The prevalence of alcoholism and its associated morbidities are more elevated in the Native American population when compared to the general population. The problem of alcohol abuse negatively impacts individual health, family relationships and community functioning. The literature I used for research identifies key factors associated with Native American alcohol abuse, such as, individual and social correlates of alcohol abuse in this targeted population. The literature also describes cultural factors unique to this population that are relevant to understanding and dealing with the alcohol problem. The literature points out that there have been numerous studies conducted to identify the factors associated with alcoholism among Native Americans. A recurring theme is that research on the cultural appropriateness and effectiveness of alcohol treatment programs in this population has been quite limited . The Native American population’s unique history may be central to understanding the high prevalence of alcohol use. The two main articles I chose to begin my research were, “The Role of culture in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs for American Indian and Alaska Native Communities” and “Advancing American Indian/Alaska Native Substance Abuse Research”.
Although there is significant cultural diversity within the Native American population, some key influences are broadly shared. For example, literature used in this research has asserted that many Native American groups lacked experience with drinking prior to exposure to European Americans, with the majority of their exposure being limited to sacred religious events. In addition, many of the drinking models initially introduced to the Native Americans (i.e., the early pioneers) were daily abusers of alcohol (Volkow & Warren 2012). Many Native Americans blame stress associated with the discrimination that Native Americans experience. But in researching I found that modeling to youths; lack of family interventions for drinking; family strength; religious identification and school adjustment (Legha & Novins 2012) as key factors in alcohol abuse among Native Americans.
Native American culture is collectivisic rather than individualistic. Thus, Native American’s families are of greater influence on youth’s behavior. Socioeconomic status appears to be correlated with alcohol abuse among Native Americans. These communities experience high unemployment rates and low education levels. Genetics and biology have long been discussed as possible influences on alcoholism in American Indians. There is a myth that Native Americans are predisposed to alcoholism (Leland, 1976; Mail & Johnson, 1993). A potential biological marker is the P3. Lower P3 amplitudes are associated with genetics and alcoholism (Ehlers et al., 2001). This marker, however, has been found across multiple ethnicities and is not unique to Native Americans (Spillane & Smith, 2007). Another biological theory posited that the rate of alcohol metabolism in Native Americans is slower than in whites. There has been no evidence found to support this theory of ethnic differences and variation in the rate of metabolism among American Indians is similar to that among whites (Ehlers et al 2004; Wall et al 2003).
Treatment for alcohol abuse and alcoholism for Native Americans has been largely the responsibility of the Indian Health Service (IHS), (Legha & Novins 2012). Over the past decade much of the responsibility for running these programs have shifted from the IHS to tribal control. This is because tribes control and operate their own treatment facilities and to increase community involvement. Use of traditional cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices in treatment is used. For Native Americans addiction is thought of as a crisis of the spirit. It is thought that individuals who becomes addicted are not within their spiritual relationship and are not connected to the world around them.
The Native American community experiences disproportionately high levels of alcohol abuse and associated problems. Research suggests that some social, cultural, and historical factors unique to this population influence the prevalence and progression of alcoholism Utilizing this information, it can be argued that culturally sensitive treatment plans that take into account the uniqueness of the Native American culture are crucial to success. In fact, it is critical for treatments to be designed by and for the Native American community. Each Indian community is different in its problems, from low education levels and high unemployment to different peer and family pressures. By having communities involved in the treatment process each group can tailor its treatment programs to better serve its specific population rather than simply offer generic programs. The community members that should get involved are the tribal groups, local health care providers, traditional healers, and legal authorities. Treatment plans must combine the most recent advances in treatment to keep in line with the community’s cultures and beliefs.
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