Race/ethnicity and sex differences in progression from drinking initiation to the development of alcohol dependence

Author(s): Alvanzo AA, Storr CL, La Flair L, Green KM, Wagner FA, et al.


Background: Prior studies on the course of alcohol use disorders have reported a "telescoping" effect with women progressing from drinking initiation to alcohol dependence faster than men. However, there is a paucity of population-based analyses that have examined progression to alcohol dependence comparing race/ethnicity subgroups, and little is known about whether the telescoping effect for women varies by race/ethnicity. We examined whether a telescoping effect is present in the general population comparing race/ethnicity subgroups and comparing men and women stratified by race.

Methods: This study uses data from Wave I of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) to compare a nationally representative sample of White, Black and Hispanic adults 18-44 years of age (n=21,106). Time to event analyses compare the risk of alcohol initiation, onset of alcohol dependence, and the transition from initial use to onset of alcohol dependence in the three race/ethnicity groups and for males and females in each race/ethnicity group.

Results: Whites were younger than Blacks and Hispanics of the same sex at drinking onset and progressed to alcohol dependence at a faster rate than both Blacks and Hispanics. In addition, we found no evidence of a telescoping effect in women for any race/ethnicity group.

Conclusions: The present study illustrates differences in the course of transition from alcohol initiation to the development of dependence by race/ethnicity but not sex. Our findings highlight the need for additional study of factors resulting in race/ethnicity differences in order to inform culturally relevant prevention and intervention initiatives.

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