Minority Women and Alcohol Use

Article excerpt

Does belonging to a particular ethnic or racial group influence a woman's tendency to drink? Drs. R. Lorraine Collins and Lily D. McNair explore women's drinking patterns in four main U.S. minority groups: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinas, and American Indians. The authors examine how drinking patterns among these groups are influenced by specific characteristics of each group--including religious activity; genetic risk/protective factors; level of acculturation to U.S. society; and historical, social, and policy variables. In many cases, these factors tend to protect women from developing problems with alcohol. The authors point out, however, that a great deal of variability exists within each minority group in addition to commonalities, and additional information is needed to better understand the unique role that ethnicity plays in a woman's likelihood to drink. (pp. 251-256)

Women's drinking patterns are influenced by the cultural norms and practices of the ethnic groups to which they belong, in addition to other environmental and biological factors. This article examines the drinking behavior of women from the four largest non-European ethnic groups in the United States, addressing a specific variable in relation to each group: religious activity among African American women; the facial flushing response in Asian American women; the level of acculturation to U.S. society among Latinas; and historical, social, and policy variables unique to American Indian women. Although little research to date has focused on minority women and alcohol, the current state of knowledge in this area provides a starting point from which to view commonalities among groups as well as the many sources of heterogeneity within and between them. KEY WORDS: ethnic differences; minority group; cultural patterns of drinking; female; African American; Asian American; Hispanic; Native American; spiritual and religious regulation of behavior; AOD (alcohol and other drug) abstinence; protective factors; risk factors; alcohol flush reaction; acculturation; cultural conflict; literature review


Genetic heritage, social class, occupational and social roles, and family history of alcohol use all play a role in determining the drinking patterns of people in general. However, a variety of biopsychosocial variables are uniquely related to women's use of alcohol. Factors that increase women's risk for alcohol problems include women's greater propensity to experience negative affective states (e.g., depression) (Hesselbrock and Hesselbrock 1997) and negative life events such as physical and sexual victimization during childhood or adulthood (Miller et al. 1993; Wilsnack et al. 1997).

There are also factors that decrease women's likelihood of developing alcohol problems, as can be seen in the fact that women have lower rates of alcohol use and misuse than men. Biological gender differences in the metabolism of alcohol may serve to protect women from alcohol problems to some extent. Compared with men, women tend to have lower body weight and lower total body water than men; having less body water for alcohol to dissolve in means that the alcohol will be more concentrated in a woman's body than in a man's. In addition, women possess a smaller amount (approximately 50 percent less) of the alcohol metabolizing enzyme gastric alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) in their stomachs, which allows more unmetabolized alcohol to pass into the bloodstream (Lieber 1997). This increased bioavailability of alcohol means that women require up to 40 percent less alcohol than men to produce the same blood alcohol concentration or level of intoxication (York and Welte 1994), and therefore women tend to consume less alcohol. Women may also drink less or abstain from alcohol use when pregnant, out of concern about alcohol effects on the fetus or because pregnancy renders the smell and taste of alcohol unappealing (Smith et al. …


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