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Alcoholism Among Native Americans

While alcoholism can affect anyone, it tends to follow certain economic and ethnic groups. Many people start drinking at various stages of life, such as teen or college years when partying is more a priority, those who are middle-aged and over-workd, and elderly who may be depressed and lonely. Alcoholism also tends to run in families; a son influenced by his alcoholic father may grow up to be an alcoholic himself.

1-in-10 Native American deaths is alcohol-related

Certain ethnic groups though, like Native Americans, experience alcoholism on an even wider level. Their rate of alcoholism is much higher than the rest of the population — 1-in-10, or nearly 12% Native American deaths are alcohol-related, and nearly 12% of Native American deaths are alcohol-related. Traffic accidents and alcoholic liver disease are the most frequent alcohol-related deaths, along with homicide and suicide.

Native Americans were first introduced to alcohol by the European settlers and traders. Alcohol was often traded for Native American goods, and possibly used to relax the Native Americans in order to receive a better trade. The newness of the substance had a great influence on the Native American culture. But over the years, research has shown that alcohol’s effects on this culture are also due to genetics.

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From a genetic standpoint, certain ethnic groups have a gene mutation that causes adverse reactions to drinking large amounts of alcohol. Groups that possess this “protective gene” include Chinese and Japanese populations, causing them to feel rapid heartbeat, headache, nausea and extreme drowsiness. Other groups, including Native Americans, do not possess this gene mutation, consequently reducing the side effects of heavy drinking.

The cultural clash has led to instilled problems

The combination of genetics and the environment is what determines whether or not someone will be an alcoholic. Given the genetic tendencies of Native Americans toward alcoholism, cultural influences must also be measured. When European settlers moved into Native American land and caused their decline, the Native American culture became that of an oppressed society. The cultural clash that still exists today between Native Americans and the dominant society around them has led to conflict and depression in the Native American culture.

In cultures that are seemingly at a standstill in breaking free from alcoholism, there is still hope. Programs run by Native Americans themselves create optimism for the future. Prevention techniques and education are key, as well as studying the Native American culture and history. Younger individuals will benefit from learning more about their heritage and taking pride in their culture so they can work towards preserving their futures.


Fighting Alcohol and Substance Abuse among American Indian and Alaskan Native Youth. ERIC Digest. 

Genetic Influences on Alcohol Drinking and Alcoholism

1-in-10 Native American deaths alcohol related

Alcohol among Native Americans

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