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Demographics of Alcohol Use and Abuse in America

Alcohol consumption is common across many different demographics in the United States. Some people, however, are more likely to experience alcohol-related complications than others.

Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, for example, may be more likely to experience alcohol abuse than other ethnicities.

Men are more likely than women to experience health-related consequences due to alcohol abuse. Adolescents who use alcohol have a high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder or suffering unintentional injuries caused by drinking.

Prevalence of Alcohol Use

Alcohol is one of the most consumed substances throughout the United States.

The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that over 86 percent of people over the age of 18 consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. More than 70 percent of people reported drinking in the past year, and 56 percent of people reported drinking in the past month.

The survey found that almost 27 percent of people over the age of 18 reported binge drinking (more than four drinks for women or five drinks for men within two hours) in the past month. Seven percent of respondents reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.

While binge drinking and heavy alcohol use do not necessarily indicate the presence of an alcohol use disorder, millions of people in the U.S. struggle with alcohol abuse. As of 2015, over six percent of adults, or about 15 million people, had an alcohol use disorder.

Adolescents (ages 12 to 17) also struggle with alcohol abuse. According to the 2015 NSDUH, 2.5 percent of adolescents in the U.S. had an alcohol use disorder.

Native Americans

Studies have found that some ethnicities are more prone to alcohol abuse than others. According to a 2016 study on alcohol consumption among different demographics, alcohol abuse was most prevalent among Native Americans in the U.S. Additionally, Native Americas, along with African Americans, were most likely to experience alcohol-related health consequences.

Another study that investigated alcohol consumption among Native Americans found that heavy drinking and binge drinking among Native Americans was only about one percent higher than among Caucasians. Significantly more Native Americans abstained completely from alcohol than Caucasians. 

Alcohol-related health consequences may be more severe for Native Americans than for Caucasians. The same study found that Native Americans were about four times more likely than Caucasians to develop liver disease. More research is needed to determine if this disparity is due to rates of alcohol consumption or poor access to quality health care and alcohol addiction treatment.

Asian Americans

Patterns of alcohol consumption among Asian Americans have been reviewed by many researchers.

A 2014 systematic review of alcohol consumption among Asian Americans identified many factors that impact rates of alcohol use among this demographic. Such factors include the following:

  • Gender
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Marital status
  • Membership in social groups
  • Genetic factors
  • Sexual orientation
  • Poverty
  • Place of residence
  • Education
  • Societal perception toward alcohol
  • Social-cultural affiliations
  • Acculturation and stress of acculturation
  • Cultural observances

Unlike Native Americans who are often stereotyped as heavy drinkers, Asian Americans typically exhibit low rates of heavy alcohol use and are assumed to have low rates of alcohol consumption. A lack of comprehensive studies on Asian American alcohol consumption, particularly of Asian ethnic subgroups, however, results in an incomplete understanding of alcohol consumption among Asian Americans.

Statistics collected on alcohol consumption among Asian American subgroups include the following:

Asian American Alcohol Use Statistics

  • Japanese and Chinese Americans consume more alcohol than abstain from it.
  • Filipino and Korean Americans abstain more from alcohol than consume it.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption is highest among Japanese Americans, followed by Vietnamese Americans, then Filipino Americans, Korean Americans, and finally, Chinese Americans.
  • Despite the variations of alcohol consumption among subgroups, Asian Americans exhibit an overall rate of alcohol consumption that is lower than the average total alcohol consumption rate in the U.S.
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African Americans

Researchers investigating the drinking patterns of African Americans in the United States have identified a number of trends, particularly in comparison to Caucasians. They have found that African Americans:

  • Begin drinking at a later age
  • Report lower rates of use
  • Exhibit lower levels of alcohol consumption among all age groups
  • Experience higher levels of alcohol-related problems

Although African Americans report abstaining from alcohol at much higher rates than white people, those who do drink are at a higher risk for experiencing alcohol-related problems, such as substance abuse, legal problems, and health consequences. 

