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Young people at highest risk for early drinking are those with a history of abuse, family violence, depression, and stressful life events. People with a family history of alcoholism are also more likely to begin drinking before the age of 20 and to become alcoholic. Such adolescent drinkers are also more apt to underestimate the effects of drinking and to make judgment errors, such as going on binges or driving after drinking, than young drinkers without a family history of alcoholism.
Drinking in the Elderly Population. Although alcoholism usually develops in early adulthood, the elderly are not exempt. In fact, doctors may overlook alcoholism when evaluating elderly patients, mistakenly attributing the signs of alcohol abuse to the normal effects of the aging process.
Alcohol also affects the older body differently. People who maintain the same drinking patterns as they age can easily develop alcohol dependency without realizing it. It takes fewer drinks to become intoxicated, and older organs can be damaged by smaller amounts of alcohol than those of younger people. Also, many of the medications prescribed for older people interact adversely with alcohol. Medications used for arthritis or pain pose a particular danger for interaction with alcohol.
Most alcoholics are men, but the incidence of alcoholism in women has been increasing over the past 30 years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 17% of men and 8% of women meet criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. Studies suggest that women are more vulnerable than men to many of the long-term consequences of alcoholism. For example, women are more likely than men to develop alcoholic hepatitis and to die from cirrhosis, and women are more vulnerable to the brain cell damage caused by alcohol.
HISTORY OF ABUSE
Individuals who were abused as children have a higher risk for substance abuse later in life. In one study, 72% of women and 27% of men with substance abuse disorders reported physical or sexual abuse or both. They also had worse response to treatment than those without such a history.
RACE AND ETHNICITY
Overall, there is no difference in alcoholic prevalence among African-Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanic-Americans. Some population groups, however, such as Native Americans, have an increased incidence of alcoholism while others, such as Jewish and Asian Americans, have a lower risk. Although the biological or cultural causes of such different risks are not known, certain people in these population groups may have a genetic susceptibility or invulnerability to alcoholism because of the way they metabolize alcohol.
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