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American Indians have historically had extreme difficulty with the use of alcohol. At times Native Americans have made paupers of themselves to obtain alcohol.[1] Problems continue among contemporary Indians with 12% of the deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives being alcohol related. Use of alcohol varies by age, gender and tribe with women, and older women in particular, being least likely to be regular drinkers. Indians, particularly women, are more likely to abstain entirely from alcohol than the general US population. Frequency of use among American Indians is generally less than the general population, but the quantity consumed when it is consumed is generally greater.[2]

A survey of death certificates over a four year period showed that deaths among Indians due to alcohol are about 4 times more common than in the general US population and are often due to traffic collisions and liver disease with homicide, suicide, and falls also contributing. Deaths due to alcohol among American Indians are more common in men and among Northern Plains Indians. Alaska Natives showed the least incidence of death.[3] Alcohol abuse by Indians has been shown to be associated with development of disease, including sprains and muscle strains, hearing and vision problems, kidney and bladder problems, head injuries, pneumonia, tuberculosis, dental problems, liver problems and pancreatitis.[4]

Indian youth are far more likely to experiment with alcohol than mainstream youth with 80% alcohol use reported. Low self-esteem is thought to be one cause. Active efforts are underway to build self-esteem among youth and to combat alcoholism among American Indians.[5]

Genetic factors

While little detailed genetic research has been done, it has been shown that alcoholism tends to run in families with possible involvement of differences in alcohol metabolism and the genotype of alcohol-metabolizing enzymes.[6]

Psychosocial factors

It has been found that incidence of alcohol abuse vary with gender, age, and tribal culture and history.[7]

Environmental factors

Factors related to rural reservation life may be involved, including law enforcement. [8]

In popular culture

Inappropriate focus on American Indian alcoholism can result in application of an ethnic stereotype to all American Indians.[9]

  • In Jack London's White Fang, an American Indian trader is tricked into alcoholism by another tradesman, which eventually takes him of everything he had and he owned, including his skins (the tools of the Indian's trading) and his "dog", the main character of the book.
  • The 2002 movie Skins explores the degrees of alcoholism in Native Americans.

Notes

  1. Hyde, George E. (1974). The Pawnee Indians (Revised ed.). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 200. ISBN 0-8061-2094-0.
  2. Beals J, Spicer P, Mitchell CM, et al. (October 2003). "Racial disparities in alcohol use: comparison of 2 American Indian reservation populations with national data". Am J Public Health 93 (10): 1683–5. PMC 1448033. PMID 14534221. http://www.ajph.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=14534221.
  3. "Study: 12 percent of Indian deaths due to alcohol" Associated Press article by Mary Clare Jalonick Washington, D.C. (AP) 9-08 News From Indian Country accessed October 7, 2009
  4. "American Indians with alcohol problems have more medical conditions" Jay Shore, M.D., M.P.H., University of Colorado Health Sciences Center March 26, 2006, accessed October 7, 2009
  5. "Fighting Alcohol and Substance Abuse among American Indian and Alaskan Native Youth. ERIC Digest."
  6. Krause, Traci M (Fall 1998). "A potential model of factors influencing alcoholism in American Indians". Journal of Multicultural Nursing & Health. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3919/is_199810/ai_n8810819/. "Genetic factors".
  7. Krause, Traci M (Fall 1998). "A potential model of factors influencing alcoholism in American Indians". Journal of Multicultural Nursing & Health. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3919/is_199810/ai_n8810819/. "Psychosocial Factors".
  8. Krause, Traci M (Fall 1998). "A potential model of factors influencing alcoholism in American Indians". Journal of Multicultural Nursing & Health. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3919/is_199810/ai_n8810819/. "Environmental factors".
  9. Beauvais F (2002-01-14). "American Indians and Alcohol". Alcohol Research & Health 22 (4): 253–9. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-4/253.pdf.

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