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Genetic Risk for Alcoholism Relates to Level of Response to Alcohol in Asian-American Men and Women

Susan E. Luczak, Brenda Elvine-Kreis, Shoshana H. Shea, Lucinda G. Carr, Tamara L. Wall

Objective: Previous studies have shown that Asians who possess a variant aldehyde dehydrogenase allele (ALDH2*2) have lower rates of alcohol consumption and dependence. Research in Asian men has shown that those with ALDH2*2 have greater responses to alcohol than do those without this genetic variant. The present study was designed to determine whether similar levels of response to alcohol, using objective and subjective measurements, are seen in men and women with different ALDH2 genotypes. Method: Participants (N = 30) were 16 men and 14 women, of whom five each were heterozygous for ALDH2*2. They were evaluated in response to alcohol and placebo beverage challenges, dosed according to estimated body water. Objective and subjective responses were measured every 30 minutes from baseline to 150 minutes after ingestion. Results: Men and women with ALDH2*1/*2 had greater pulse-rate increases, greater observed flushing responses and greater subjective feelings of being dizzy, drunk and high compared with ALDH2*1/*1 participants, despite having equivalent breath alcohol concentrations. ALDH2*1/*2 participants also reported being less likely to drive, following this level of intoxication, compared with ALDH2*1/*1 participants. Some gender differences were found in subjective, but not objective, responses to alcohol, with women reporting lower levels of being high, nauseated and uncomfortable and having a lower total subjective rating scale score. Conclusions: This study suggests that low risk for alcoholism based on possession of an ALDH2*2 allele relates to greater response to alcohol in both men and women. (J. Stud. Alcohol 63: 74-82, 2002)