According to the 2009 U.S. Census, African Americans are more likely to live in a disadvantaged social status regarding poverty, unemployment, and educational level than white individuals. These factors are closely related to higher rates of mental health problems, including substance abuse.

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African Americans, however, exhibit lower levels of alcohol use than Caucasians do despite being more likely to live in a disadvantaged situation. More research is needed to understand why African Americans drink less, on average, but experience more alcohol-related problems than white people.

Hispanics

The Hispanic population is the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. Many differences exist regarding Hispanic drinking patterns and the drinking patterns of non-Hispanic white individuals.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Hispanics:

  • Are more likely to abstain entirely from alcohol than non-Hispanic Caucasians
  • Have high rates of alcohol abstinence
  • Are more likely to drink high volumes of alcohol that non-Hispanic Caucasians when they do drink

Drinking patterns among Hispanics are affected by a number of factors including, acculturation into American life, work, education level, family life, sex, and social and religious attitudes toward drinking.  These patterns contribute to one’s tendency to use or abuse alcohol.

Other Factors about Alcohol Use

Demographic factors other than ethnicity are also used to paint a picture of alcohol use and abuse in the United States. Researchers have identified aspects, such as gender and age, that reflect patterns of alcohol use and abuse. 

Gender: Studies, such as the 2016 study on patterns of alcohol consumption, have found that men are more likely to experience negative consequences related to drinking that include:

  • Alcohol abuse and dependence
  • Liver problems
  • Homicide after consuming alcohol
  • Drinking and driving under the influence

Age: Studies have also found that age plays a role in the prevalence of alcohol consumption. According to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), young adults (age 18 to 29) had the highest reported rate of drinking at just over 73 percent. More than 21 percent of those respondents also reported binge drinking more than once a month. Eleven percent of young adults reported binge drinking once a week.

Current Statistics

Data from the most recent NESARC compared rates of drinking among Caucasians, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics. This national survey showed that drinking habits vary among different ethnicities.

These are the percentages of current drinkers in the U.S. among certain ethnicities.

  • White: 74 percent of males; 65 percent of females
  • African American: 62 percent of males; 45 percent of females
  • Native American: 65 percent of males; 51 percent of females
  • Asian American: 61 percent of males; 36 percent of females
  • Hispanic: 70 percent of males; 49 percent of females
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Of current drinkers, males of each ethnicity are more likely to be heavy drinkers than females. Native Americans exhibit the highest rates of weekly and daily heavy drinking at 20 to 30 percent, while Asian Americans have the lowest rates of weekly and daily heavy drinking at eight to 19 percent. 

Understanding the demographics of drinking patterns in the United States is important for creating culturally relevant and effective treatment programs. By recognizing who is at high risk for alcohol abuse and the associated negative consequences, substance abuse and mental health professionals can develop better prevention and intervention strategies for people who may need help with a drinking problem.

Sources

(December 2015) Alcohol and the Hispanic Community. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-and-hispanic-community

(2014) Alcohol Consumption Among Asian Americas in the U.S.: A Systemic Review. Global Journal of Medicine and Public Health. from http://www.gjmedph.com/uploads/R1-Vo3No6.pdf

(2016) Alcohol Consumption in Demographic Subpopulations. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4872616/

(August 2018) Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

Ethnicity and Health Disparities in Alcohol Research. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh40/152-160.htm

(September 2010) Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009. United States Census Bureau. from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2010/demo/p60-238.html

(January 2014) Less Drinking, Yet More Problems: Understanding African American Drinking and Related Problems. Psychological Bulletin. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3758406/

(May 2016) Study Challenges Views on Alcohol consumption in Native Americans. American Journal of Nursing. from https://journals.lww.com/ajnonline/Fulltext/2016/05000/Study_Challenges_Views_on_Alcohol_Consumption_in.16.aspx

(November 2015) The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol Related Conditions (NESARC) Waves 1 and 2: Review and Summary of Findings. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26210739

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