Consequences of Alcoholism in Native Americans

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Native American Youth

The consequences of alcoholism in Native Americans include both general issues that apply to all Americans and some specific issues that are more pertinent to Native Americans alone.

Alcoholism Consequences Don't Discriminate

The consequences of alcoholism in Native Americans are serious, but many consequences aren't unique to this group. Alcohol abuse is dangerous no matter how you look at it or who you are.

Alcohol Hurts the Body

  • The body's central nervous system suffers decreased function due to alcohol sedation. Although alcohol makes an individual feel euphoric; alcohol is technically a sedative. Some affects include decreased brain function such as mood, attention, cognition, judgment and memory altercation in a negative direction.
  • Heavy alcohol drinkers have decreased REM sleep which can lead to nightmares.
  • Alcohol is such a depressant that it can cause clinical depression which can lead to feeling of anxiety, major sadness, increased tiredness, and even death.
  • Seriously heavy drinking abuse will eventually lead to medical issues such as malnutrition, breakdown of organ systems, vitamin deficiency, dehydration, liver cirrhosis, anemia, brain damage, and heart damage - to name a few.
  • Once an individual is dependent on alcohol, his/her odds of dependency on all other addictions increases.

The Social Impact of Alcohol

There are so many social impacts of drinking it would be hard to cover them all. Here are two of the most prevalent issues in the U.S. among Native Americans:

  • Violence is far more common in households where alcohol is abused. Alcohol use increases reports of domestic violence and child abuse as well as maladaptive behaviors. Strangely, research shows that abuse and violence aren't actually caused by alcohol - meaning a bottle of liquor technically can't make someone violent. What research shows is that when people believe that alcohol removes inhibition. Thus, they feel violence with alcohol use is rationalized.
  • Traffic dangers such as drinking and driving are of course, a well-known issue of alcohol abuse. One set of government statistics shows that in 2004 there were 16,919 auto accident fatalities where alcohol was involved; or 39.5 percent of all auto fatalities in the U.S.

Specific Consequences of Alcoholism in Native Americans

A recent U.S. study showed that over half of Americans will have alcohol abuse issues at some point in their life. However, when you start breaking down cultures you see different numbers. The term 'Native American individuals' can refer to Alaska Native, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian tribes. In all, there are more than 550 recognized tribes in the U.S. Each is unique, but one commonality of many tribes is a shorter life expectancy than U.S individuals on average. That's partly due to a prevalent alcohol abuse issue.

According to research presented in the April 2006 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, Native Americans have ten top causes of death and half of them are alcohol related. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver ran the study and it showed a clearly disproportionate amount of Native American deaths due to alcoholism issues like liver cirrhosis, homicide, and suicide. The final count places Native Americans at three to four times higher than the national average to die from alcohol related issues.

One Large Consequence of Native American Drinking

Obviously all consequences of alcoholism in Native Americans have a negative impact on individuals, families, and communities but there is one large consequence that is extremely problematic for numerous reasons.

Native Americans are far more likely to experience fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) births. To put it in perspective the national average for FAS is about 0.6 per 1000 births. The average for Native Americans is anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5. If you look at just Alaska Native individuals, the number raises to 5.6 FAS births per 100. That is extremely high.

Of course, drinking is the cause of FAS. However, the U.S Department of Health & Human Services offers some ideas about the factors behind why FAS is so common among Native Americans. For example:

  • Poverty and inadequate access to health care.
  • The legacy of trauma is a debated point; i.e. Native Americans faced heavy turmoil in the past but can that account for the need to drink now? Some research believes yes and others no; but it is something to consider.
  • A higher percentage of youth than adults make up most tribes. Youth tend to try risk taking behaviors such as drinking more often.

Problems of FAS

Health wise, most FAS babies have physical, mental, and developmental delays and disabilities. Some babies are born with very severe health implications. This also causes extra stress on Native American families which may be a cycle into more drinking. Cost wise FAS babies require far more care and financial obligations for their entire life than a normally healthy baby does.

Resources for Help and Prevention

Native American individuals don't have to face the consequences of drinking. There are in fact tribes in the U.S. that don't drink at all. Still, it is a serious issue for many Native Americans and their families. If you need help or want to help another individual contact one of the following resources:

Consequences of Alcoholism in Native Americans