Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder in Veterans

Rachel Vickers-Smith, Amy C. Justice, William C. Becker, Christopher T. Rentsch, Brenda Curtis, Anita Fernander, Emily E. Hartwell, Eseosa T. Ighodaro, Rachel L. Kember, Janet Tate, Henry R. Kranzler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Studies show that racially and ethnically minoritized veterans have a higher prevalence of alcohol use disorder (AUD) than White veterans. The investigators examined whether the relationship between self-reported race and ethnicity and AUD diagnosis remains after adjusting for alcohol consumption, and if so, whether it varies by self-reported alcohol consumption. METHODS: The sample included 700,012 Black, White, and Hispanic veterans enrolled in the Million Veteran Program. Alcohol consumption was defined as an individual's maximum score on the consumption subscale of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C), a screen for unhealthy alcohol use. A diagnosis of AUD, the primary outcome, was defined by the presence of relevant ICD-9 or ICD-10 codes in electronic health records. Logistic regression with interactions was used to assess the association between race and ethnicity and AUD as a function of maximum AUDIT-C score. RESULTS: Black and Hispanic veterans were more likely than White veterans to have an AUD diagnosis despite similar levels of alcohol consumption. The difference was greatest between Black and White men; at all but the lowest and highest levels of alcohol consumption, Black men had 23%-109% greater odds of an AUD diagnosis. The findings were unchanged after adjustment for alcohol consumption, alcohol-related disorders, and other potential confounders. CONCLUSIONS: The large discrepancy in the prevalence of AUD across groups despite a similar distribution of alcohol consumption levels suggests that there is racial and ethnic bias, with Black and Hispanic veterans more likely than White veterans to receive an AUD diagnosis. Efforts are needed to reduce bias in the diagnostic process to address racialized differences in AUD diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-436
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023


  • Alcohol Use Disorder
  • Diagnosis and Classification
  • Drug Use Disorders
  • Racism
  • Stigma/Discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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