Alcoholism in the Native American Community

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Alcohol and drugs play a large role in American culture, but before settlers came and occupied what is now the United States, Native Americans have been using substances in rituals for centuries. The use of these substances in rituals had not caused addictive tendencies or widespread problems during this time. Since the loss of their original lands and continued struggle to maintain their culture, alcoholism has become an epidemic in the Native American community.

There are many variables that could be contributing to this issue. Coping with the loss of their way of life can be very emotionally taxing on Native Americans, who then run the risk of consuming alcohol in an unhealthy manner in order to deal with these emotions. The introduction of alcohol to the Native American community long after the rest of the world had established social norms and "rules" for drinking could also contribute to the pervasive mishandling of alcohol by Native Americans. They did not have the same amount of time to find and maintain acceptable behaviors concerning alcohol use, so it is not a different physiological response to alcohol in Native Americans that causes its misuse. The Native American concept of community and sharing has also been seen as a possible explanation for the increased drinking due to social drinking and peer pressure.

Regardless of the explanations people come up with for this epidemic, it must be agreed on that something must be done. Alcoholism has been reported in Native Americans more than any other race, and deaths due to alcohol and alcohol related illnesses in the Native American community are occurring at an alarming rate. In a 2008 study it was found that more than one in ten Native American deaths are alcohol related, compared to 3.3% for the rest of the United States population.

There are many things that the rest of America can do in order to better this issue. The Federal government can work to restore the rich culture of Native American communities in which alcoholism has run rampant by giving more liberties to tribal governments in these areas. This could influence a greater interest in former traditions of their Native American ancestors and take a focus off of coping with an increasingly "Americanized" Native American way of life. Funds can be raised and allotted to these tribal governments in order to treat alcoholism as the disease that it is versus viewing it as just a social problem. A lot of work is necessary, but I am confident that it is possible to make a significant change in the Native American community.


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