Alcohol Abuse Among Native Americans

Alcohol abuse has long been a significant problem in many communities across the United States, but for Native Americans and alcohol, the relationship is particularly acute. The historical trauma and ongoing marginalization experienced by indigenous peoples have contributed to high rates of alcohol addiction, with devastating consequences for individuals, families, and entire communities. Despite these challenges, there is reason for hope. Evidence-based interventions that take into account the cultural and social context of Native American life can help individuals overcome addiction and build a brighter future.1

Statistics of Alcohol Abuse Among Native Americans

Research indicates that in 2019, around 5.7 million individuals in the United States identified as American Indians or Alaska Natives (AI/AN), which equates to roughly 1.7% of the total population. Only 22% of this population lived on reservations or trust lands, while the majority (60%) resided in urban metropolitan areas, according to data from the 2010 US Census.2

Mental health issues are more prevalent among Native Americans compared to non-native populations, and substance abuse is a significant contributing factor. This is largely attributed to cultural, social, and economic factors that are specific to Native American communities. Although substance abuse is a widespread issue across the nation, it is particularly problematic among Native American populations.3

Native Americans have a high prevalence of alcoholism, with nearly half of individuals aged 18-25 and 26 years or older reporting alcohol consumption within the past month. Rates of alcohol use disorder (AUD) were also significant, affecting over 10% of individuals in these age groups. By comparison, opioid misuse affected 7% of individuals in the same age groups. With one in ten Native American deaths being alcohol-related, these statistics highlight the significant burden of alcohol abuse among Native Americans and the need for effective prevention and treatment strategies.3

Native Americans and Alcohol History

Before European contact, indigenous peoples of the Americas had a range of intoxicating substances, including fermented drinks made from fruits and grains, and psychoactive plants like peyote and tobacco. However, the introduction of alcohol by European settlers had a devastating impact on many Native American communities. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the fur trade brought large quantities of alcohol to Native American communities, leading to widespread alcoholism and social disintegration.4 

The impact of alcohol on Native American communities has been profound. High rates of alcoholism and alcohol-related illnesses have been documented, as well as social and economic problems such as poverty, unemployment, and domestic violence. Native Americans continue to struggle with the legacy of alcohol abuse. According to statistics, approximately 1 in 10 Native American deaths is alcohol-related.4

Native American and the Alcohol Gene

Alcoholism is a complex disorder with genetic, environmental, and social factors that contribute to its development. However, studies have shown that certain populations, such as Native Americans, are at a higher risk for alcoholism due to the presence of the alcohol gene.6 

The alcohol gene, also known as the ADH1B gene, produces an enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the body. Research has found that individuals with a certain variation of this gene, known as the ADH1B*2 allele, have a faster rate of alcohol metabolism. This means that alcohol is broken down more quickly, resulting in a lower blood alcohol concentration and a reduced risk for alcoholism.6

Studies showed that Alcohol-Attributable Deaths (AADs) accounted for more than 10% of all deaths in the Native American community, with the age-adjusted AAD rate for AI/ANs being approximately twice that of the general population in the United States. These statistics are alarming and highlight the urgent need for effective interventions to prevent excessive alcohol consumption and reduce alcohol-attributable morbidity and mortality among AI/ANs. The consequences of alcohol abuse are devastating, and they have a significant impact on the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities.5

What Are the Causes of Alcoholism Among Native Americans?

Alcoholism is a serious issue among Native Americans, with rates of alcohol dependency being almost twice as high as the general population. Understanding the causes of alcoholism among Native Americans is important in addressing this problem.1

One of the major reasons alcohol abuse is common among Native Americans is the historical trauma experienced by their communities. Native Americans were subjected to colonization, forced relocation, and cultural genocide. This trauma has been passed down through generations and has resulted in high rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, which can lead to alcohol abuse. The cultural disconnect experienced by many in the community contributes to alcohol abuse. Many Native Americans have lost touch with their traditions and cultural practices, which can result in a feeling of displacement and isolation. Alcohol can serve as a way to cope with this disconnection and feelings of loneliness.4

Another cause is the lack of economic opportunities and poverty. Many Native American communities are located in remote and rural areas, which can limit access to job opportunities. As a result, many struggle with poverty, which can contribute to alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism. Furthermore, the lack of access to quality healthcare and resources for addiction treatment in many Native American communities exacerbates the problem. In addition, the limited availability of mental health services and support groups can make it difficult for individuals struggling with alcoholism to get the help they need.4

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Among Native Americans

Native Americans are disproportionately affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which is an irreversible birth defect caused by a mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Native Americans are more likely to suffer from FAS due to a number of factors, including poverty, and the lack of access to healthcare and education. In addition, cultural norms that encourage alcohol consumption can increase the risk.8

Studies show that Native American women are more likely to drink during their pregnancies than women of other ethnicities. Studies found that 25 percent of Native American mothers drink during their pregnancies, compared to the national average of 10 percent. This higher rate of alcohol use increases their risk of having a child with FAS.8

Native American mothers who drink during their pregnancies put their babies at risk for learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and physical deformities. Babies born with FAS suffer from poor coordination and impaired motor development, as well as problems with memory, language, and learning.8

How Do You Assess for Alcohol Use in Native Americans?

Assessing alcohol use in Native Americans requires cultural sensitivity and an understanding of the unique historical and cultural factors that contribute to alcohol use in this population. These include:9

  • Establishing a trusting relationship with the individual and their community. Native Americans may be distrustful of outsiders and may not be comfortable discussing personal issues.
  • Using assessment tools that are culturally appropriate and validated for use with Native Americans.
  • Native Americans have a unique history of trauma and oppression that has contributed to high rates of alcohol use and abuse. Understanding these cultural factors and how they may impact alcohol use is important.
  • Historical trauma refers to the collective emotional and psychological damage caused by a history of trauma and oppression. This can impact alcohol use and abuse in Native Americans and should be considered in any assessment.
  • Native Americans may speak a different language than the healthcare provider. It is important to have an interpreter available to ensure accurate communication.
  • Effective treatment for alcohol use in Native Americans should be culturally appropriate and respectful of traditional healing practices. This may involve incorporating cultural practices and beliefs into treatment.

How to Stop Alcohol Abuse Among Native Americans

The issue of alcohol abuse among Native Americans is a complex and multifaceted problem with historical, social, cultural, and economic roots. However, there are some steps that can be taken to address this issue:10

  • Increasing access to culturally appropriate treatment
  • Address underlying social and economic issues
  • Increase awareness and education
  • Strengthen policies and enforcement
  • Supporting community-led initiatives
  • Addressing historical trauma

How to Find Treatment Centers for Native Americans Near Me?

Alcohol use is a significant public health concern for Native American communities. They have higher rates of alcohol-related deaths compared to other ethnic groups. Excessive alcohol consumption also contributes to a range of health issues, such as liver disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.2

Seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder at any stage is crucial for Native Americans as it can improve their quality of life and reduce the risk of health complications. However, accessing alcohol treatment services can be challenging for Native Americans due to factors such as cultural differences, language barriers, and geographic isolation.

There are specific alcohol addiction recovery programs available for Native American communities that take into account their unique cultural, historical, and social factors related to substance abuse. The government offers resources like FindTreatment, National Helpline, and SAMHSA facility locator to help people find treatment options easily. 

American Addiction Centers is a widely recognized substance abuse treatment provider with locations across the United States. They offer personalized care and support for individuals seeking recovery, and their dedicated helpline can assist with insurance verification, the admissions process, as well as information regarding the costs of treatment. However, it’s important to note that Native American communities may benefit from programs that specifically cater to their cultural and social needs.

Frequently Asked Questions