The effects of discrimination on alcohol abuse
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discrimination and drinking alcohol
08-25-16 Category: Discrimination, Substance Abuse

discrimination and drinking alcohol

Second-hand smoke was a novel concept when its dangerous effects were first discovered. Proximity to someone else’s bad habit could cause long-term health effects to anyone close by. It sounds obvious today, but for many years people were living and working in a toxic miasma without realizing the damage it was causing.

No less harmful is the invisible cloud of discrimination that many Americans must live within. Researchers have recently begun taking notes on the health effects of alcoholism caused by being discriminated against. It seems apparent, but the findings have largely gone under the radar as far as policy, self-care and preventive health are concerned.

A new meta-analysis published just this June in “Social Science & Medicine” enumerates such effects.

The study

“Our study supports the notion that discrimination is harmful to health, specifically through alcohol.” That’s a word from lead study author Paul Gilbert, University of Iowa College of Public Health assistant professor, in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health.

The meta-analysis summarizes 97 studies of discrimination and alcohol-related outcomes from 1980-2015. Gilbert notes the quality and quantity of evidence fluctuated considerably, but the gist was that, overall, minorities’ discrimination was sometimes followed by binge drinking, alcohol-related problems and alcohol-related diseases.

Stress-reactive drinking

“We recognize discrimination as a stressor, and we recognize people drink in response to stress,” Gilbert explains. “But do they drink in response to discrimination?”

Stress-reactive drinking has been studied before, but not in this context.

Gilbert and colleagues also considered what’s called the Social Resistance Framework, which proposes minorities participate in adverse health behaviors as conscious or subconscious acts of resistance.

Racial discrimination and drinking

The analysis catalogued the findings of other study’s surveys of racial or ethnic interpersonal discrimination among African-Americans in the United States.

As it relates to African-American discrimination and drinking, the sums were as follows:

  • 45 percent of studies demonstrated a link
  • 32 percent showed no association at all
  • 23 percent had mixed results

Other second-hand adverse health effects of discrimination include:

  • Anger management issues
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression, resulting in alcohol abuse or dependence as a coping mechanism

Sexual orientation discrimination and drinking

Gilbert and research fellows tallied results of studies on both internalized and interpersonal discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender discrimination. They discovered:

  • 77 percent of studies found no association between sexual orientation discrimination and alcohol use
  • The surveys analyzed discovered mostly positive correlations between gender discrimination and alcohol-related issues.

Meta-analysis creates new survey objectives

The meta-analysis findings are mixed indeed, but the fine-tuning that a holistic study of discrimination and alcohol consumption necessitates brings to light feasible objectives.

Concludes Gilbert: “The next step to advance science is to say what specific groups are involved, what specific type of discrimination they are experiencing, and what specifically were the alcohol outcomes. Was it just heavier drinking, or was it heavy drinking that led to dependence – or is it alcohol-related problems like getting in a car crash or work and family problems?”

The meta-analysis authors surmise that survey methods can dig beyond sweeping “global associations; rather scientists must specify the group, type and level of discrimination and alcohol outcome when making claims about discrimination and drinking.”

All in all, discrimination wafts dangerous second-hand alcohol consumption cues toward minorities such as African-Americans, LGBTQ individuals and females, but more research is needed.

In the meantime Sovereign Health of California is mindful that alcoholism can be hereditary, it can be fueled by historical prejudices and oppression or ill-used to cope with past trauma. Each individual’s downward spiral into dependency is unique and thus, treatment must also be customized. Call our 24/7 helpline to learn how we tailor treatment for A Better Way to a Better Life.

About the author

Sovereign Health Staff Writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing and editing; writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; radio production; and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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