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Gender and Ethnic Differences

EthnicCaucasian males are at great risk for alcohol abuse. Patterns of drinking usually begin during late adolescence and progress until, after years of drinking alcohol, alcoholism may develop. Research has shown that men with a family history of alcoholism may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Retirement has been found to be a precursor for alcohol problems in elderly men.

Historically, women were not known to be heavy consumers of alcohol. Today, however, the face of an alcoholic is likely to be female. Women tend to develop alcoholism later in life than men. It is possible that women begin regular drinking behavior at a later age than men.

Alcoholic women experience more health problems associated with alcohol than their male counterparts. This is especially true in the case of cirrhosis of the liver, which claims the lives of women at an earlier age than men and with less alcohol consumption. Female drinkers are also at risk for sexual violence and other aggressive behaviors. The dangerous practice of combining alcohol and prescription drugs occurs at higher rates among women. Perhaps the most tragic of all alcohol problems for women is fetal alcohol syndrome.

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals may also be at risk for alcohol abuse. Some of these individuals may be at risk for alcoholism due to genetic factors. However, many verbalize feelings of isolation, separation, and confusion while growing up because of societal views of gender identity. Thus, using alcohol to self-medicate may develop into full-blown alcoholism.

Among Hispanics, cultural values have changed as this population becomes more strongly acculturated in the United States. As new generations of Hispanic-Americans are born in this country, we see an increase in those abusing alcohol. Traditionally, Hispanics have been very patriarchal, which has been evidenced by the very small number of women who engaged in drinking. Now, however, greater numbers of Hispanic women drinkers have been observed. Hispanic men are at risk for cirrhosis and also are frequently arrested for drunk driving.

Asian-Americans are less likely to drink than other ethnic groups living in the United States. This population is more apt to adhere to cultural sanctions pertaining to alcohol use. Another factor may be the tendency for Asian-Americans to experience flushing, which is defined as feelings of warmth and development of redness on the face and neck when alcohol is consumed. Other symptoms may include nausea and an elevated pulse rate. This reaction may be a biological deterrent to drinking in this population.

African-Americans have suffered a myriad of alcohol-related problems. Interestingly, African-American men drink less than whites, yet this group is more prone to complications associated with alcohol. There is a higher incidence of cirrhosis, heart disease and cancer in this group. There is also a higher prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome, although African-American women are less likely to drink than whites. Societal pathologies such as assaults, injuries, homicide, and suicide are at elevated levels in the African-American population.

Perhaps no group has felt the fury of alcohol's wrath more than Native Americans. A host of complications at markedly higher levels is found in this population. These include cirrhosis, diabetes, accidents, and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS occurs in Native Americans at approximately three times the national average. More women of Native American descent die from cirrhosis of the liver than of any other ethnic group in the United States. Alcohol abuse in the younger population is a special problem.

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NCADD-Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs Among Women

Drinking and You - Women and Alcohol