Myths About Alcohol Addiction in Native Americans

The words alcoholism and addiction are laced thick with stereotype and myth. Those who suffer from this brain disease feel the impact of stigma on a daily basis. Highly marginalized, many suffer too long without reaching out for help because of the fear of being misunderstood and unfairly labeled. Even in recovery when healing is taking place, individuals and families often hide their membership in the community of recovery from others due to not wanting to face harsh judgment.

For many, the marginalization of suffering from addiction is only part of the stigma and stereotype people face. Often, those who suffer from addiction are members of other marginalized groups based on several socioeconomic, cultural, and psychological factors. The journey of recovery is difficult enough without also being marginalized and misunderstood. We, in the medical and mental health professions as well as society as a whole, can learn much from the journey of those in recovery who not only suffer from addiction but who also experience multiple layers of marginalization and find healing anyway.

In a recent study entitled, “Alcohol Use Among Native Americans Compared to Whites,” researchers Cunningham, Solomon, and Muramoto (2016) found that NA’s had a lower rate of drinking compared to whites. Their findings are revealing, to say the least. To reach their conclusions, they studied a number of recent government surveys assessing prevalence of use on the continuum from abstinence to excessive/severe use. Surveys utilized for the study included the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH; 2014), the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS; 2014), and other indicators. Upon examining the National Survey on Drug Use and Health they found the following:

  • 60% of Native Americans abstained from using alcohol altogether compared to 43% of whites.
  • Almost 15% of Native Americans were light/moderate drinkers compared to almost 33% of whites.
  • Native American binge drinking estimates were 17.3% similar to their white counterparts — 16.7%.
  • Heavy Drinking was also similar with Native Americans at 8.3% and whites at 7.5%.

These results were further confirmed by the Behavior Risk Factor Survey.

As the numbers comparing Native Americans and Whites provide evidence for, addiction impacts individuals, families, and communities at an epidemic rate regardless of age, gender, race, culture, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, etc. The truth is approximately 10% of the population 12 years and older meet the criteria for intensive substance use treatment and most likely suffer from the brain disease of alcoholism/addiction (NIDA).

Native American addiction treatment models described later in the article…

Leave a Reply