain myself to. I want to shape my social life so that alcohol would be the boring option. I’ve changed my contact with alcohol to “only on special occasions” and am getting to know and love my sober life.
Here’s a little information about alcohol intolerance. It is common for people of asian descent, but not limited to them. You may have heard of “asian flush”. To me, this is the least serious symptom. I’ll have a burning face over bad stomach pains, any day. Basically, ALDH2 is an enzyme we have that helps break down and digest alcohol. People with alcohol intolerance have a mutated ALDH2 gene where the deficiency in the enzyme means they are unable to metabolise the alcohol. Hence, all the bad symptoms occur.
Getting diagnosed with this made me look for other options, besides drinking, and I’m grateful for that. I probably wouldn’t have started nurturing and taking care of my sober self, or discovered how great sobriety was unless I was pushed into it, and this gave me the right push. It’s like when you don’t realise that there is a problem until it's no longer there and you start to feel amazing. If you discover that you are alcohol intolerant, count this as the universe's push to take better care of yourself and thrive in a healthy and happy life of sobriety.