Alcohol Tolerance By Ethnicity: Racial Differences In Alcohol Sensitivity

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on August 2, 2023

Alcohol tolerance, developed primarily by the amount of alcohol consumed, can have genetic and potentially DNA-related ties to different ethnicities and races. Gender can also have an effect on alcohol tolerance, since men and women have different amounts of the enzyme necessary to process ethanol.

Alcohol Tolerance By Ethnicity

Tentative clinical studies have found different races and ethnicities to have varying levels of alcohol tolerance, although the information collected in these trials still needs to be verified.

The perceived cause of this is the variance in phenotypes of certain enzymes — alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase.

Different ethnicities have different cultural drinking habits that are influenced by historical, circumstantial, and many other factors.

Given these differences, it is evident why some races may be more predisposed to alcohol dependence or higher levels of tolerance than others.

The Link Between Alcohol Tolerance And A Person’s Ethnicity

The link between different demographics and their drinking patterns can offer one explanation for why some members of the general population are in a higher risk category for alcohol abuse.

Additionally, genetic patterns passed down from family members with histories of binge drinking and other alcohol-related problems may also contribute to these differences.


While it would make sense for there to be a genetic causal relationship between alcohol tolerance and biological upbringing, studies show that it may not be as evident as it appears.

General alcohol tolerance may not be transmitted by biological parentage, but intolerance and alcohol sensitivity are.

The prevalence of genetic alcohol sensitivity is only known to be seen in those of East Asian descent.

This intolerance is usually characterized by flushed skin, stuffy or runny noses, abdominal pain, and borderline-instantaneous headaches.

Acetaldehyde Dehydrogenase Enzyme

The acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ADH) enzyme is the primary enzyme necessary for the liver to process ethanol before it can enter the bloodstream.

When alcohol is processed at a faster rate, the amount of alcohol that can enter the bloodstream is reduced, leading to lessened inebriation and impairment.

Studies show that gender plays a role in the development of alcohol tolerance and the mitigation of the effects of alcohol on the brain.

This is because men naturally produce a greater amount of this ADH enzyme than women do, leading to higher rates of tolerance.

For this reason, men and women, even of the same body weight, will be affected differently by the same amount of alcohol consumption.

Get Started On The Road To Recovery.

Get Confidential Help 24/7. Call Today!

(844) 616-3400

How Alcohol Tolerance Affects Different Ethnic Groups

The biological and DNA-related makeup of different ethnic groups and demographics show varying levels of tolerance and sensitivity when drinking alcohol.

Which Race Has The Highest Alcohol Tolerance?

There is no particular race that has the highest alcohol tolerance, only races that may be circumstantially predisposed to higher rates of alcoholism than others.

What Are The Risks Of High Alcohol Tolerance?

There are a number of health risk factors and potential complications associated with having a high tolerance.

The more you drink, the more you want to drink, which bolsters the buildup of alcohol tolerance, and increases the chances of developing an AUD.

Some of these risks include:

  • heightened chance of addiction
  • increased chance for liver damage, including cirrhosis
  • increased chance of substance dependency
  • risk of alcohol toxicity and potential overdose
  • cardiovascular complications

Treatment Programs For Alcohol Use Disorder

Fortunately, there are a number of alcohol addiction treatment programs designed to effectively treat people with alcohol use disorders and facilitate recovery.

Treatment options may include:

  • inpatient programs
  • outpatient treatment programs
  • behavioral therapy
  • counseling
  • medical detox
  • drug testing
  • support groups
  • residential treatment

Find Addiction Treatment Services Today

If you or a loved one are searching for reputable addiction treatment services, reach out to today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

  • Was this Helpful?
  • YesNo
Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on August 2, 2023
Let us walk you through the treatment process. We're here to help.
For 24/7 Treatment Help:
100% Free & Confidential. Call (844) 616-3400