Drinking trends increase for whites, blacks and Hispanics

July 20, 2010, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

Given that Whites are the majority population in the United States, drinking trends for this group tend to determine overall trends in drinking for the country and simultaneously minimize trends and possible risks among Black and Hispanic populations. A study of trends in drinking patterns and amounts drank among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics from 1992 to 2002 has found a rise in the proportion of drinkers across all three ethnic groups and both genders.

Results will be published in the October 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

"Trend analysis is an important part of epidemiological monitoring of and problems in the general population," said Raul Caetano, professor of epidemiology and regional dean (Dallas) at The University of Texas School of Public Health, as well as the study's corresponding author. "However, different population groups, such as , can present different trends in drinking and problems and so it is important to investigate trends in different groups and not only in the U.S. general population as a whole."

"This is the first cross-ethnic alcohol trend analysis to … examine whether alcohol consumption - such as use and heavy drinking - has increased, decreased, or remained stable among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in the U.S. from 1992 to 2002," noted Rhonda Jones-Webb, associate professor in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

"Alcohol studies on racial/ethnic minorities such as this are much needed," Jones-Webb added. "Blacks and Hispanics live in communities where alcohol availability is higher, where there is more exposure to outdoor alcohol advertising, where they have been targeted by special advertising of higher alcohol content beverages - all with fewer personal and community resources to respond to these challenges. Additionally, Blacks and Hispanics are at greater risk for alcohol-related problems such as homicide, which is on the rise in some cities."

Researchers used data from the 1991-1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey (n=42,862) and the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions (n=43,093); both surveys selected respondents 18 years of age and older from the U.S. household population.

"Whites increased their mean number of drinks while Blacks and Hispanics did not," said Caetano. "There was also a rise in drinking five or more drinks in a day across all three ethnic groups and drinking to intoxication among Whites and Blacks, but this was limited to those reporting such drinking at least once a month. This suggests a polarization in drinking between the two surveys, with those who drank more in 1992 reporting an increase in their drinking in 2002."

"The results also suggest that while the proportion of and Hispanic drinkers increased, the amount of alcohol consumed did not increase among Blacks and Hispanics across the 10-year period," added Jones-Webb.

"Trends in drinking are linked to a complex web of factors that include how individual drinking is influenced by the drinking of the group to which the individual belongs, as well as personal and other societal changes," said Caetano. "Changes in the sociodemographic composition of the population such as aging, the influx of immigrant groups, and a decline in mean income level because of economic recessions can all influence trends in drinking and problems."

In addition, said Jones-Webb, norms regarding drinking seemed to have become more liberal during the 10-year period examined. "This might explain why groups that traditionally do not drink - for example, women and African Americans - may have started to do so."

"The results in the paper provide a detailed view of how drinking and binge drinking changed in the U.S. between 1992 and 2002," said Caetano. "National studies such as this are important because they provide information that serves as a backdrop against which the results of other national or local studies can be compared, aiding in the interpretation of findings from these other studies. Trend analyses at the national level can also alert health professionals at the federal level to trends developing in the country, providing a 'broad-stroke' national level picture against which many other trends … can be viewed and understood."

"While there are more drinkers in the population, the rise in the proportion of drinkers does not seem to be triggering a rise in the mean number of drinks consumed per month, at least among Blacks and Hispanics," added Jones-Webb. "This finding suggests that a diversity of public-health policies are needed to reduce alcohol-related problems among Blacks and , including restrictions on alcohol advertising, limiting the overconcentration of liquor stores in poor and minority neighborhoods, regulating high alcohol content beverages, increasing taxes on , as well as treatment and brief interventions."

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