Driven to drink

January 02, 1992|By New York Times News Service

Tokyo - Growing numbers of non-drinking Japanese claim they are victims of "alcoholic harassment." The non-drinkers say that social and peer pressure by their bosses and colleagues make it very difficult to refuse a drink.

The Tokyo-based Nomenaizoku Kenkyukai (The Society of Non-drinkers) has been receiving growing numbers of letters and calls from non-drinkers throughout Japan about their bitter experiences with alcohol.

One man complained to the society that he had to quit his job with a major trading firm shortly after he joined because he was forced to entertain clients almost every day by his boss, who claimed "People who can't drink are no good at work."

Another man said a drunk junior worker picked a quarrel with him at a party but when he met him the next morning, he never even apologized and behaved as if nothing had happened. He said he couldn't trust drinkers.

According to Katsuji Harada, assistant professor of forensic medicine at Tsukuba University, nearly half the Japanese are biologically unable to handle the effects of alcohol.

Between 5 percent and 10 percent of Japanese congenitally lack two kinds of enzymes that change acetaldehyde, a toxic substance that causes sickness from drinking and hangovers, to a nontoxic acetic acid, Mr. Harada said. Another 40 percent possess only one of the two enzymes.

In the first case, one glass of beer can cause them vomiting and a violent heartbeat. Excessive drinking can even cause death from shock, he said.

People who only have one of the two enzymes can train themselves to drink a certain amount of alcohol, but the drinking can lead to liver disease, Mr. Harada said.

The National Citizens Association on Alcohol Problems has been distributing test kits to public health offices throughout Japan for the past four years. The kits can determine how a person reacts to alcohol.

"Recently we have been receiving orders [for the kits] from businesses that want to educate their employees about drinking habits," said a spokeswoman for the association.

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