By Kim Winters

Despite the common “party culture” in U.S. colleges, numerous students do not drink alcohol. Many people are influenced by their religious beliefs or a family history of alcoholism. Others are deterred by the consequences of underage drinking. Some students, however, are just lightweights.

A recent study of siblings with at least one alcoholic parent found a “lightweight” gene, CYP2E1, among respondents.

This gene quickly metabolizes alcohol in the brain, but is just as quick to cause the negative side effects of intoxication such as drowsiness, dizziness and nausea. Those with the gene got drunk on far less alcohol than those without it, often feeling noticeably tipsy after only a couple of drinks.

A surprisingly large subset of the population, an estimated 10 to 20 percent, carries CYP2E1.

Many people consider low alcohol tolerance embarrassing, particularly in college where the social scene revolves around alcohol.

There are a few benefits, however, to being a lightweight. These students’ wallets are heavier, their waistlines are smaller and they’re less likely to become alcoholics.

According to NPR’s Planet Money, “Out of every $100 American consumers spend, about $1 goes to alcohol.”

According to the nonprofit organization, this amounts to $90 billion spent on alcohol in America each year. Students comprise $5.5 billion of that spending. Therefore, lightweights spend less money on alcohol.

Fewer drinks also means fewer calories. A glass of red wine is 125 calories and a can of Budweiser is 145 calories. For every drink, you might as well eat a chocolate chip cookie.

Mixed drinks are even worse. Pina Coladas range from 400 to 700 calories. That’s about one-third of the recommended daily intake for a smaller woman or the caloric equivalent of a slice of chocolate cake.

Even vodka, recommended for dieters, is over 60 calories per shot. It seems that the best diet is a low alcohol intake.

Finally, lightweights are far less likely to become alcoholics. According to USA Today writer Rita Rubin, “Over the past several decades, studies of college students have shown that [people who get tipsy after a drink or two] are one-third to one-half as likely to develop alcoholism as those who drink and drink and drink before they feel drunk.”

This may relate back to that gene from earlier, CYP2E1. For those with the gene, the negative effects of drinking quickly occur, reducing the urge to binge drink. This also discourages future drinking.

Whether they’re wading through the college drinking crowd or holding a glass of soda in a bar, lightweights shouldn’t feel embarrassed. They should be glad that their inherent alcohol intolerance saves them from overconsuming, overspending and overdrinking.


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