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Research Summary

Alcohol Use and Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

Certain minority groups, compared with other minority and non-minority groups, are more severely affected by alcohol use. Participants in a workshop on alcohol use and racial and ethnic health differences, sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, concluded that interactions between alcohol, genes, and environment contribute to health disparities.

  • Different populations exhibit genetic variations in alcohol-metabolizing enzymes, and these variations may contribute to differences in alcohol-related health outcomes.
  • African Americans and Native Americans, compared with Whites, have a greater incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, possibly due to genetic polymorphisms and nutrition.
  • White Hispanic men have the highest mortality rate from cirrhosis.
  • Mexican Americans have a gene allelic profile that may confer increased risk of alcohol dependence.
  • African Americans, compared with Whites, have a higher incidence of some cancers, which may be partly due to heavy drinking.


This paper confirms that our understanding of racial and ethnic disparities in alcohol-related health consequences is progressing, but we still have much to learn. Through better understanding, we may ultimately develop diagnostic, preventive, and therapeutic methods to decrease these disparities.

Kevin L. Kraemer, MD, MSc


Russo D, Purohit V, Foudin L, et al. Workshop on alcohol use and health disparities 2002: a call to arms. Alcohol. 2004;32(1):37-43.
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