Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Under-Researched Demographics: Heavy Episodic Drinking and Alcohol-Related Problems among Asian Americans

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Under-Researched Demographics: Heavy Episodic Drinking and Alcohol-Related Problems among Asian Americans

Article excerpt

Historically, Asian Americans have reported lower rates of alcohol misuse compared with other racial/ethnic groups (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2009; Wechsler et al. 2000). However, epidemiological data illustrates that heavy episodic drinking and alcohol abuse are significant and increasing among U.S.-born Asian-American young adults ages 18-25 (Grant et al. 2004). Within one decade alone, the prevalence of alcohol abuse increased fivefold among Asian Americans, from 0.74 percent in 1991-1992 to 3.89 percent in 2001-2002 (Grant et al. 2004). Moreover, recent studies have identified high-risk subgroups of Asian-American young adults who engage in higher rates of heavy episodic drinking compared with their Asian-American peers (Iwamoto et al. 2010). Additionally, some U.S.-born Asian-American ethnic subgroups may engage in heavy episodic drinking at comparable rates to high-risk groups (e.g., college fraternity members) in the general population (Iwamoto et al. 2011b). Despite this growing concern, Asian Americans are perceived as a low-risk group with respect to alcohol problems, partially because of the "model minority" myth and the stereotype of Asian Americans generally being well assimilated to U.S. culture, being financially and academically successful, and with low levels of psychological distress (Gupta et al. 2011).

This general perception, which is largely upheld by the research community, hinders our understanding of the specific alcohol- related problems experienced by this population. However, given that Asian Americans are the fastest- growing racial group in the United States (Le 2010), it is crucial to understand the determinants and mechanisms of risk among Asian Americans. This article reviews the research over the last 15 years pertaining to Asian Americans' alcohol use. Specifically, it highlights the role of genetic factors (e.g., alcohol dehydrogenase [ADH] and aldehyde dehydrogenase genes [ALDH]) as well as of sociocultural factors (e.g., physiological and cognitive expectancies, acculturation, enculturation, discrimination, mental health problems, and gender socialization) on heavy episodic drinking and alcohol-related problems in this demographic.

Genetic Factors

Two genetic factors that have been significantly associated with alcohol use and related problems include specific variants (i.e., alleles) of the genes encoding certain ADH (ADH1B) and ALDH (ALDH2) enzymes. The ADH1B gene encodes an enzyme that metabolizes ethanol into acetaldehyde (Eng et al. 2007). One allele of this gene (i.e., ADH1B*2) encodes an enzyme that accelerates the oxidation of ethanol, resulting in a buildup of acetaldehyde (Borson and Li 1986; Eng et al. 2007; Eriksson 2001). High levels of acetaldehyde can create a heightened and unpleasant response to alcohol characterized by facial flushing, headache, and nausea (Wall et al. 2005), thereby making alcohol consumption unpleasant and thus protecting against high consumption and, consequently, risk of alcohol use disorder. Luczak and colleagues' (2006) meta-analysis suggested that Asian individuals who are the most protected from alcohol abuse possess one or two copies of the ADH1B*2 allele. Specifically, Asians with two ADH1B*2 alleles were five times less likely to be dependent on alcohol than were those who did not possess this allele (Luczak et al. 2006).

The ADH1B*2 allele is found predominantly in certain subgroups of East Asians, including those of Japanese descent, of whom an estimated 81 percent carry at least one copy of this allele (Eng et al. 2007); Chinese descent (84 to 92 percent); and Korean descent (88 to 96 percent). The frequency of the ADH1B*2 allele in East Asians is comparable, albeit not precisely matched, to the rates of the ALDH2*2 allele, which encodes an inactive variant of ALDH2 (Eng et al. 2007). This suggests that although there is some overlap between those with the protective alleles of ADH1B and ALDH2, many carry only one but not the other. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.