Native Americans and Alcoholism
Native Americans in the United States historically have had extreme trouble with the use of alcohol. Although tribes vary with use of alcohol and drugs, the U.S. Indian Health Service states that alcohol, tobacco and drug dependence as one of the most urgent health problems facing Native Americans. (U.S. Indian Health Service, 2009) Studies in the U.S, show that related to other U.S. ethnic groups Native Americans have the greatest rates of alcohol and other dependencies. (Compton, Thomas, Stinson, Grant. 2007) In the tribal groups studied during their life rates of alcohol dependence have been reported as 20%–70% (Robin, Long, Rasmusse, Albaugh, Goldman. 1998) greater than the rate of DSM-IV alcohol dependence of 13% in the U.S. general population (Compton, Thomas, Stinson, Grant 2007) In comparison to all other racial groups, Native American adults have greater risk of facing feelings of psychological pain and have poorer overall physical and mental health and unmet medical and psychological needs (Barnes, Adams, & Powell-Griner, 2010). Suicide rates for Native American adults and youth are above the national average, with suicide being the second leading cause of death for Native Americans from 10–34 years of age (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2008). There are about 566 federally recognized tribes located in 35 states, and 60% of Native Americans in the United States reside in urban areas (Indian Health Services, 2009), there is great diversity within the Native American population. The causes for increased rates of alcohol and drug dependence in Native Americans are thought to be social environmental and biological.
Native Americans History with Alcohol
Before the settlement of the colonists, alcohol use and production mainly happened in the southwestern United States. Some tribes made weak beers, wine and other fermented beverages, but they had low alcohol concentrations (8%-14%) and these beverages were only used for ceremonial purposes. Native Americans were unaware of the distillation techniques to make stronger, potent forms of alcohol. There are many records showing that Mexican Native Americans made over forty different alcoholic beverages from a variety of plant materials, such as honey, palm sap, wild plum, and pineapple. (Frank, Moore & Ames 2000) In the Southwestern U.S., the Papago, Piman, Apache and Maricopa tribes used saguaro cactus to produce wine, called haren a pitahaya. In Texas, Coahuiltecan, joined mountain laurel with Agave plant to make an alcoholic drink, and the Pueblos and Zunis were thought to have made fermented beverages from aloe, maguey, corn, prickly pear, pitahaya and even grapes. (Frank, Moore & Ames 2000) In the eastern United States, the Creek of Georgia and Cherokee of the Carolinas used berries and other fruits to make alcoholic beverages, and in the Northeast, there is indication that the Huron made a mild beer made from corn. (Frank, Moore & Ames 2000) In addition, even though they had little to no agriculture, both the Aleuts and Yuit of Alaska were believed to have made alcoholic drinks from fermented berries. (Frank, Moore & Ames 2000)
With the settlement of the colonist came the production of large amounts of distilled spirits and wine. This happening all at once gave the tribes a very short amount of time to acclimate and chance social, legal, or moral guidelines to monitor alcohol use. (Beauvais, 1998) The colonist built a large demand for alcohol by using for trade. They used it in exchange for highly sought-after animal skins and other materials and resources. (McPherson, Kevin, & Wakefield, 2015) Traders also found out that providing free alcohol to the Native Americans during trading sessions made the likelihood of trading much higher. (Beauvais, 1998) High levels of intoxication was common among the colonists, but not to the native populations at the time. Many historical accounts show very violent episodes of drinking among native tribes during trading sessions and on other occasions. Throughout history it continues past the early colonial era and remained as the land was colonized from east to west. (Coyhis, Don, William & White, 2002) The lack of exposure to alcohol, then providing it all at once may have created the pathway for the occurrence of alcohol abuse in the Native American populations. Early demand, with no regulation and strong encouragement, may have also caused to a heavy alcohol use. (Coyhis, Don, and William L. White, 2002) From here it was then passed down from generation to generation, creating a familial and cultural problem that resulted in the current high level of alcohol-related problems.
Early social theories suggested that Native American alcohol use and abuse was a result of loss of their lands, cultures roots, merging of their culture with the colonist. (Levy & Kunitz, 1974) There is also the threat of a loss of their cultural identity due to interracial marriages and the large number of young Native Americans who are leaving the territories of the Indian Nations and becoming fully integrated into American culture, leaving the old ways of their cultural history behind. The dialects, traditions and practices that has been the foundation of the Native American culture for thousands of years are now being substituted in each generation. The old customs are being replaced by American culture, religion, the English language and a national educational system that doesn’t know about tribal traditions. This leaves very few who practice the customs. The old oral tradition of passing down wisdom from parent to child has gone away. The older generation are afraid that if younger generations continue to not learn about ways of their ancestors, the history of Indian culture will be lost forever. The children who live outside the reservations are often raised in the non-Indian culture and never learn about their other heritage.
