Alcohol Treatment Proves Less Effective for Minority Patients
> 11/1/2007 11:49:20 AM

Black and Hispanic Americans do not, as popular culture might imply, abuse alcohol at significantly higher rates than whites. But they do bear a disproportionate share of the health burdens created by alcohol abuse, and one reason for this trend is the fact that their respective access to treatment centers does not mirror the numbers for abuse and dependence. In short, minorities do not drink any more than their fellow citizens - in fact, African-Americans usually drink at lower rates than whites, but they are far less likely to complete effective treatment programs for problem drinking due, in part, to a lack of available resources that is largely socioeconomic in origin.

Researchers at the RAND Corporation were puzzled by the greater presence of alcohol-related health problems in minority communities whose members consume approximately the same amounts of alcohol as their white peers: an Hispanic woman who consumes three drinks a day, for example, faces a nearly 50% greater likelihood of developing the potentially fatal liver disease cirrohsis in her lifetime than a white woman who behaves in the very same way. One explanation for this statistical anomaly lies in the propensity of certain individuals to seek and complete treatment for problem drinking. Not only were minority patients less likely to enter programs for alcohol abuse and dependence, they were less likely to complete them as well.

Another reason for these unfortunate numbers is a patient-based preference for outpatient treatment plans granting them greater personal freedom and less official supervision. Outpatient care is, for these reasons, often less decisive by nature, giving patients a greater opportunity to leave the premises and continue drinking. Yet trends in treatment show patients, at increasing rates, to prefer outpatient programs. The most likely speculative explanation for this development is that such programs are easier and that patients often downplay the intensity of their own problems, insisting that their drinking is not serious enough to warrant inpatient stays. If this outpatient preference continues, researchers predict even greater disparities between the future completion rates of whites and minority groups.

Unfortunately, the most relevant question raised by this study remains unanswered: why do treatment programs prove less successful among minority populations? The answer, which this study proves to be extremely relevant, may come from the extended study of ethnic and cultural differences in drinking patterns: binge drinking, for example, is higher among Hispanic adolescents, but white adults generally drink more than their Hispanic counterparts. And, most importantly, Hispanic adults are still twice as likely to die from cirrhosis of the liver. Almost all drinking problems are least prevalent among African-Americans, yet their rates of success in alcohol treatment problems remain abnormally low. And the highest numbers for alcohol abuse usually occur among the Native American / American Indian population, another group whose access to treatment facilities is often limited. Until researchers complete a deeper study of ethnic and cultural differences in alcohol consumption, we cannot explain why treatment seems to prove so much more difficult among certain portions of the population. But we can offer more publicly funded inpatient treatment programs in relevant communities. Creating a healthier public is in the best interests of every social group.

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