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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA study disproves old stereotype of increased alcohol use in Native American populations

    Darien Bakas
    People socialize and drink Frog & Firkin on Feb 17. [Something about drinking idk I didn’t read the article, sorry Bailey]

    Many Arizonans may have heard the stereotype that Native Americans tend to have high rates of alcohol abuse or misuse. A new study conducted by Dr. James Cunninghamin the UA Department of Family and Community Medicine and the UA Native American Research and Training Centerhas found that Native Americans’ binge drinking and heavy drinking habits are equatable to those of whites, thus dispelling the stereotype.

    In the study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers found that 17.3 percent of Native Americans binge drank, meaning they had five or more drinks at least 1-4 days per week, compared to 16.7 percent of whites. When looking at individuals who drank heavily — having five or more drinks at least five times a week — 8.3 percent of Native Americans were estimated to be heavy drinkers, compared to 7.5 percent of whites.

    “From a social and cultural perspective, being able to get rid of that stereotype is like a giant lift off the shoulders of people — they can stand up and be proud of who they are,” said Teshia G. Arambula Solomon, director of the UA NARTC.

    In fact, the rates of abstinence from drinking were higher in Native Americans than in whites: 59.9 percent of Native Americans abstained from drinking compared to 43.1 percent of whites.

    “I think a big part of it is that it ties into the cultural heritage of Native Americans,” said Cunningham, a social epidemiologist at the UA. “Historically, they have not consumed much alcohol, whereas historically Europeans have.”

    In order to collect the data, researchers analyzed two different surveys: the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The surveys gathered data on drinking habits within the last month. Although both surveys were self-reported, researchers did not expect this had a significant impact on the results obtained.

    “When you look at the difference between Native Americans and whites, it’s essentially the same story in both data sets; they replicate very nicely,” Cunningham said.

    Native Americans have been found to suffer from high rates of alcoholic liver disease mortality. Since the rates of binge drinking and heavy drinking were similar between whites and Native Americans, this brings to light the question of why so many Native Americans are dying from this disease.

    “Oftentimes, higher mortality rates are reported for alcoholic liver disease among Native Americans compared to whites, in fact in our study we cite a recent study which says that the rates are 4.9 times higher among Native Americans compared to whites,” Cunningham said. “Prior to our study, I think many people simply assumed that the explanation rested with greater amounts of alcohol being consumed. This brings that notion into question.”

    Cunningham said these findings should generate even more studies.

    “I think its going to lead to more research that is complex and takes into account a number of other factors which are compounding with these differences in rates,” he said.

    Some of these differences could include inaccurate treatment plans, less access to health care, inequality of health care or untimely treatment, according to Solomon and Cunningham.

    This research will be applied to other ongoing health related services research, as well as be integrated into the work of the NARTC. As a center, they will use this to help train students on campus to analyze data in the same manners used in this study, as well as to work with heath care providers and systems to ensure people are receiving culturally competent care according to Solomon.

    As evidenced by this study, not all stereotypes hold true, and oftentimes, stereotyping can get in the way of finding real solutions and real causation.

    “We want to be respectful that alcoholism is a real problem, and is a serious problem, regardlessof race or ethnicity, and all people should be receiving the right kind of treatment,” Solomon said. 

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