Pedersen and McCarthy Article
Differences in Acute Response to Alcohol Between African Americans and European Americans
Pedersen SL and McCarthy DM
While previous studies have pointed to response to alcohol as an endophenotype for alcohol use disorders, limited work has examined response to alcohol in African Americans, and prior research has not been conducted to directly compare the acute alcohol response of African Americans to European Americans.
In a laboratory study of the racial differences in alcohol response in a sample of 178 moderate to heave social drinkers (57% of whom were African American), Drs. Sarah Pedersen and Denis McCarthy measured acute alcohol response at eight time points after participants had consumed a moderate amount of alcohol (0.72 g/kg alcohol for men, 0.65 g/kg for women). Unlike previous studies, Drs. Pedersen and McCarthy analyzed both the ascending and descending limbs of the blood alcohol curve and found complex differences between alcohol responses of African Americans and European Americans. They found that African Americans experienced sharper increases in stimulation on the ascending limb immediately following alcohol consumption compared to European Americans. Further, this alcohol sensitivity was related to alcohol problems for African Americans but not for European Americans. However, African American women experienced sharper increases in sedation on the ascending limb compared to European American women and compared to the full sample. Change in sedation on the ascending limb was associated with drinking behavior in the past month.
This project highlights differences in response to alcohol across racial groups and the possibility that African Americans are more sensitive to the acute effects of alcohol compared to European Americans. It also demonstrates the need for future studies that incorporate response to alcohol into a larger model of African American alcohol use and the development of better techniques to identify risk factors for alcohol abuse in this population.
Sarah L. Pedersen, PhD (Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh)
Denis M. McCarthy, PhD (Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri)