Discrimination Can Lead to Alcohol Abuse

Over the last three decades’ research has discovered that discrimination can physically affect the health of individuals. Specifically, investigators learned that discrimination may be linked to poor cardiovascular health within the African American Population.

Eventually, the scope of these studies broadened, uncovering a connection between discrimination and other health disparities among minority groups. New research emanating from the University of Iowa, finds another negative health outcome linked to discrimination: alcohol abuse.

“We’ve had this idea that discrimination is associated with heavier drinking and drinking-related problems, but we didn’t have a clear understanding of the evidence underneath that,” says Paul Gilbert, assistant professor of the Department of Community and Behavioral Health.

“I wanted to uncover what we know and how we know it. What does the science actually say?”

Experts have known for decades that drinking is a common coping response to stress — a phenomenon called stress-reactive drinking, Gilbert says.

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

The paper, “Discrimination and Drinking: A Systematic Review of the Evidence,” appears online in in Social Science & Medicine.

For the study, Gilbert searched six online databases for studies related to discrimination and drinking, winnowing his potential sources down to about 1,200 scientific studies that met his criteria.

From there, he identified 97 peer-reviewed, published research papers with quantitative evidence that showed a link between discrimination and heavy and hazardous drinking. Seventy-one studies involved racial discrimination, and the rest examined discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.

“Our study supports the notion that discrimination is harmful to health, specifically through alcohol,” says Gilbert.

Investigators discovered several gaps in the research. For example, the majority of studies involved interpersonal discrimination against African Americans, such as being treated poorly in a store or being called a name.

Gilberts says more studies need to be done about discrimination against other groups, including other racial and ethnic groups, and discrimination due to religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, or disability status.

He also would like to see a more nuanced look at what types of discrimination might be linked to heavy and hazardous drinking.

For example, studies could involve systematic or structural discrimination, such as school and neighborhood segregation.

Additionally, studies of internalized discrimination — which occurs when members of a racial minority absorb the racist messages they hear, resulting in self-hatred or hatred of their minority group — demand investigation.

Finally, Gilbert hopes researchers will take a closer look at the types of alcohol abuse linked to being discriminated against.

“The basic knowledge is now there,” he says. “The next step to advance science is to say what specific groups are involved, what specific type of discrimination are they 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?”

Source: University of Iowa