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Are certain religious groups at greater risk for alcoholism?

Religious and cultural differences also influence the risk for developing alcoholism. By far, the groups associated with lowest risk have been Jews and Muslims, but it appears to be for very different reasons. In Judaism, wine is used primarily ritualistically from a very early age, and thus, patterns of use are established early and maintained throughout one's religious life. Judaism as a faith offers no real moral opinion on the use of alcohol, but through practice, it offers examples of a balanced, moderate approach to its use. Although occasional drunkenness is tolerated, repeated examples can lead to isolation from the community. Islam, on the other hand, strictly prohibits the use of alcohol. This is interesting because the Koran is no more disapproving of wine than the Bible and because the prophet Muhammad looked on wine as the embodiment of well-being, wealth, and fertility and recommended moderation. The early history of Islam has many examples of regular alcohol use among its practitioners; however, because of the rise of conservatives throughout the Muslim world during the last few centuries, alcohol consumption has been strictly prohibited. This may partly have been due to an attempt to demonstrate outwardly Islam's uniqueness from the other religions.

The Bible generally describes moderate use of wine without condemnation; it does contrast that with drunkenness, which it clearly condemns. Catholicism and Protestantism, on the other hand, generally view alcohol as a potential evil and alcoholism as a sin, but the emphasis in books, catechisms, sermons, and pastoral addresses is typically focused on issues of sex, such as masturbation, premarital and extramarital sex, abortion, and artificial insemination to the exclusion of drunkenness. With an emphasis on the sinfulness of virtually all pleasurable activities, along with the general silence regarding drunkenness, as opposed to other overindulgences, the inability to develop an institutionalized reliable response leads parishioners to vacillate between abstinence and overindulgence without any real opportunity to develop models for moderate ritualized use.

The Bible generally describes moderate use of wine without condemnation; it does contrast that with drunkenness, which it clearly condemns.

How do African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans compare with respect to risk of developing alcoholism?

African Americans

Depending on the study, young African American men either drink less or have similar drinking patterns as young white men. Clearly fewer binge drinking episodes exist in black universities as compared with white universities. Black women drink less then their white counterparts; however, blacks suffer more from health problems related to alcoholism, such as cirrhosis of the liver, alcohol-withdrawal delirium, esophageal cancer, and so forth. Most legal problems stem from drug use. The prison population is made up more of cocaine users than alcoholics.


Hispanics are the second largest ethnic group in the United States and constitute an extremely diverse group because of their varying ethnic backgrounds and openness to intermarriage. Thus, keep that in mind when examining the evidence. Among the largest group of Hispanics are Mexican Americans, followed by Puerto Ricans and Cubans. These three groups have different cultural heritages and different economic and geographical distributions. Mexican Americans have higher rates of alcoholism than other Hispanic groups. Puerto Ricans have higher rates of cocaine dependence. Inhalant use is more common among Cubans in South Florida. When Mexican Americans acculturate to the United States, their use of alcohol increases further.

Native Americans

There are 400 recognized tribes in the United States, with each having different customs and rituals, values, and beliefs. These differences reflect not only cultural variations but genetic variations as well; however, there does seem to be a genetic vulnerability to alcohol that is common to all, including the Native Alaskans, whose modern history was less traumatic than their lower continental counterparts. The predisposition has not yet been fully elucidated and probably has to do with the populations lack of exposure to alcohol until late in its evolutionary history. Other factors also play a role that cannot be denied, such as their displacement, a lack of economic opportunities, and resulting poverty. A large percentage of Native Americans are sent to boarding schools, which only increases their risk of developing alcohol and other drug-dependent problems on their return home. Selling alcohol to Native Americans was illegal until 1953 when they were granted full citizenship. The incidence of alcoholism among Native Americans is twice the national average. Tribal rates of adolescent suicide, auto accidents, child abuse and neglect, and spousal abuse differ and can be directly linked to the rates of alcoholism.

Asian Americans

Asian Americans constitute the fastest growing minority in the United States. They also are an extremely diverse group, as Asia is the largest continent in the world but also geographically encompasses groups from its far western regions such as Turks and Arabs that are more European to its far eastern outposts in the Pacific such as Samoa that are not part of the Asian continent. The largest groups consist of Chinese, followed by Filipinos, Indians, and Vietnamese. The vast majority is either on the west coast in Chicago or New York City, but the southeastern states are growing. National surveys have difficulty capturing such a large and diverse population, and thus, conclusive generalizations cannot be made. Asian Americans tend to have the lowest rates of alcoholism among all U.S. citizens. Asians are far more likely to use alcohol rather than other drugs. Teen alcohol use is growing probably with the acculturation to the United States. Still, within-group differences do occur, with Koreans having higher rates then Chinese. Vietnamese teens have the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse among Asian Americans. Genetic differences appear to play an important role in rates of alcoholism among Asian Americans, as demonstrated in Question 22 (Table 6).

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