Native American Community: Problems with Substance Abuse

Native American Community: Problems with Substance Abuse

Abstract

The Native American community has experienced a lot of trauma throughout their history.  The past experiences continue to impact the generations today.  Along with historic trauma, the community has experienced a lot of problems with substance abuse where the main concern is alcohol.  Native American communities have many risk factors that contribute to the trouble with substance abuse; however, there are a handful of ways that the communities have found the ability to overcome and be resilient.  Substance abuse is a struggle for individuals and could be even harder for whole communities because it becomes normalized.  Although the community has found many ways to be resilient, there are other supports that could also be helpful. .

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Native American Community: Problems with Substance Abuse

        Any amount of trauma is an event that can lead to lifelong struggles, and it is something that is familiar to the Native American community.  Historical trauma has been the root of many issues within the population, and it has made substance abuse a problem for many generations.  While substance abuse is something that is hard to deal with, there are ways that the community can get the proper help that they need.  Although help is possible, it is crucial that those who help know how the risk factors can impact the process.  Resiliency is promoted when the community is together and can offer support to one another, and it is important to also provide more supports to ease the impact of substance abuse. 

Background

Substance abuse impacts cultures and people all around the globe.  The Native American community has experienced many hardships, and alcohol has been used as a coping method.  Although it has been a way to numb memories, it was also normalized for generations as it become more frequently used and introduced in the community.  Resiliency has been a key factor in the healing process of the Native American community.  However, being resilient is not enough to end the generational cycles of substance abuse.  It is important that the population gets the help that they need, but it also important that they are able to bring the past struggles to the present to promote healing.

Issues of Prevalence

        Substance abuse in the Native American community is a prevalent issue that has many consequences.  In the past, alcohol usage has been a problem for this community, and it continues to be in the modern Native American communities (Cunningham, Solomon, & Murmoto, 2016).  The abuse of alcohol has been one of the leading causes of death and other threatening diseases within the Native American communities, which highlights the importance of giving the population the proper help that they need.  There are a variety of reasons why a person would resort to alcohol as a coping method, and it is thought that it is used in the Native American community as a way to numb themselves from the trauma that has been experienced and the discrimination that they are still facing (Myhra, 2011).  Substance abuse is a widespread concern in the Native American population, and it needs to be addressed.  Many substance abuse disorders for this community have a serious lack of service, and issues with alcohol often come with many stigmas (Hasin, Kerridge, Saha, Huang, Pickering, Smith, & Grant, 2016).     

Risk for the Community

        The Native American community has many risk factors when it comes to substance abuse.  Most of the risks come from the past and how it has affected the later generations; however, there are many factors in the present that contribute to the risk.  Historical trauma within the Native American community often leads to resulting in unresolved grief, inability to practice cultural traditions, and feeling oppressed (Brown, Dickerson, D’Amico, 2016).  These are all major risk factors that have affected members of the community in the past, and they continue to impact the community members currently.  The unresolved grief is a large problem for the community because it limits their ability to accept their culture and be proud of who they are.  They also are unable to feel and grieve properly for things that were lost, including family members and traditional practices.  The lack of proper grieving makes it hard for current members of the Native American community to enjoy all aspects of their culture.  Without culture, there is a lack of identity that contributes to risk within the community. 

        Many risk factors have to do with childhood.  In the past, children were removed from their communities and were moved into places outside of their homes (Brown, Dickerson, D’Amico, 2016).  Moving out of community meant that kids were given to new parents and often felt unloved.  The children also noticed when drinking increased, which led to them using different substances to cope at an early point in life (Patterson, Adely, Duran, Dulmus, & Manning, 2014).  This early start of substance abuse made it harder to break the habit as time goes on.  Removing kids from their community takes away the chance of forming family bonds, which is an important part of eliminating risk factors (Brown, Dickerson, & D’Amico, 2016).  Being taken away from their own families and being introduced to alcohol early makes it hard for cycles to break and can make it hard for subsequent generations (Myhra, 2011).  There are many risk factors within the Native American community when it comes to substance abuse.  Most of these factors stem from the past and have a continuing presence in the community.     

