NIAAA Expert Discusses Minority Disparities in Alcohol Use and Treatment

In our continuing editorial series with experts from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Coalitions Online interviewed Ricardo Brown, Ph. D., Health Science Administrator and Minority Health and Health Disparities Coordinator.

Here, in recognition of Black History Month, Dr. Brown discusses the disparities in alcohol use and treatment among minorities and stresses the need for greater minority participation in clinical studies.

Q: What are the major differences in alcohol use among minorities?

Among Asian Americans, Chinese Americans have higher rates of abstinence from alcohol, while Japanese Americans report higher rates of heavy drinking. With respect to adolescent drinking, African American teens drink less than non-Hispanic white and Latino teens.

Q: How do the health effects and mortality rates of alcohol use differ among minorities?

Despite having higher abstinence rates, alcohol-related deaths are higher among African-American males than white males. Alcohol-related mortality rates for white Hispanic Latino men is double that for non-Hispanic white men. Among Native Americans, the leading cause of death is alcohol-related.

Q: What are some of factors that might influence these varying rates?

Genes and environmental factors, and their interaction, play an important role.

Environment can play a part in shaping use, treatment and prevention, and some people have a genetic predisposition to alcohol drinking.

Some examples of environmental factors are location and insurance coverage. For example, minority patients who enter treatment programs generally have success rates that are equal to those of white patients. However, depending on where they live and the resources of their neighborhood, they may not have access to treatment.

Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans are also less likely to have insurance coverage for treatment. However, we need to conduct more studies to determine the exact multi-dimensional factors that influence use of alcohol. Getting more minorities to participate in clinical trials is a challenge we’re facing now and one way to address the disparities is by getting increased participation by minority groups so we can understand the underlying mechanisms responsible for disparities between groups of people.

Q: What is the role of the community in helping to address these disparities?

They can be a stronger force in encouraging people from all walks of life to participate in clinical and epidemiological studies, so that the outcomes of those studies can be applicable to all groups. It’s also important for any local community or university-based group to be involved in their local alcohol research center, which are located throughout the country.

Q: What efforts does the NIAAA do to address these disparities?

Our Director Dr. Ting-Kai Li is aware of these disparities and he’s working closely with the National Center for Minority Health Disparities and other organizations to address them. He is also developing mechanisms for increasing enrolment of African-Americans and other ethnic minorities in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC).

Dr. Ricardo Brown is NIAAA’s Health Science Administrator and Minority Health and Health Disparities Coordinator. For more information about the NIAAA and its programs, visit