Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse in native communities has become a serious cause for concern that requires immediate attention and solutions. In the 1950s, many Alaska Natives were introduced to alcohol, and it rapidly turned out to be an incapacitating and fatal reality. Furthermore, these negative societal patterns were clearly observable throughout the 1980s. It is clear that drug and alcohol abuse will go on destroying the lives of numerous Alaska Natives unless these Natives can be shown how to and encouraged to focus on and actively choose more positive options for their destructive behavioral patterns and lifestyles.

In spite of the fact that Minto has a “dry” status, meaning that the sale and the importation of alcohol are illegal, the youth of the Minto community clearly look as if they are the greatest risk to the subtle but destructive appeal of alcohol. Quite understandably, the Minto community leaders are concerned and on their guard about the negative impact that alcohol abuse and alcoholism will have on the future of their culture, their people, and their homeland.

The Cherokee people settled in Oklahoma more than 150 years ago after the federal government required them to leave their native home in North Carolina. Currently, more than 65,000 Cherokee people reside in the rural areas and towns in northeastern Oklahoma.  Due to the fact that more than one-third of the population is 17 years old or younger, this group of Cherokee people is considered a young population.  The Cherokee youth, compared with similarly aged white youth, however, are experiencing higher rates of cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco abuse.

Statistics for Native American adults have demonstrated that substance abuse is associated with serious physical injury, police calls, and child neglect and abuse.  For example, the Tribal Child Protective Services of the Cherokee Nation recently reported that 39% of their total caseload points to substance abuse as a major contributing factor associated with the aforementioned community problems.

Data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse in 1989 showed that approximately 50% of all American adolescents had used alcohol compared with approximately 80% of American Indian and Alaskan Native youth.  The upshot of this is that early experimentation with alcohol and drugs places Native youth, in particular, at risk for serious health, relationship, and community problems down the road.

The following describes some of the alcohol abuse facts and issues among native Indians:

  • Alcohol and drug abuses are community and family problems among Indians. This abuse harms all tribal members, including the abuser and his/her family, friends, and associates.
  • The negative consequences of alcohol and substance abuse in Indian communities are mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional.
  • In Indian communities, alcoholism is a multi-generational phenomenon. Currently, alcohol dependence is negatively affecting three or four generations and will affect most certainly affect future generations.
  • Alcoholism in Indian communities is the tip of the iceberg. That is, alcohol dependence sits on top of a huge mass of other underlying problems.

Alcohol dependency frequently co-exists in Indian communities with other problems such as stress-related acting out, cultural shame, depression, and self-hate.