Substance Abuse among Native Americans Essay

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Reflecting on the many western movies of my youth, it can be clearly recalled that the Native Americans were either scalping Euro Americans or getting sloppy drunks so they could not function physically and/or mentally. This abuse of alcohol and, in general, acceptance of drunken behavior beyond recollection of actions or knowledge of one’s environment, was widely accepted as the norm by Euro Americans outside of the Native American world and far from the arid, treeless reservations.
Although tribes vacillate with regard to the use of alcohol and drugs, substance dependence is one of the principal sources of health problems facing Native Americans. As the graph below shows, there is a disparity in abuse.

How did this substance abuse become a part of the Native American society? The myth of drunken wild “injuns” on the loose more than likely promoted the ethereal beliefs surrounding substance abuse. Although in actuality, it was the abrupt changes that Euro Americans forcibly imposed on Native Americans by taking their lands, killing off their food supply, the buffalo, and subjecting them to compulsory acceptance of “the white man’s ways” through relocation, re-education and pogroms. These factors along with other variables such as abuse of nonmedical prescription drugs fanned the abuse of substance among Native American tribes as shown by the demographics below.

As a result, living up to worthy expectations also can be difficult for anyone, especially in the modern world, where most people in American society have experimented with alcohol and drugs. Many Native Americans, however, face additional perils that increase their risk for alcohol and substance abuse; for example; cultural conflict, post-traumatic stress, and low self-esteem. (Native American Development Corporation, 2011)
When traditional Native American principles clash with the values of the dominant society, cultural conflict results. Native Americans can easily be caught in a no-man's land of misunderstanding and an unclear self-image because of attempts to live in two cultures. Native Americans, therefore, must also deal with their identity as Indians. In this struggle they are faced with a small-scale version of all the issues with which their culture struggles. Of course, traditional struggle--as a long term social and economic process--is also associated to hazards related with low socioeconomic status (American Indian 2012) as depicted in the graphs below, it is evident that alcohol and drug abuse have an effect on the mental stability of individual racial groups. (www.samhsa.gov)

Furthermore, many Native Americans also face the risks of post-traumatic stress. This is a state in which isolation, fear, guilt, shame, depression, anger, irritability, and other symptoms follow a trauma. (American Indian/Alaska Native Profile 2012) Native peoples' history of subjugation and present circumstances mean that the risk of distress is relatively high....

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