Substance Abuse in Native Populations

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Alcoholism and drug abuse are things that I grew up within my family. My grandparents smoked, my mother and father smoked along with many other family members, many of which started before they hit Oregon’s previous smoking legal age of eighteen. I haven’t lived with my father in a long time, but what I remember from when he did live with me was that he was drunk. A lot. It wasn’t just him either. His parents drank a lot, and so did their parents along with many of my tribal family members. I didn’t grow up on the reservation, or with my tribal family, but I do know that many families are like mine in my tribal community. I don’t want you to read this and automatically assume that all Native Americans are alcoholics and they all use drugs and smoke, because that’s just not the case. Alcoholism is prevalent in all races and ethnicities, but is higher in White and Native American/Alaskan Native communities. With the current US population, 74.27 percent of white males and 65.10 percent of white females drink. Native Americans/Alaskan Natives aren’t too far behind though (Chartier and Caetano). 65.48 percent of Native males and 51.66 of Native females drink (Chartier and Caetano).

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The percent of weekly and daily heavy drinkers is higher in Native men and women than it is in any other ethnicity or race. Native population is a very small percentage of the US population, it being 0.9 percent of the overall United States population. That is 2.9 million Alaskan Natives/American Natives. 32 percent of that population is under the age of 18 (National Congress of American Indians). The Native youth attribute a lot to the stable percentage of alcohol use in Native communities. Native youth have the highest rates of alcohol use disorders. In a school-based survey in 1993, 71 percent of Indian youth from grades 7 to 12 reported having ever used alcohol, and 55 percent reported having ever been drunk. This is a large percentage, especially since the consumption of alcohol in Native youth has stayed relatively the same since 1975 (Beauvais).

There are many factors that can lead to, or have lead to the numbers of alcoholism cases in Native populations. Some of these factors include; genetic influences, generational trauma, social and cultural influences, attitudes, poverty, cultural dissociation, oppression and mental illness (Bentley/Beauvais). There are many other factors that can contribute to alcoholism, not just the few that I listed. Some factors that I would really like to dive in to is the generational trauma and genetic influences when it comes to alcoholism in the Native community. A quote from Andrew Bentley’s article Alcohol: It’s Different for Native Americans that stood out to me was, Often, what people forget about alcohol dependency in Indian Country is that it’s different for Native Americans than other ethnicities (Bentley). Alcohol is relatively new for Native Americans, and they have a long and difficult history with it (Bentley). Before colonization, very few tribes had alcohol. The few tribes that had alcohol only had weak beers that had a very low alcohol content(Insert Source 6).

The beers were typically used for none other than ceremonial purposes. For them, there was no known way of making the beers stronger like the beers and other alcoholic beverages brought to the US by colonization. Europeans would use the alcohol as items for trade. They would trade it with the Natives for furs and other items that the Natives had and the colonizers did not. Europeans made a huge profit off tribal members. Alcohol runs out, they weren’t given an endless supply, so tribal members would go back to the colonizers bringing furs and other goods and delicacies with them to trade in for alcohol. This is what started the drinking style called binge drinking (Beauvais). This newly found dependency on alcohol for Native Americans grew and grew. The colonizers began to punish the Natives for the behavior caused by the alcohol, but the tribal members weren’t acting any differently than any of the colonizers. It didn’t stop natives from drinking, though. The drinking has been passed down for generations and generations. Genetics account for 50 to 60 percent of the risk for alcoholism among men (Beauvais).

There are many Native programs in place to help prevent alcoholism in the communities. One program that is in place and is a huge help to Native community members is The Indian Health Service or IHS. A program that branches out of the IHS is The Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program. The Alcohol and Substance Abuse Programs (also known as ASAP) mission is, to reduce the incidence and prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse among the American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) population to a level that is at or below the general U.S. population ( ASAP is a tribally operated program that opens up resources for children and adults to help prevent alcoholism and provide support for people and their families who may struggle with alcoholism. On their webpage they provide numerous resources along with a confidential, 24-hour, 365 day, hotline for those who are seeking help. Aside from these Native programs, there are other programs like AAA and Detox/Rehab programs in all communities that have been set in place to help with the alcoholism issue that we have in all communities, not just the Native community. The generalizations and stereotypes for Native people are that we are all poor, we live in isolated communities, we are given government handouts and that we are all a bunch of drunks.

Alcoholism isn’t something that affects one race or one community of people. It is something that is felt by all communities. Every race, every ethnicity and every gender. As I said earlier, alcohol and alcoholism is something that is relatively new for the Native people, we have a long a dark history with it, and it is something that I feel is very prevalent in all Native communities. It is something that should be fixed, and the history of it, no matter how dark, shouldn’t be kept from the community. It should be taught so we can learn from our ancestors and prevent the next generations from taking the wrong path.


  1. Alcohol and Native Americans. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Nov. 2018,
  2. Beauvais, Fred. American Indians and Alcohol.
  3. Bentley, Andrew. Alcohol: It’s Different for Native Americans « Native American / American Indian Blog by Partnership With Native Americans. Native American / American Indian Blog by Partnership With Native Americans, 2013,
  4. Chartier, Karen, and Raul Caetano. Ethnicity and Health Disparities in Alcohol Research. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
  5. National Congress of American Indians. Demographics. Tribal Governance | NCAI, Riley, Naomi Schaefer. To Solve Alcoholism, Native Americans Must Look inside Reservations. USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 18 May 201 , south-dakota-indian-liquor-alcoholism-column/101484586/.
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Substance Abuse In Native Populations. (2019, Aug 16). Retrieved February 9, 2023 , from

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