Fighting Alcohol and Substance Abuse among American Indian and Alaskan Native Youth


Article written in 1991, but still relevant.


Living up to worthy expectations can be difficult for anyone, especially in the contemporary world, where most youth are challenged to experiment with alcohol and drugs. Many Native youth, however, face additional hazards that increase their risk for alcohol and substance abuse (Native American Development Corporation, 1990a): cultural conflict, post-traumatic stress, and low self-esteem.

When traditional Native values clash with the values of the dominant society, cultural conflict results (Four Worlds Development Project, 1984a). Native youth can easily be caught in a no-man's land of confusion and fuzzy self-image. Besides coping with the normal challenges of adolescence, Native youth must also deal with their identity as Indians. In this effort they face a microcosm of all the problems with which their culture struggles. Of course, cultural conflict--as a longterm social and economic process--is also related to risks associated with low socioeconomic status (see, for example, Hafner, Ingels, Schneider, & Stevenson, 1990).

Many Indian youth also face the hazards of post-traumatic stress. This is a state in which isolation, fear, guilt, shame, depression, anger, irritability, and other symptoms follow a trauma. Native peoples' history of oppression and present circumstances mean that the risk of trauma is comparatively high. The immediate family of many Indian youngsters likely includes individuals who experienced the concentration camp existence of the first reservations; involuntary confinement at boarding schools; or various other social, psychological, and spiritual insults. Life expectancy for Indians is considerably less than for the general public (Indian Health Service, 1990). Native youth may experience post-traumatic stress first-hand, but also through living and coping with someone else's trauma.

Choices concerning alcohol and substance abuse are tied in some way to self-esteem and the source of this esteem (Mason, 1985). Unfortunately, Indian program specialists nationwide can cite various examples, including test results, that show tribal youth demonstrate lower self-confidence than the population at large.

The entire article can be read here:

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