Myths About Alcohol Addiction in Native Americans

The Doctor Weighs In
7 min readAug 20, 2017

By Thomas G. Kimball, PhD

Native Americans have experienced strong bias, stereotype, myth, and marginalization on multiple levels, including with respect to alcohol addiction.

The words alcoholism and addiction are laced thick with stereotype and myth. Those who suffer from this brain disease feel the impact of stigma on a daily basis. Highly marginalized, many suffer too long without reaching out for help because of the fear of being misunderstood and unfairly labeled. Even in recovery when healing is taking place, individuals and families often hide their membership in the community of recovery from others due to not wanting to face harsh judgment.

For many, the marginalization of suffering from addiction is only part of the stigma and stereotype people face. Often, those who suffer from addiction are members of other marginalized groups based on several socioeconomic, cultural, and psychological factors. The journey of recovery is difficult enough without also being marginalized and misunderstood. We, in the medical and mental health professions as well as society as a whole, can learn much from the journey of those in recovery who not only suffer from addiction but who also experience multiple layers of marginalization and find healing anyway.

Addiction among Native Americans

One common example of an entire culture of people who have experienced strong bias, stereotype, myth, and marginalization on multiple levels are Native Americans (NA). This is particularly true as it relates to NAs and alcoholism. For hundreds of years, the world has believed NA cultures are particularly vulnerable to alcoholism and their prevalence of alcohol use far exceeds other populations by comparison. Research studies comparing alcohol use rates illustrate this long held belief may be highly exaggerated or altogether inaccurate.

In a recent study entitled, “Alcohol Use Among Native Americans Compared to Whites,” researchers Cunningham, Solomon, and Muramoto (2016) found that NA’s had a lower rate of drinking compared to whites. Their findings are revealing, to say the least. To reach their conclusions, they studied a number of recent government surveys assessing prevalence of use on the continuum from…

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