The liver enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), which are responsible for the oxidative metabolism of ethanol, are polymorphic in humans. An allele encoding an inactive form of the mitochondrial ALDH2 is known to reduce the likelihood of alcoholism in Japanese. We hypothesized that the polymorphisms of both ALDH and ADH modify the predisposition to development of alcoholism. Therefore, we determined the genotypes of the ADH2, ADH3, and ALDH2 loci of alcoholic and nonalcoholic Chinese men living in Taiwan, using leukocyte DNA amplified by the PCR and allele-specific oligonucleotides. The alcoholics had significantly lower frequencies of the ADH2*2, ADH3*1, and ALDH2*2 alleles than did the nonalcoholics, suggesting that genetic variation in both ADH and ALDH, by modulating the rate of metabolism of ethanol and acetaldehyde, influences drinking behavior and the risk of developing alcoholism.