Feeling the ‘Flush’, but not the rush

What is ‘Asian Flush’ and who suffers from it?

I’m sure you have encountered this on a night out before: an East Asian person being absolutely trashed after what seems like a miniscule amount of alcohol. Any doubts that you have about them ‘faking it’ disappear when you see that their face has turned red - this is called the “Asian Flush”.

The Asian flush reaction is a condition whereby a person’s skin turns red- appearing flushed and warm after the consumption of alcohol. This can take place on the face, neck or shoulders but can also spread to the entire body (lucky you).



Who suffers from it?

Me. And 36% of East Asians. That’s 1 in 3 of every East Asian person.

What people don’t realise is that the ‘Asian Flush’ can be quite harmful if you continue drinking despite the adverse effects. People who have this condition have a 6 to 10 times higher risk of developing esophageal cancer compared to people without this condition.


My Experience

I was always very enthusiastic and excited at the prospect of consuming alcohol as a child. I remember consuming alcohol for the first time, an attempt that was met with immediate regret as my face transformed into a dark shade of red and I got a major headache from it (on top of all the other typical symptoms of being drunk e.g. lack of coordination and nausea). This caused my whole family to break out into laughter (refer to pictures below). I didn’t think much of this experience at the time, having heard that alcohol tolerance is something you can acquire with persistent consumption and vigorous training.


(Photos to be viewed  in sequential order: Calm before the storm, Chaos, Aftermath).

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However, this was immediately met with a major anti-climax when I was old enough to drink, at the ripe age of 14, in my home country. Throughout my teenage years, I tried to fit in and keep up with the German kids, who I grew up with, at parties and gatherings. I was convinced that my lack of alcohol tolerance was merely a sign of physical weakness and refused to admit defeat. However, even after arriving at a British University, which is notorious for its impressive drinking habits, I still struggled to stay out for a long time on nights out as my splitting headache would usually mean that I could not actually achieve the “happy carefree” drunk that I was seeing achieved, all too easily, around me. Instead, I would stand in the middle of a crowded club, struggling to stay awake while simultaneously coping with a pulsing headache. This prevented me from enjoying the high-quality music being played in the much esteemed venues Kuda (now Vinyl) and Cindies (on a Wednesday of course). Despite my valiant efforts throughout high school to train and strengthen my tolerance, and the many disciplinary visits this got me with the  pastoral staff, I was still plagued with a half-pint tolerance and an unattractive facial colour after drinking (not yellow obviously, I rock that one).

Me on the Varsity Trip in my 1st Year of University (see below)

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What causes it? (Don’t worry this won't be too sciency!)

As a bionatsci, with a “drive to discover the unknown” (refer to my PS, 2017), I wanted to find out more about why this was happening to my Asian comrades and I whenever we engaged in the battle of social drinking. It turned out that 36% of East Asians, (for example people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent) have these responses to the consumption of alcohol.


There’s  two reasons for  this:

  1. We have an excess of this type of enzyme – acetaldehyde,  which breaks alcohol down into the bi-product that causes redness, headaches and hangovers. This means that we actually break down alcohol fairly quickly and more efficiently than other ethnicities, albeit we suffer from a toxic intermediate product.

  2.  This is then made worse as we have less of the enzymes that can break down said toxic intermediate.


This basically means that we do not get the buzz and bubbly intoxication from alcohol that people chase after and instead skip straight to the part that sucks. Scientists have played this to their advantage and created a new innovative technique to help alcoholics. There now exists a drug called disulfiram to help alcoholics. It makes a person’s body react in a similar way to mine, as they are stripped of the enjoyment of alcohol and have to step into my shoes, turning red and feeling a throb in

their head.


How have I coped with it?


Halfway through my first year, I made the decision to stop drinking on night outs. It was getting quite spenny and I could rarely find the right balance to make me loosen up while also not getting a headache. It certainly was hard at first; dealing with your drunk mates is especially annoying when you’re the sober one. However, it was mainly to stop the habit- I was not particularly attached to alcohol in the first place as I never felt that good off it to begin with. I realised quite quickly that you don’t need to drink to have fun (cheesy, I know). Also, upon witnessing some of the absolute states that my friends were in and the public embarrassment that they brought upon themselves, it actually made me quite glad that I had stopped.

 Jimmy shixin Yu