Alcohol and Native Americans

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Native Americans in the United States have historically had extreme difficulty with the use of alcohol.[1] Problems continue among contemporary Native Americans; 12% of the deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives are alcohol-related. Use of alcohol varies by age, gender and tribe with women, and older women in particular, being least likely to be regular drinkers. Native Americans, particularly women, are more likely to abstain entirely from alcohol than the general US population. Frequency of use among American Indians is generally less than the general population, but the quantity consumed when it is consumed is generally greater.[2]

A survey of death certificates over a four-year period showed that deaths among Native Americans due to alcohol are about four times as common as in the general US population and are often due to traffic collisions and liver disease with homicide, suicide, and falls also contributing. Deaths due to alcohol among American Indians are more common in men and among Northern Plains Indians. Alaska Natives showed the least incidence of death.[3] Alcohol abuse by Native Americans has been shown to be associated with development of disease, including sprains and muscle strains, hearing and vision problems, kidney and bladder problems, head injuries, pneumonia, tuberculosis, dental problems, liver problems, and pancreatitis.[4] In some tribes, the rate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is as high as 1.5 to 2.5 per 1000 live births, more than seven times the national average,[5] while among Alaska natives, the rate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is 5.6 per 1000 live births.[6]

Native American youth are far more likely to experiment with alcohol than other youth with 80% alcohol use reported. Low self-esteem is thought to be one cause. Active efforts are underway to build self-esteem among youth and to combat alcoholism among American Indians.[7]

Contributing factors[edit]

It has been found that the incidence of alcohol abuse varies with gender, age, and tribal culture and history.[8] While little detailed genetic research has been done, it has been shown that alcoholism tends to run in families with possible involvement of differences in alcohol metabolism and the genotype of alcohol-metabolizing enzymes.[9] There is no evidence, however, that these genetic factors are more prevalent in Native Americans than other ethnic groups.[10] According to one 2013 review of academic literature on the issue, there is a "substantial genetic component in Native Americans" but that these factors are "similar in kind and in magnitude to the genetic influences contributing to the liability for these phenotypes in other ethnic groups." [11]

Binge drinking[edit]

Anastasia M. Shkilnyk who conducted an observational study of the Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation of Northwestern Ontario in the late 1970s when they were demoralized by Ontario Minamata disease has observed that heavy Native American drinkers may not be physiologically dependent on alcohol, but abuse it by engaging in binge drinking, a practice associated with child neglect, violence, and impoverishment.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hyde, George E. (1974). The Pawnee Indians (Revised ed.). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 200. ISBN 0-8061-2094-0. 
  2. ^ Beals J, Spicer P, Mitchell CM; et al. (October 2003). "Racial disparities in alcohol use: comparison of 2 American Indian reservation populations with national data". Am J Public Health 93 (10): 1683–5. doi:10.2105/AJPH.93.10.1683. PMC 1448033. PMID 14534221. 
  3. ^ "Study: 12 percent of Indian deaths due to alcohol" Associated Press article by Mary Clare Jalonick Washington, D.C. (AP) 9-08 News From Indian Country accessed October 7, 2009
  4. ^ "American Indians with alcohol problems have more medical conditions" Jay Shore, M.D., M.P.H., University of Colorado Health Sciences Center March 26, 2006, accessed October 7, 2009
  5. ^ "Fetal alcohol syndrome–Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, and New York, 1995-1997". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 51 (20): 433–5. 2003. 
  6. ^ "Health problems in American Indian/Alaska Native women". National Women's Health & Information. 
  7. ^ "Fighting Alcohol and Substance Abuse among American Indian and Alaskan Native Youth. ERIC Digest."
  8. ^ Krause, Traci M (Fall 1998). "A potential model of factors influencing alcoholism in American Indians". Journal of Multicultural Nursing & Health. Psychosocial Factors 
  9. ^ Krause, Traci M (Fall 1998). "A potential model of factors influencing alcoholism in American Indians". Journal of Multicultural Nursing & Health. Genetic factors 
  10. ^ Caetano, Raul, Catherine L. Clark, and Tammy Tam. "Alcohol consumption among racial/ethnic minorities." Alcohol health and research world 22.4 (1998): 233-241.
  11. ^ Ehlers, Cindy L., and Ian R. Gizer. “Evidence for a Genetic Component for Substance Dependence in Native Americans”. American Journal of Psychiatry 2013 170:2 , 154-164. Web. Dec. 4, 2014. <>
  12. ^ Anestasia M. Shkilnyk (March 11, 1985). A Poison Stronger than Love: The Destruction of an Ojibwa Community (trade paperback). Yale University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0300033257.