Recent studies have shown data that with a connection between alcohol dependence and such factors as individual and past traumas, early age they start drink, struggles to meet every day needs, and sobriety (Whitbeck, Chen, Hoyt, ; Adams. 2004). Reservations have been the home to much of the remaining Native American population. This Native American population once spread across the country but with segregation they are now an oppressed minority. There are 24 million Native Americans remaining, which is a not a lot bearing in mind the population of the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Reservations have isolated Native Americans formed into serious difficulties. They are limit in the ways they were accustomed to to survive and make a living. Farming, hunting and trading were all affected by their new limitations. Their inability to thrive as they had once done led to mass poverty across all the culture. Almost 26% of Native Americans live in poverty compared to 12% for the entire U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Native Americans residing on reservations have double the unemployment rate compared to the rest of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Increased levels of poverty on the reservations and has forced younger generation to leave reservation life behind and move somewhere to earn a better living to be able to provide for their families. Domestic violence, physical and sexual assault are three-and-a-half times greater than the national average on reservation. This doesn’t account for the unreported assaults (Sue & Sue, 2012). Many Native American children are removed from the family due to the high number of violence. This is causing a break down in the family system (Cole 2006). There is large number of Native American children in care of child protective services (Hill, 2008). Less Native Americans have a high school education than the total U.S. population.
Native Americans just like every other race had their own unique genetic makeup. The relation to genetics and alcohol and other drug dependence has been proven in many studies of family, twin, and adoption studies. There are many genes that show relation to alcohol dependency. Other genes also, contribute to psychiatric and metabolic disorders which can also predispose one to alcohol dependency. Native people have always relied on hunting and gathering. This may have led to development of traits that improve genetic fitness, called ‘thrifty’ or ‘fat sparing’ genes. (Ehlers, Wilhelmsen. 2007) There have been studies that suggest the same development of traits may have established a genetic variation that increases the risk for consumption of alcohol and drugs of abuse providing another potential pathway that could give rise to shared genetic influences between these traits. (Ehlers, Wilhelmsen. 2007)
There has been studies that link genes and alcoholism specifically in Native Americans. These studies show that genes affecting risk for substance dependence and related phenotypes, such as body mass index, drug tolerance, EEG patterns and externalizing traits, are present on many chromosome regions seen in all races. (Ehlers, & Gizer. 2013) Substance dependence has a considerable genetic component in Native Americans, similar in the amount that is reported for other races. The high rates of substance dependence seen in tribes is likely a mixture of a lack of genetic protective factors (metabolizing enzymes) in addition to genetically facilitated risk factors (externalizing traits, drive to use, sensitivity/tolerance). (Ehlers, & Gizer. 2013) There is research that shows a connection to chromosomes 4, 15, and 16 and their relations alcohol dependence and consumption. These chromosomes genetic material were present in many Native Americans that were in the studies. (Ehlers, Gilder, Wall, Phillips, Feiler & Wilhelmsen. 2004), To provide proof to the theory that substance dependence may be related to consumptive disorders like obesity, the results of the genetic scan of substance dependence was compared to a genetic scan for body mass index (BMI). This result initial show that the ‘consumption phenotypes’ may share mutual genetic determinants giving a probable explanation for the increased rates of substance dependence and obesity in some Native American populations. (Ehlers, & Gizer. 2013) Another study looked at shared genetic and the prevalence of mental health issues in Native Americans (Ehlers, Gilder, Slutske, Lind. & Wilhelmsen. 2008). The results of other study showed that antisocial personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder/conduct disorder were found to be prevalent in heredity and those dual diagnosed with drug and alcohol dependence, especially with the Native American population. (Ehlers, Gilder, Slutske, Lind. & Wilhelmsen. 2008). There are also genes that has been identified that are related to person’s sensitivity to alcohol. A lowered sensitivity to alcohol has been proven to be an inherited and it influences the possibility of drinking. It also played a part the predisposition for developing alcoholism. (Schuckit MA, Smith TL. 1996). A study showed participants with at least 50% Native American heritage reported less intense effects of alcohol than did those with less than 50% Native American heritage, even though they had the same blood alcohol concentrations 14. The genes that are responsible alcohol metabolism also cause alcohol misuse disorders. The genes have been studied many different times, in many different ethnic populations. The two-aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) genes that are responsible for alcohol metabolism are not present in Native American.
Much of the Native American population has and still is suffering from severe social, environmental and biological factors that increase predisposition in alcoholism in their culture. The historical losses suffered generations ago have resulted in historical loss symptoms being shifted to the current generations of Native Americans. Modern Native Americans are in threat of losing their cultural identity. Several environmental factors also contribute to the higher rates of alcoholism in Native Americans.. Targeting and improving environmental factors could potentially reduce rates of alcoholism dependence. The results of genetics studies showed that there is a genetic influence on substance use, abuse, and dependence in Native American. Additional studies in the genetics of alcoholism in Native Americans are recommended there are not that many done. Professional counselors should incooperated evidence-based practices by applying tribal-specific healing strategies, community support, and approaches that incorporate validation of grief and loss associated with historical traumas (Brave Heart et al., 2011). To be effective professional counselors need to broaden their understanding of this population account for the differences and needs of Native clients receiving services.