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Are American-born Asian Americans More Likely than Internationally Born Peers to Drink Heavily?

People toasting with beer mugs in the bar

Problem drinking (e.g., heavy drinking or binge drinking) is a significant issue among many populations across the country, and a great number of studies are dedicated to better understanding which populations are hardest hit. With an eye toward prevention as well as treatment, these studies help providers to take notice of signs of a potential substance use disorder, ask the right questions, and help people in need to connect with treatment.

A new study recently published in the journal Alcohol Research Current Reviews found that Asian Americans born in the United States may be more likely than Asians born abroad to develop a drinking problem. Across both groups – Asian Americans born internationally and those born here in the US – the rate of alcohol abuse rose fivefold between 1991 and 2002 among young people between the ages of 18 and 25.

Asian Americans and Alcohol

Because the term Asian American includes people from a range of different countries and cultures, it is often difficult to pinpoint cause and other more directed risk factors. Additionally, generational differences are significant, and this too can alter whether or not studies are able to ascertain a true need among Asian Americans. Previously, this has been true about studies investigating the use of drugs and alcohol among Asian Americans as well.

Derek Iwamoto, of the University of Maryland, College Park, was lead researcher on the study. He said: “The population tends to be overlooked given the model minority stereotype. A lot of times larger national studies aggregate Asian Americans all together, meaning that they aggregate first, second, and third generations … it really pulls the averages down for Asian Americans.”

Iwamoto notes that the rate of alcohol abuse among young Asian Americans increased from 0.74 percent in 1991 to 3.89 percent by 2002. Says Iwamoto: “There was no statistically significant difference between white men and second generation Asian-American men. It really highlights that there are high-risk groups of Asian Americans who do engage in problematic drinking.”

Second and Third Generation

Historically, Asian Americans have experienced lower rates of alcohol abuse as compared to other population groups in the US. In recent years, however, this may have begun to shift as young people born in the US have increasingly adopted this country’s individualistic views, bought into the marketing that identifies alcohol use as a fun pastime, and separated themselves from the perspectives of their parents and grandparents.

Genetics

Genetics can play a significant role in the development of a substance use disorder across populations. For example, if blood-related parents, siblings, or grandparents struggled with drugs or alcohol, there may be a higher risk of development of a substance use disorder if the person attempts to use an addictive substance casually.

Among Asian Americans, genetics may play a different role as well. Iwamoto says that there are two genetic issues found predominantly among Asians, especially among East Asian subgroups, that have been linked with alcohol intolerance.

Says Iwamoto: “Some Asian Americans may not engage in that high-risk drinking, but if they are allergic to alcohol … they might become drunk or intoxicated after drinking three beers versus someone who does not have that genetic makeup.”

Talking about Treatment

Unfortunately, regardless of the ethnic or cultural group of origin, it can be difficult to talk to someone about connecting with treatment when it is objectively clear that alcohol use and abuse have developed into an addictive disorder. For concerned friends and family members, staging an intervention is often a last-resort attempt to help the person recognize that they are living with an alcohol use disorder and ultimately agree to undergo treatment immediately; it’s often a necessary step to jumpstart the healing process.

If you have attempted informal requests that your loved one discuss alcohol use and the potential for treatment and been met with scorn, anger, or dismissal, staging an intervention can be the right choice. To increase the likelihood that your loved one will agree to get help, you can:

  • Hire a professional interventionist. An objective professional can help your loved one to see that this is no ordinary request to get help. Additionally, a professional interventionist can apply years of experience to answer your questions, take the helm, and keep everyone positive and focused on recovery.
  • Choose participants carefully. Though you may have a number of people who would like to play a role, only those closest to the person who will have a positive impact should attend.
  • Hold a planning meeting. Before staging the intervention, it is recommended that all participants meet and discuss the event, planning who will speak first, answering any questions, and addressing the details of the intervention, like who will bring the person living with addiction to the event.
  • Prepare what you will say in advance. If you have a good idea of what you will say before you begin, you will be more likely to stay positive and focused on helping your loved one get treatment. It will also help you to avoid becoming overly emotional.
  • Pack a bag for your loved. Make departure for treatment as easy as possible by packing a bag in advance that has everything necessary for travel and treatment.
  • Stay even-keeled and focused during the intervention. Feeling fear, sadness, anger, and frustration is normal, but during the intervention, it is important to keep emotions level. Focus on the fact that addiction is a medical disorder and thus requires medical care as soon as possible.
  • Choose a drug rehab in advance. To ensure that there is an open bed waiting for your loved one after the intervention, secure a spot in advance.

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