The Alcoholic Myth – Native American’s

It’s a terrible stereotype that Native American’s like to drink “fire water” and stumble through life drunk. It is true that alcohol and drugs are life obstacles for many urban and reservation Indians. In fact, Native Americans are five times more likely to die of alcohol-related causes than whites. However, this is not a genetic flaw, as was once assumed.

In short, alcoholism and substance abuse are not inevitable, for the Native American. There are many treatment approaches that have shown success.

I have a lot of good news – I can provide some helpful information to Native American’s:

  • All Native American Indians with drug and alcohol abuse problems are now eligible for treatment through the Affordable Care Act.
  • Native American’s have a special exception. No waiting for open-enrollment once a year – sign up at any time! There are in fact programs that are available. Unfortunately the information has not been made available.
  • If you buy an insurance policy though the site, the plan you pick will have substance abuse and mental health services as a part of the coverage. This is not optional, it is a mandate for the insurance policies.

Part of the battle against alcohol is doctoring the people who are suffering from, affected by, and at risk of the disease of alcoholism. Often, what people forget about alcohol dependency in Indian country is that it’s different for Native Americans than for other ethnicities.
Unlike other cultures that have ingested alcohol for thousands of years, the relationship between indigenous Americans and alcohol is relatively new. Native Americans have had fewer centuries to develop the genetic tolerance to alcohol that is present in other ethnic groups. Mix in poverty and living with ongoing oppression, and alcohol contributes to a state of emergency on many reservations.

My husband and I have been working with an active tribe member to:

  • Educate tribe members on the disease of alcoholism and the road to recovery.
  • Turn problem tribe members into productive members of the tribe who are now giving instead of taking (through the treatment process)
  • Save the Tribe tens of thousand dollars per member who needs treatment and give treatment to those who would have no way to get it.

Interesting side story of Native American abstinence:

The are several “dry” reservations due to the abundance of alcoholism. One of the most famous is Pine Ridge. Due to their historic problems with alcohol use by its members, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has prohibited the sale and possession of alcohol on the Pine Ridge Reservation since its creation in 1832. The town of Whiteclay, Nebraska (just over the South Dakota-Nebraska border) has approximately 12 residents and four liquor stores, which sold over 4.9 million 12-ounce cans of beer in 2010 almost exclusively to Oglala Lakota from the reservation. This contributes to widespread alcoholism on the reservation. This was a big controversy as many people felt the liquor stores should voluntarily shut down. The liquor stores refused, stating that they were not doing anything illegal.

This is a very good example of the complexities of alcoholism. You can’t just remove the alcohol from the alcoholic. Treatment programs and a lifetime plan of recovery, is the right approach.

Alcoholism is a serious issue in Indian country and its nothing to laugh about. According to the CDC, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis is the #5 cause of death among Native Americans. In 2010, 15,990 Natives died from alcoholic liver disease alone. Another 25,692 died from alcohol-induced deaths, not counting accidents and homicides. In fact, 1 in 10 Native American deaths are alcohol-related.

Here is a several resources you might not know about:

American Indian General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous (NAIGSO-AA)
A 12 step fellowship aimed specifically at Native American Indians. The service also offers an inmate correspondence program that connects with Native American alcoholics who are incarcerated.

The Office of Indian Alcohol and Substance Abuse (OIASA) and its federal partners provide tribes with prevention and treatment resources as required by TLOA.
No Cost Rehab finds treatment facilities for people with drug and alcohol problems.

6 thoughts on “The Alcoholic Myth – Native American’s

  1. I know that I didn’t quit drinking I just found that sobriety was free. I also know growing up on a reservation is terrible. Alcohol was the solution to being stuck in a little patch of land. But the only solution is not prohibition as with any drug. It is teaching as in talking to people about it. Living on a reservation and “residential school” is also not genetic. You can not blame the person you are trying to hurt as the government are so inclined to do. I would as they did, kind of, in canada blamed the governments of the past and now of they’re treatment in “the native american”. I also have paid attention and the whites are just as drunk. Most my friends are drunks. anyways, moderation is the key to drinking in moderation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting points … I don’t know enough about First Nation Peoples in America to make comment on them. And I wouldn’t dare…to assume to know a culture without experiencing it, in my view, is arrogant. I do understand the indigenous/first nation point of view though. Where I come from, with the European settlement and ensuing colonisation, came disease, tobacco and alcohol. It wasn’t part of our culture at all. It saw our numbers drop from near 200,000+ to 2,000 within a couple of years. We are now faced with all the things that a colonised and assimilated people are faced with – poverty, ill health, addiction etc. Does knowing this help with addiction? I believe it does partially…understanding that we are not by nature, drunken losers, like we are made out to be. We are a product of our historical abuse. But we can also change what we chose to acknowledge, now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a Native Alcoholic. The only thing that worked for me was my culture. The twelve steps, the church, etc could not help me. I boils down to culture for me, I have never been culturally white. Finally pulling my head out and taking responsibility for my role as a Native man on my rez is what has saved me. Our good Native Elders can save lives, this is a fact.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to educate me about your Native American Sober Experience. My husband has a close sober friend who is active in his tribe. I really want to learn more about your Native Elders and the strength that binds you.


      1. It’s really quite simple, our culture is prevention. Our culture is inherently against abuse of substances and other things that can harm the body or spirit. If one looks back to his or her ancestors, and does his or her best to emulate their ways, then abusing alcohol and drugs naturally goes away. Obviously it takes lots of work, and there are nuances that would take a long time to explain, but the principle is to be in balance. I’ve been completely active in my culture for over 2 years now, I’m still learning and still growing. Coincidentally I’ve been sober that long too.

        Liked by 1 person

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