I’m allergic to alcohol

group young people not drinking


When 33-year-old Melbourne writer JAMIE WILLIAMS discovered he was allergic to alcohol, he thought his social life was over. How could he possibly have fun without a glass of wine or pint of beer in his hand? But ten years later, he’s feeling better than ever.

I discovered I was allergic to alcohol when I was 22. I’d been feeling unwell for a while and I knew it had something to do with what I was putting into my body – I just couldn’t figure out what. Milk and bread didn’t seem to cause an issue. Other dairy products were fine, too. And I didn’t have a problem with eating nuts. I only seemed to feel bad whenever I drank (or ate) something with alcohol in it.

My symptoms were mixed and not always consistent. It wasn’t like I was breaking out in hives or having difficulty breathing; I just felt dreadful whenever I drank – even a small glass of wine. I would get headaches, feel sick, and become depressed and anxious. I couldn’t focus on work, and life was becoming unmanageable. I knew it was time to stop drinking.

I actually made the decision to stop for Lent. I’m not a religious person by any means, but I do like the particular tradition of giving something up before Easter. I told my friends this and – despite some mixed reactions – they were very supportive. They even bought me a bottle of alcohol-free wine so I could feel included at parties while I was exploring my new-found abstinence.

Within weeks, I was feeling better than I’d ever expected. I’ve never experienced a transformation like it. It was as though I’d been wearing an excruciatingly tight pair of shoes my entire adult life and had finally decided to take them off. I had more energy, my anxiety and depression lifted, I could think more clearly, and I no longer felt sick whenever I went out with my friends. And while I never had an official diagnosis, the effects of cutting out alcohol were confirmation enough.

The only challenge was getting other people to understand. I knew my friends would be supportive, but I was surprised at how intense other people’s reactions were when they found out I didn’t drink. From “Why?” to “How?” and “What do you do instead?” The very idea that I no longer relied on an intoxicating substance to meet my social needs became the most bizarre, unsolvable riddle to half of the new people I met.

But as tricky as this phase was, I knew I didn’t have a choice. It was either a schooner of beer or my health. I had to stay strong, find new ways of enjoying the pub and be honest with myself when I wasn’t having fun. Sometimes this meant going home early and other times it meant suggesting alternative nights out – like dinner parties, theatre trips and movie nights. My friends could still drink if they wanted to, but I wouldn’t feel left out as there was plenty for me to enjoy too.

Today, I can’t even remember what it was like to drink. It’s been well over ten years, and life is great. I socialise all the time, I’m in great health, and I feel more confident than ever in my ability to have a good time. I’ve taken up scuba diving, rock climbing and meditation. I save money, eat healthily and spend less time worrying about what I’m doing to my body.

It probably helps that most of my friends are getting older and are also drinking less. But even if they weren’t, I don’t think it would be a problem. My focus has to be on making sure I’m healthy. I don’t have the luxury of choice when it comes to alcohol, so I can either look on the bright side or wallow in the negative. The choice is always mine to make, but when I choose the former, I usually find a fun and exciting life just flows naturally.

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