Alcoholism is identified by severe dependence or addiction and cumulative patterns of characteristic behaviors. An alcoholic’s frequent intoxication is obvious and destructive; interfering with the ability to socialize and work. These behavior patterns may lead to loss of work and relationships (Merck, 1999). Strong evidence suggests that alcoholism runs in families (Schuckit, 2009). According to a study published by Schuckit (1999) monozygotic twins were at a significantly higher risk of alcoholism if one twin was an alcoholic. Ehlers, Lind, and Wilhelmsen (2008) conducted a study to investigate the influence a single opioid receptor on alcohol dependence rates among Native Americans. Ehlers, et al. (2008) noted that people with lower risk of becoming an alcoholic were more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, while people at higher risk for alcoholism were less sensitive to the effects. The research team also discussed the firewater myth that is common among current Native American culture, which postulates a constitutional predisposition to alcoholism as a result of an innate altered response to alcohol (Ehlers, et al., 2008).
When alcohol is consumed, an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase metabolizes the alcohol to acetaldehyde at a rate of one standard drink per hour (Schuckit, 2009). After repeat exposures, tolerance may develop as a result of adaptational changes in the cells of the central nervous system (Merck, 1999). The increased tolerance may cause the patient to consume alcohol in greater quantities than before to achieve the same intoxicating effects. Alcoholics suffer dramatic long-term health damage. The most common forms of specific organ damage in alcoholics are cirrhosis, peripheral neuropathy, brain damage, and cardiomyopathy. Alcoholics often present with dysrhythmias as a result of cardiomyopathy. Gastritis is common and pancreatitis may develop. Inadequate nutrition secondary to alcohol consumption is not uncommon as the disease progresses (Merck, 2009).
In 2004, 34.3% of El Paso county residents ages 18-25 and 17.8% of all adults reported binge drinking on at least one occasion (“El Paso County,” 2006). In the 2004 publication by the El Paso County Health department, Colorado was ranked second in the country on overall substance abuse severity and fifth on the alcohol problem index.
In 2009, El Paso County’s population was reported to be 604, 542 people with 1.2% of the population reporting as Native Americans (“US Census,” 2010). Salimbene (2005) notes that from 1997-1999, alcoholism among Native Americans in the US accounted for 47 per 100,000 deaths and in 2002 the death rate from alcoholism was 7 times higher than the rest of the population. Spector (2009) adds that the son of an alcoholic father is three times more likely to abuse alcohol and out of the top ten leading causes of death among Native Americans, alcohol can be linked to three (unintentional death, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, and suicide).