May is National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in America. Here in Los Angeles County, L.A. CADA joins in celebrating the strengths and diversity of L.A. County’s incredible AA/PI community, including our behavioral healthcare specialists. Did you know that L.A. County is home to more Asian Americans than any other county in the United States? Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have transformed Los Angeles County through their labor and investment in family and the economy.
Asian/Pacific Islander success in American has resulted in their reputation as the ‘model minority’. Yet this group struggles just like other families, including issues of behavioral health. Historically, Asian Americans have reported lower rates of alcohol misuse as compared with other racial/ethnic groups. Yet, binge drinking and alcohol abuse are significant and increasing among U.S.-born Asian American young adults ages 18–25.
Recent studies have identified high-risk subgroups of Asian-American young adults who engage in higher rates of heavy episodic or binge drinking as compared with their Asian-American peers. In fact, some U.S.-born Asian American subgroups may engage in heavy episodic drinking at comparable rates to well-known high-risk groups, such as college fraternity members (Iwamoto et al. 2011b). Despite this growing concern, Asian Americans continue to be perceived as a low-risk group.
Two genetic factors have been significantly associated with alcohol use and related problems in Asian Americans. One allele or variant called ADH1B*2 encodes an enzyme that accelerates oxidation of ethanol – resulting in a buildup of acetaldehyde. High levels of acetaldehyde create a heightened and unpleasant response to alcohol characterized by facial flushing, headache, and nausea. This reaction can make alcohol consumption unpleasant, thereby protecting against high consumption and risk of alcohol use disorder. From 88-96% of East Asians subgroups have the ADH1B*2 variant: mostly people of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean descent . Studies have found that the variant can be a protective factors against alcohol abuse, but it doesn’t seem to eliminate alcohol consumption altogether. One study in 2001 found that college students with fully active ALDH2 alleles were significantly more likely to be regular drinkers,
Learn how to better help AA/PI patients: Mental Health Viewpoints