Resiliency in the Community

        Despite the many risk factors, there are a few ways that the community finds resilience; most of these ways revolve around culture and the community that is found within a culture.  One of the most effective ways is the restoration of cultural and spiritual practices.  These practices can promote proper grieving for past and present losses (Debruyn, 1998).  Being able to grieve allows room for acceptance of the past and a path toward change in the future.  One of the main reasons that substance abuse occurs is because of the shame that is felt about their culture, which takes away from personal identity.  Activities like reconnecting with family and community can provide a space for support and motivation.  Seeing other people who are making progress with substance abuse problems can be inspiring to others who are struggling (Myhra, 2011).  Resiliency can be hard, especially when it comes to addiction; however, events like traditional practices can provide healing.  Promoting a stronger sense of community and culture can help distance the desire to use substances.  With a solid bond between community members, it can be easier to share stories of loss and grief.  Hearing and sharing other narratives can help lift the weight of the past because of the verbal confessions and emotional catharses.  Counseling sessions are a way that the community can go about this.  Having time to talk with community members can help with getting treatment and healing (Patterson, Adely, Duran, Dulmus, & Manning, 2014).  Regaining many of the lost cultural pieces supports the healing and resilience in the Native American communities.        

Treatment for Substance Abuse within Native American Community

        Getting treatment is important, but it is even more important that the Native American community gets proper treatment that can promote healing.  One of the most promising ideas for treatments is fostering appreciation for the culture.  This can be done a number of ways, and incorporating and bringing back traditional ceremonies is an effective way.  Having customary practices back in place gives the community a way to start healing through appreciation of their culture and the ability to talk about shared pain (Brown, Dickerson, & D’Amico, 2016).  With the growth of appreciating culture and restoration of many traditions, it is also important to create new practices.  Issues with substance abuse has been plaguing this population for a long time, so it is important that they are able to create new community goals that can help combat temptations, like using alcohol as a coping method (Myhra, 2011). 

Working toward sobriety can be hard, but with the support of a community, there are ways that it is achievable.  The Native American population could take advantage of their group dynamic by introducing activities that would encourage healthier choices (Brown, Dickerson, & D’Amico, 2016).  Activities that endorse beneficial lifestyle changes could be put to use on weekends or celebrations when the urge to use alcohol might be stronger.  Doing this would help all members of the community who are struggling with substance abuse, but it would also be a great way to be role models for younger generations and discourage the use of alcohol as a method of managing stress.  Encouraging community groups to interact with one another is important because many of the youths have felt disconnected from their culture, which causes a delayed interest in traditions.

Another treatment path that would be beneficial is the practice of brining the past to the present.  This may be hard for many community members because the past has been filled with many traumatic experiences, which have been passed down over the years (Brown, Dickerson, & D’Amico, 2016).  However, being able to talk about the past can help bring a sense of healing (Patterson, Adely, Duran, Dulmus, & Manning, 2014).  It is important that the group does not feel that the past is a reflection of themselves.  The Native American community has experienced years of shame for their culture, which is damaging.  Being able to recognize that as historical oppression is crucial because it takes away the sense of personal failure. 

Conclusion

The Native American community has had many struggles in their past that continue to affect their lives today.  Substance abuse is a heavy outcome of the historic trauma that the population has experienced.  Because of the harsh treatment in the past, the group of people have many risk factors that make using alcohol an easy way to cope with the past.  Despite having gone through many hardships and being normalized to the use of alcohol, there are ways that the Native American community can slowly recover.  Focusing on resiliency is a part of the process, and there are specific ways that can facilitate healing.  

Works Cited

  1. Brown, R. A., Dickerson, D. L., & D’Amico, E. J. (2016). Cultural Identity Among Urban
  2. American Indian/Alaska Native Youth: Implications for Alcohol and Drug Use.Prevention Science,17(7), 852-861. doi:10.1007/s11121-016-0680-1
  3. Cunningham, J. K., Solomon, T. A., & Muramoto, M. L. (2016). Alcohol use among Native
  4. Americans compared to whites: Examining the veracity of the ‘Native American elevated alcohol consumption’ belief.Drug and Alcohol Dependence,160, 65-75. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.12.015
  5. Patterson Silver Wolf, David., Adelv Unegv, Duran, B., Dulmus, C. N., & Manning, A. R.
  6. (2014). Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention as Standard Practice: Working with the American Indian/Native Alaskan Populations.Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment,24(3), 399-407. doi:10.1080/10911359.2014.875340
  7. Hasin, D. S., Kerridge, B. T., Saha, T. D., Huang, B., Pickering, R., Smith, S. M., . . . Grant, B.
  8. (2016). Prevalence and Correlates of DSM-5 Cannabis Use Disorder, 2012-2013: Findings from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions–III.American Journal of Psychiatry,173(6), 588-599. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.15070907
  9. (2011). “It Runs in the Family”: Intergenerational Transmission of Historical Trauma
  10. among Urban American Indians and Alaska Natives in Culturally Specific Sobriety Maintenance Programs.American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research,18(2), 17-40. doi:10.5820/aian.1802.2011.17
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