Problem Drinking Among Cambodian Refugees in the United States

How Big of a Problem Is It?

Published in: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs v. 68, no. 1, Jan. 2007, p. 11-17

by Elizabeth J. D'Amico, Terry L. Schell, Grant N. Marshall, Katrin Hambarsoomian

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OBJECTIVE: The present study assesses current drinking behavior in a representative sample of Cambodian refugees. Earlier estimates of alcohol use in this population suggest that Cambodian refugees are at elevated risk for alcohol-use problems, but these studies have relied on convenience samples and may not reflect current consumption patterns. METHOD: A cross-sectional, face-to-face interview was conducted in Khmer on a household probability sample of Cambodian refugees residing in the largest such community in the United States. The overall response rate was 87% and yielded 490 respondents in the current analyses. RESULTS: Rates of consumption and alcohol-use problems were low in this population. Few participants (26%) reported any alcohol consumption in the 30 days preceding the interview, and only 2% reported any heavy drinking in the last 30 days. Multivariate analyses indicated that younger participants and men were more likely to report any recent drinking, and men were more likely to report any heavy drinking. Notably, recent consumption was not related to degree of trauma exposure or extent of psychiatric distress when controlling for age and gender. CONCLUSIONS: These data contrast dramatically with the widespread belief that Cambodian refugees are at elevated risk for problem drinking. Findings highlight the pitfalls of drawing population-based conclusions from data based on nonrepresentative samples or from nonstandard measures of alcohol consumption.

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