5 Reasons Native Americans Have Higher Rates of Addiction

5 Reasons Native Americans Have Higher Rates of Addiction

Native Americans, or American Indians, are the indigenous people of the United States. More than 570 federally recognized tribes reside in the U.S., and roughly half of them live on Indian reservations in states like Arizona. In fact, Native Americans inhabited Arizona thousands of years ago. 

There is no question that Native Americans have a unique culture, but you may be surprised to learn that many contemporary challenges exist for this population. Specifically, the social isolation, poverty and lack of healthcare services contribute to higher rates of substance abuse and alcoholism.

Why Substance Abuse is a Problem for Native Americans 

According to the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) Report, around 2.5% of American adults in addiction treatment are Native Americans. However, they only account for about 1% of our total population. The majority of these individuals are placed into outpatient rehabs as part of a court order. 

Below are five key factors for why Native Americans have higher rates of substance abuse. 

1. Native American reservations are comparable to third world countries. 

Sadly, Native American reservations are not developed like other parts of the U.S. Instead, they are comparable to third world countries, with inadequate housing, poor nutrition and unreliable utilities. Across the board, lower income populations are at higher risks for substance abuse. This is believed to be the case due to increased stress, limits to healthcare and less social support. 

For example, there is a housing crisis for Native Americans. Sadly, many Native Americans live in substandard housing with poor plumbing, a lack of kitchen facilities and no heating or cooling. Additionally, it’s also common for Native American homes to have three or more generations living in them. Heads of the household often leave the reservations to seek work and grandparents raise their grandchildren. Many addictions start as a coping mechanism to deal with this stress. 

2. Many communities lack pharmacies, doctor’s offices and other essential healthcare services. 

Native Americans born today have a life expectancy that is 5.5 years less than other U.S. races. The main causes of death include cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and chronic lower respiratory diseases. The lingering health problems of Native Americans is a concern, given that most Americans live longer and experience fewer health complications. 

For example, Native Americans are 177% more likely to die from diabetes, 500% more likely to die from tuberculosis and 82% more likely to die from suicide than Caucasians. Furthermore, infant death rates are 60% higher for Native Americans than other Americans. It’s clear that the health and welfare of Native Americans is a central issue. 

With some communities having no pharmacies or doctor’s offices, many addictions start as a way to self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol provide temporary relief from the pain and discomfort that illnesses, injuries and other ailments carry. Over time, addictions grow more severe and are difficult to stop without a Phoenix treatment center

3. Rates of substance abuse in Native American youth are higher than average. 

Substance abuse is common among Native Americans, which means younger generations are brought up in households where drugs and alcohol are accessible. In fact, a study published in Public Health Reports suggests that we may see even higher rates of substance abuse in younger generations. Compared to other 8th grade students in other racial groups, Native Americans have higher rates of alcohol, marijunana and prescription opiate use. 

The problem: it’s difficult to break the cycle of substance abuse. Where does a young person find support when their peers and role models are using drugs and alcohol? And if they do seek treatment, how can they prevent relapse in Phoenix when there is temptation all around them? 

To deter the rising rates of addiction and self-destructive behavior, it’s clear that family and tribal members be involved in the addiction treatment process. Education is crucial, as well as accessible healthcare, mental health services, addiction treatment and sober living homes. 

native americans in Arizona

4. Lack of mental health education, treatment and resources.

Aside from a lack of health care services on Native American reservations, there is also a lack of mental health treatment services. However, mental health is a key concern for this race. According to the CDC, suicide is the 8th leading cause of death among American Indians and the 2nd leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24.

Sadly, American Indians continue to have high rates of depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness. Not only do they lack psychiatric support services and medication, but also there is a high rate of turnover for mental health professionals working on reservations. Without proper mental health treatment, Native Americans tend to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. 

5. Extensive barriers to economic growth. 

Substance abuse is more common among lower economic individuals. People who cannot cover their basic living expenses often feel helpless and hopeless. Drugs and alcohol become more appealing when people have low self-esteem, a poor social network and limited access to quality healthcare. This is how many substance use disorders form – as a way to cope.

Unfortunately, poverty is a very real problem on Indian reservations. Many are located far away from economic centers in the U.S., leaving them to rely on reservation jobs. Some reservations participate in the gambling industry to generate income, though not all do. With limited jobs, many Native Americans are unemployed, and roughly 30% live below the federal poverty line

As we know, jobs have a huge impact on our identity and self-esteem. After losing a job or being out of work for an extended period of time, it’s common for people to develop depression. Depression is a risk factor for substance abuse. Again, drugs and alcohol temporarily dull symptoms of depression, which is how patterns of abuse start. 

Contact Continuum Recovery Center for Inexpensive Drug and Alcohol Treatment in Phoenix 

Native Americans may have unique qualities, but they can do just as well in addiction treatment as anyone else. It’s clear that more resources must go to education, treatment and recovery services. However, there are deeper struggles going on within the Native American culture that deserve our attention.

Continuum Recovery Center resides in Phoenix, and we have success in addressing the unique needs of our Native American clients. We accept most major insurances, including AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program. To learn more about our AHCCCS addiction treatment in Phoenix, contact us today.