Malt liquor is becoming increasingly popular among college students, although it is primarily sold in low-income areas. Insufficient information is known regarding beverage preference, specifically among understudied inner-city minority populations (Graves & Kashkutas, 2002
). Consequently, most researchers do not define clear differences between malt liquor and beer or among wine, fortified wine, and wine coolers. Research on beverage-specific prototypes is important because it informs the epidemiology of consumption, assists in identifying population groups at risk for specific alcohol-related problems, and highlights targeted communities subject to disproportionate advertising and distribution (Bluthenthal, et al, 2005
; Graves & Kashkutas, 2002
). In the United States, there is increasing public interest in malt liquor beverage consumption among young people and ethnic minority populations (Alaniz and Wilkes, 1998
Malt liquor refers to a beverage fermented from yeast that has an alcohol content between 5.6–8% w/v (Kerr & Greenfield, 2003
). It contains non-fermented by-products ("real extract") that produce much of the taste of these beverages. Ingredients such as antioxidants and tannins are added to produce a harsh taste. Malt liquor has a relatively low cost per ounce of absolute alcohol and is often packaged in large-volume (40 ounce and larger), sometimes non-recloseable containers that encourage more immediate and continuous consumption (Kerr & Greenfield, 2003
). These products may have a higher alcohol content than regular beer or wine coolers which typically contain no more than 5% alcohol and are usually sold in 12 ounce and smaller containers. In addition to their inexpensive cost, the popularity of these high alcohol content malt liquor beverages may be attributed to aggressive and targeted marketing (Moore, DJ et al, 1996
; LaVeist & Wallace, 2000
). Consumption of these low cost, higher alcoholic content malt beverages and other sweetened alcoholic beverages, especially among adolescents and young adults, is of concern because they may contribute to increased alcohol use and abuse and increased risk to develop dependency.
The biological basis for the popularity of these malt beverages has not been systematically studied. One explanation may be related to pharmacokinetic (PK) "enhancement" of ethanol absorbed from these beverages by the presence of by-products found in these malt beverages, including oligosaccharides derived from the amylolytic breakdown of amylase and amylopectin, partially degraded proteins, various minerals and minor organics of plant origin.
There have been a limited number of studies that describe alcohol PK after the consumption of beer or other malt derived beverages (Greenfield et al 2004
; Bluthenthal et al 2005
). Most utilize the “oral alcohol challenge” method which has been widely used to study the PK of ethanol under a variety of experimental conditions (Thomasson et al 1995
, Jones and Jonsson 1994
, Wang et al 1992
, Mumenthaler et al 2000
, Jones et al 1997
, Whitfield and Martin 1994
, Jones et al 1992
). Variability in response using the oral challenge methods result from such critical issues as sample size, genetic polymorphism in alcohol metabolic rates, food intake before ethanol ingestion, and use of appropriate controls (Holford, 1997
). These issues may explain inter- and intra-individual differences in the relative bioavailability and complex PK after the consumption of beverages with differing ethanol concentrations.
The focus of the current study was to evaluate differences in alcohol PK following administration of a dose of ethanol in a fixed concentration in a commercially available malt liquor beverage compared to the same dose of ethanol in the same fixed concentration administered in a non-malt vehicle where the "real extract" was absent. In particular, this study examined in a single-blind, crossover design, whether malt liquor formulations result in higher peak alcohol levels, a greater rate of rise in the ascending limb of the alcohol concentration-time curve, or a greater area under the BrAC-time curve (AUC) in a cohort of young adult African American social drinkers without a personal or family history of alcohol dependence. A single-blind crossover design was used to allow within-participant comparison, since each participant served as their own and provide an unbiased difference in alcohol effect, if any. In addition, differences in the subjective effects of ethanol were examined. A secondary focus was to examine the effect of the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) genotype on the PK of the ethanol following consumption of malt liquor. Examining the effect of ADH genotype on the PK of alcohol in a segment of the African American population with a preference for alcohol beverages like malt liquor may provide insight as to why this preference exists.