Alcohol Abuse More Likely in U.S.-Born Asian Americans Than in Those Born Abroad

Problematic drinking is more likely among Asian Americans born in the United States compared with those born abroad, a review of studies finds. Overall, the prevalence of alcohol abuse among Asian Americans ages 18 to 25 increased fivefold between 1991 and 2002.

Studies of drinking patterns tend to lump all Asian Americans together, the review’s lead author, Derek Iwamoto of the University of Maryland, College Park, told NBC News. “The population tends to be overlooked given the model minority stereotype,” he said. “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.”

Alcohol abuse prevalence among young adult Asian Americans rose from .74 percent in 1991 to 3.89 percent in 2002, Iwamoto reported in Alcohol Research Current Reviews.

“There was no statistically significant difference between white men and second generation Asian-American men,” Iwamoto said. “It really highlights that there are high risk groups of Asian Americans who do engage in problematic drinking.”

Alcohol abuse may be more likely in U.S.-born Asian Americans because they have adopted the values and beliefs of the more individualistic world views of Americans, the review states. Asian Americans historically have reported lower rates of alcohol misuse compared with other racial and ethnic groups, the researchers noted.

Genetics may play a role in alcohol abuse in Asian Americans, Iwamoto said. Two genetic factors found predominantly in Asians—particularly East Asian subgroups—are associated with unpleasant reactions of alcohol intolerance.

“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,” Iwamoto said.