Not all Hispanics are the same when it comes to drinking

Hispanics are often grouped into a single category when it comes to alcohol use. Yet a new Michigan State University study indicates that the risk of alcohol abuse and dependence can vary significantly among different subgroups within the population.

Using pre-existing national data which looked at the incident rate of alcohol use disorders, or AUDs, over a period of time, Carlos F. Ríos-Bedoya, an assistant professor in the College of Human Medicine, is the first to determine that the annual incidence rate isn’t the same among all Hispanics and prevention efforts shouldn’t be the same either. Subgroups include Mexican-American, Puerto Rican and Cuban-American.

The study can be found in the most recent issue of the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.

“The problem is major lifestyle and migration differences among these subgroups aren’t taken into account in most of the survey data that’s been collected,” Ríos-Bedoya said, who specializes in epidemiology of drug use. “The result is an inaccurate picture of this population.”

Hispanics are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States and often have been identified as having a higher risk for alcoholism. Yet, Ríos-Bedoya counters that stereotype, showing that one group in particular, Cuban-Americans, has the lowest incidence rate – less than 1 percent – among their counterparts. They also are half as likely to develop a drinking problem than non-Hispanic whites.

“Cuban-Americans typically come into America as political refugees with no threat of immigration laws and have been able to thrive and become part of mainstream society,” Ríos-Bedoya said. “They don’t face as much adversity as, say, Mexican-Americans, who often cross the border illegally and find themselves with little to no options to become part of the mainstream.”

Alcohol Consumption Among Hispanics

There are plenty of options available when it comes to having an alcoholic beverage. One can choose between imported or domestic beverages, an endless list of mixed drinks, beer, wine, spirits, hard cider, malt liquor and much more. Not to mention brand options, price points and quality differences.

So when it comes to making a selection, what do Hispanics typically purchase? Well, that answer can certainly vary by gender, age, income and many other factors. However, there is one type of alcoholic drink that outperforms all others; Beer. Looking further into the beer category, overall Hispanics lean more towards imported beer. However, according to Mintel, English preferred Hispanics have a higher inclination towards domestic beer.

Mintel also finds that juice and soda combinations as well as specialty cocktails do well with Hispanic woman: More so, among women ages 21-34. Hispanic women 55+ who drink hard alcohol or distilled spirits are least likely to drink a shot (10%) compared to 52% of women ages 21-34. One in three Hispanic males who consume hard alcohol or distilled spirits drink specialty cocktails. But compared to women, men are less likely to drink specialty cocktails despite age breakdowns. That doesn’t come to a big surprise. I’ve rarely, really rarely, seen a Hispanic man with a martini at hand. Not to say they don’t consume it, it’s just not that common.

Mintel also highlights on a five year trend that Hispanics have under indexed in beverage expenditures compared to non-Hispanics. NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) reports that Hispanics have a higher rate of abstinence from alcohol but, Hispanics who choose to drink are more likely to consume higher volumes of alcohol than non-Hispanic Whites.

Not all Hispanics are the same when it comes to drinking His study indicates the annual incidence rate of alcohol abuse among Mexican- Americans is more than twice that of Caucasians, with Puerto Ricans showing almost three times the risk.

“Even though Puerto Ricans are born U.S. citizens and have easy access back and forth between countries, they have a much higher risk factor in part because drinking starts at an earlier age and is a larger part of their culture growing up,” Ríos-Bedoya said.

The legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18 years old.

Alcohol Use Among Latinos

True or false? Latinos are more likely to have a drinking problem than other ethnic or racial groups.

The answer is false. About 9.5 percent of Latinos have a drinking problem at some point in their lives, compared to 14 percent of non-Hispanic Whites (NIH).

Although Latinos are less likely to drink alcohol at all (abstain) than non-Hispanic Whites, alcohol abuse is a serious concern for Latinos for several reasons:

  Acculturation: As Latinos adapt to a new culture in the U.S., their behaviors are likely to change. Latinos that are more acculturated tend to consume more alcohol. This is especially the case for women. One study found that 75 percent of Mexican women who were new immigrants did not drink alcohol, while 38 percent of third generation Mexican-American women did not drink (National Institutes of Health).

  Teen drinking: Latinos have the highest annual rate of heavy drinking among teens (NIAAA).

  More drinks per day: Latinos who choose to drink are more likely to consume more alcohol than non-Hispanic Whites. A recent survey found that 42 percent of Latinos who drank over the past year had three or more drinks per day. This is higher than 32 percent of non-Hispanic Whites (NESARC).

  Long term drinking problems: 33 percent of Latinos who are alcohol dependent have continuing problems with drinking compared with 23 percent of non­Hispanic Whites.

  Less likely to get treatment: Latinos with severe alcohol problems are less likely than non-Latino Whites to get treatment and to join Alcoholics Anonymous, although AA meetings are available in English and Spanish.

  Liver disease: White Latino men have the highest rates of alcohol-related cirrhosis (liver disease) of all racial or ethnic groups. [Compared to non-Latino Whites, Black Latino men have the lowest cirrhosis rates (NIH)].

Ríos-Bedoya indicated that alcohol use is one of the most prevalent disorders in the United States and also one of the most costly, with more than $6 billion spent on treatment and prevention each year. He also added that since birth rates are among the highest across the nation within the Hispanic population, it’s important to introduce preventive measures early and develop programs that are specific to each group’s differences.

Not all Hispanics are the same when it comes to drinking “The onset of this problem starts in young adolescence so it’s important that we start early,” he said. “Although treatment is important, developing preventive measures that fit each group’s culture is what could be the most effective all around.”


Contact(s): Sarina Gleason , Carlos Rios-Bedoya

Michigan State University

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