Malt Liquor Consumers Drink More and More Often

Drinks Targeted at African American and Hispanic Youth

Man Drunk at Bar
Is Your Drinking a Problem?. © Getty Images

Malt liquor is not your average beer.

Typically malt liquor beverages have a higher percentage of alcohol content, are sold in larger containers, and are sold at a lower price per volume than the average beer.

When they refer to a standard drink, they are talking about a 12-ounce beer, a four-ounce glass of wine, or a one-ounce shot of hard liquor.

Compared to standard drinks, the typical malt liquor beverage is off the scale.

The average malt liquor beer can average 80% more alcohol content than the usual 12-ounce beer.

Because malt liquor represents a quick, cheap alcohol buzz, the beverages have been traditionally targeted at lower-income, minority communities.

In fact, one study found that malt liquor drinkers are more likely to be homeless, unemployed, on public assistance, compared to regular beer drinkers. The study also found they also tend to drink more alcohol, and drink more often than other types of drinkers.

Consume More Alcohol Per Drink

"Measuring malt liquor beer consumption is difficult because malt liquor beers differ from other beer beverages in two important aspects: container size and alcohol content by volume," said Ricky Bluthenthal, assistant professor at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and corresponding author for the study. "We found that the combination of these differences resulted in the average malt liquor drinker in our study consuming 80% more alcohol per drink than the average regular beer drinker.

Although we did not report consequences in this paper, typically the more alcohol consumed the greater the probability of negative alcohol-related consequences for an individual and their community."

Increased Risk of Problems

"Malt liquor beers can be sold in containers as large as 40-ounce bottles, or 'forties' as they are referred to," said Rhonda Jones-Webb, associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.

"'Forties' are commonly sold chilled and wrapped in brown paper bags for immediate consumption, and independent web sites devoted to malt liquor as well as rap lyrics and movie scripts encourage 'chugging' the bottles before they get warm. The combined effects of higher alcohol content, larger serving size, and faster consumption can result in higher blood alcohol levels, an increased risk of aggressive behavior, and other alcohol-related problems."

A Sign of Masculinity?

Jones-Webb said that malt liquor beers are largely targeted to African American and Hispanic youth, and young adults.

"Malt liquor brands such as Steel Reserve, Hurricane, Magnum, and Panther are used by the alcohol industry to connote power and machismo and lure youth and young adults into the market. Rap artists have been popular images in malt liquor advertising and 'gangsta' rap performers portray malt liquor as a sign of masculinity. The targeting of minority youth for malt liquor sales is of particular concern because alcohol advertising has been shown to influence brand choice, and brand choices during youth can influence beverage choices as adults."

South Los Angeles Study

To find out more about malt liquor drinkers, the researchers went to the streets - conducting face-to-face interviews with 329 drinkers recruited from randomly selected alcohol outlets in south Los Angeles.

The investigators gathered information on the drinkers' socio-demographic characteristics, alcohol-use history, drinking patterns, and drinking context.

"Based on previous research," said Bluthenthal, "we know that malt liquor beers because of price per volume and availability are likely to be more attractive to lower-income drinkers. In addition, advertising and popular culture references to malt liquor beers are more prevalent in media that is likely to be seen or used by African Americans. In short, south Los Angeles seemed to fit the profile we needed."

Malt Liquor Drinking Patterns

The sub-sample that reported drinking in the previous 90 days (n=297) was 88 percent African American, 72 percent male, and 35 percent unemployed.

Compared to regular beer and hard-liquor consumers, malt liquor beer drinkers were:

  • More likely to be homeless
  • More likely to receive public assistance for housing
  • Less likely to be employed
  • Reported significantly higher rates of daily or near daily drinking
  • Reported more drinks per day on drinking days
  • Reported higher daily average alcohol consumption
  • More likely to smoke while drinking
  • More likely drink with same-sex friends
  • More likely to drink outdoors.

Drinking More Hazardous Amounts

"The drinking levels we observed among malt liquor beer consumers were on average higher than the amount of alcohol consumed by individuals who are entering alcohol treatment programs," said Bluthenthal. "The study also confirms that malt liquor beers are consumed in potentially more hazardous amounts and settings than regular beers, and that grouping malt liquor beer drinkers with regular beer drinkers is likely to result in underestimates of alcohol consumed among malt liquor beer drinkers as well as the consequences of this consumption."

Sources:

Bluthenthal RN, et al. "Characteristics of Malt Liquor Beer Drinkers in a Low-Income, Racial Minority Community Sample." Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research March 2005

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