HomeAmericaNative American Alcohol Assumptions are Misleading

There is no doubt that if you asked the average American which ethnic group were the biggest drinkers many would suggest the Native Americans.  In fact, this perception has stood over many decades leading to a stereotype of the ‘drunken Indian’ in the media, films and public thought.   This perception has even be known to affect the life chances of a native American in employment and career advancements.

The reality is that this perception has little truth about it, most studies found that native American groups drink no more than other sectors of society.  It’s not easy to debunk this myth without large scale studies which haven’t really taken place particularly against total populations.

Yet some larger studies are taking place now and the results are surprising.  One of the studies found that after adjusting for various social factors 19% of whites and NAtive Americans were classified as binge drinkers.  The study also found that around 8.3% of native Americans and 7.5 % of whites were sustained binge drinkers – one classification of alcohol dependency.   As can be seen there is very little difference in the levels between whites and native Americans.

Furthermore the study actually looked at how many people were teetotal during the previous month and it found that almost 60% of Native Americans abstained compared with 43% of whites.  One of the suggested reasons of the perceptions may be due to health disparities – often Native American societies have less access to health care and support than white groups.  It may be that native Americans suffer more consequences for drinking too much than white Americans do purely due to lack of support.

For instance it is known that many native American groups have much less access to alcohol treatment and advice particularly in remoter areas.  Often treatment is old fashioned and focused on things like enforced abstinence such as AA groups.  It is often difficult for native Americans to access these resources.

One researcher suggested that Native American groups were missing out both on support and the latest developments in alcohol treatments.  For example one pioneering method based on a drug called nalmefene has proven to very successful in treating alcoholism in white racial groups, yet is almost completely unknown in native American groups.

The drug works by blocking the release of endorphins into the brain when alcohol is taken.  This is supposed to slowly deprogramme the brain from it’s association with alcohol and pleasure which causes over indulgence.  It’s reported success rates in clinical trials of nearly 80 yet is very difficult to access for certain sectors of the population.  In the UK for example you can obtain the drug on prescription from a pharmacy  under the name Selincro.

The reality is that alcoholism is a problem for most sectors of modern society and treatment should be offered irrespective of culture or racial groups.  It is important that the treatment offered is effective and that cultural traditions should be respected.  For example there is a strong religious aspect to AA which although not compulsory can deter many sectors of society who need treatment.

Jon Gladwin