Health and Fitness

Substance Abuse Among Native Americans: What Do the Statistics Say?

Anyone can fall prey to a substance use disorder, including Native Americans. While it’s important to avoid falling prey to stereotypes about American Indians and Alaska Natives, it’s equally vital to make sure that these marginalized populations get the culturally relevant help they need. This article will explore the statistics regarding substance abuse among Native Americans to increase awareness and reduce stigma.

Why This Issue Is Important

Just like anyone can develop a substance use disorder, everyone deserves access to the help needed to overcome one. Historically, rehab for native americans has not been as accessible as it is for many population groups. Insurance issues and lack of outreach represent just two of many roadblocks. Only recently have rehab programs begun to focus on providing culturally sensitive and relevant assistance for Indigenous people seeking to enter recovery.

Are Rates of Substance Abuse Higher for Native Americans?

Unfortunately, rates of substance abuse are quite high among Native American populations across the United States. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), rates of substance dependence, including alcohol and drug abuse, are higher among Native Americans than in any other population group.

What the Statistics Say

Over 20% of all Native American adults aged 25 years or less suffer from a substance use disorder, and around 10% of Indigenous people of all ages living in the United States are currently struggling with addiction. Around 7% of Native Americans have a diagnosable alcohol use disorder and around 4% abuse illicit drugs.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that around 13% of Native Americans could benefit from substance use treatment. However, just 3.5% of the population receives help. Access is often limited, and what programs are available rarely incorporate essential aspects of Indigenous groups’ cultural identities and spirituality, making them less effective than they could be.

Underlying Causes

Over the years, the Indigenous people of the United States have been stereotyped and discriminated against repeatedly. Everyone needs to understand that while the statistics bear out an interpretation of higher substance abuse rates among Native American populations, they do not offer an explanation. The underlying causes of addiction among American Indians and Alaskan Natives are complex and not completely understood, but they include:

● Personal and intergenerational trauma

● Racism and discrimination

● Lack of health insurance or access

● Poverty

● Unemployment

● Violence

● Low access to education

Native Americans are also at a high risk for mental illness and suicide. Mental illness can act as a causative or exacerbating factor for addiction, making it more difficult to treat in any population. In marginalized communities with unique spiritual and cultural identities, the issues associated with dual-diagnosis treatment become even more complex.

There Are Solutions

While the statistics regarding substance abuse rates among Native Americans paint a somewhat dire picture, it’s a mistake to interpret that as meaning there’s no hope. Today, rehab programs have been developed specifically for Indigenous populations, such as the Red Road Approach (RRA). These programs respect individual groups’ identities, histories, and spirituality and are often run by other Native Americans who understand the unique concerns faced by their communities.

While they won’t resolve the wider issues posed by society, programs like the RRA provide holistic help rooted in Indigenous values and beliefs. They can provide an effective alternative to traditional substance abuse treatments.


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