Native Americans and Alcoholism
Native Americans in the United States historically has had extreme trouble with the use of alcohol. Although tribes vary with use of alcohol and drugs, the U.S. Indian Health Service has state that alcohol, tobacco and drug dependence as one of the most urgent health problems facing Native Americans. (U.S. Indian Health Service, 1997) Studies in the U.S, show that related to other U.S. ethnic groups Native Americans has the greatest rates of alcohol and other dependencies. (Compton, Thomas, Stinson, Grant. 2007) In the tribal groups studied during the course of their life rates of alcohol dependence have been reported as 20%–70% (Robin, Long, Rasmusse, Albaugh, Goldman D. 1998) greater than the rate of DSM-IV alcohol dependence of 13% in the U.S. general population (Hasin, Stinson, Ogburn, Grant. 2007) The causes for increased rates of alcohol and drug dependence in Native Americans are thought to have both environmental and genetic determinants. 12% of the deaths among Native Americans and Alaska Natives are alcohol-related. Use of alcohol varies by age, gender and tribe with females, and older females in especial, being least probable to be regular drinkers. Native Americans, particularly females, are more probable to refrain completely from alcohol than the general US population..
Native Americans History with Alcohol
Before the settlement of the colonists, alcohol use and production was chiefly focused in the southwestern United States. Some tribes made weak beers, wine and other fermented beverages, but they had low alcohol concentrations (8%-14%) and were only used for ceremonial purposes. Native Americans were unaware of the distillation techniques to make stronger, potent forms of alcohol. There are many records showing that Mexican Native Americans made over forty different alcoholic beverages from a variety of plant materials, such as honey, palm sap, wild plum, and pineapple. (Frank, Moore & Ames 2000) In the Southwestern U.S., the Papago, Piman, Apache and Maricopa tribes used saguaro cactus to produce wine, called haren a pitahaya. In Texas, Coahuiltecan, joined mountain laurel with Agave plant to make an alcoholic drink, and the Pueblos and Zunis were thought to have made fermented beverages from aloe, maguey, corn, prickly pear, pitahaya and even grapes. (Frank, Moore & Ames 2000) In the eastern United States, the Creek of Georgia and Cherokee of the Carolinas used berries and other fruits to make alcoholic beverages, and in the Northeast, there is indication that the Huron made a mild beer made from corn. (Frank, Moore & Ames 2000) In addition, despite the fact that they had little to no agriculture, both the Aleuts and Yuit of Alaska were believed to have made alcoholic drinks from fermented berries. (Frank, Moore & Ames 2000)
With the settlement of the colonist came the production of large amounts of distilled spirits and wine. This happening all at once gave the tribes a very short amount of time to acclimate and chance social, legal, or moral guidelines to monitor alcohol use. (Beauvais, 1998) The colonist built a large demand for alcohol by using for trade. They used it in exchange for highly sought after animal skins and other materials and resources. (McPherson, Kevin, and Peter Wakefield, 2015) Traders also found out that providing free alcohol to the Native Americans during trading sessions made the likelihood of trading much higher. (Beauvais, 1998) High levels of intoxication was common among the colonists, but not to the native populations at the time. Many historical accounts show very violent episodes of drinking among native tribes during trading sessions and on other occasions. Throughout history it continues past the early colonial era and remained as the land was colonized from east to west. (Coyhis, Don, and William L. White, 2002) The lack of exposure to alcohol, then providing it all at once may have created the pathway for the occurrence of alcohol abuse in the Native American populations. Early demand, with no regulation and strong encouragement, may have also caused to a heavy alcohol use. (Coyhis, Don, and William L. White, 2002) From here it was then passed down from generation to generation, creating a familial and cultural problem that resulted in the current high level of alcohol-related problems.
Contributing Facts and Theories
Early social theories suggested that Native American alcohol use and abuse was a result of loss of their lands, cultures roots, merging of their culture with the colonist. (Levy, Kunitz. 1974) More recent theories have presented data to support an association between alcohol dependence and such factors as individual and past traumas, early age they start drink, struggles to meet every day needs, and sobriety (Whitbeck, Chen, Hoyt, Adams. 2004). The dialects, traditions and practices that is the foundation of the Native American culture for thousands of years are now being substituted in each generation. The old customs are being replaced by American culture, religion, the English language and a national educational system that doesn’t know about tribal traditions. Poverty has increased on the reservations and has forced younger Native American Indians to leave reservation life behind and move somewhere to earn a better living to be able to provide for their families. This leaves very few who practice the customs. The old oral tradition of passing down wisdom from parent to child has gone away. The older generation are afraid that if younger generations continue to not learn about ways of their ancestors, the history of Indian culture will be lost forever. The children who live outside the reservations are often raised in the non-Indian culture and never learn about their other heritage.
Native Americans just like every other race had their own unique genetic makeup. Native people have always relied on hunting and gathering. This may have led to development of traits that improve genetic fitness, called ‘thrifty’ or ‘fat sparing’ genes. It has been proposed that this same selective burden may have developed for genetic variations that increase the risk for consumption of alcohol and perhaps other drugs of abuse providing another potential pathway that could give rise to shared genetic influences between these traits
There has been studies that link heredity and alcoholism specifically in Native Americans. These studies show that genes affecting risk for substance dependence and related phenotypes, such as body mass index, drug tolerance, EEG patterns and externalizing traits, reside on several chromosome regions seen in other races. (Ehlers, ; Gizer. 2013) Substance dependence has a considerable genetic component in Native Americans, similar in magnitude to that reported for other races. The high rates of substance dependence seen in tribes is likely a mixture of a lack of genetic protective factors (metabolizing enzymes) in addition to genetically facilitated risk factors (externalizing traits, drive to use, sensitivity/tolerance). (Ehlers, ; Gizer. 2013)