Native Americans: Overcoming the Barriers to Addiction Treatment

Native Americans: Overcoming the Barriers to Addiction Treatment

In an earlier post, we covered five common reasons why Native Americans have higher rates of substance abuse than the general population. Some of the reasons cited were the lack of resources on Indian reservations and extensive barriers to economic growth. In today’s post, we want to dig deeper into the types of addictions this population struggles with, as well as treatment considerations. 

In order for treatment to be effective, Native Americans must be comfortable in the environment and understand their options for recovery. Thankfully, treatment centers like Continuum Recovery Center are working to understand the needs of Native Americans and how to make substance abuse treatment in Phoenix more accessible. 

Below you’ll find more information about addiction and treatment for Native Americans. 

A Brief Look at the Struggles of Native Americans 

Although Native Americans make up a small percentage of the U.S. population, they experience some of the highest rates of substance abuse, violence, suicide and mental health disorders. 

According to data from the National Council, Native Americans are more than twice as likely to live in poverty compared to the general population. More than 1 in 3 Native Americans lack medical insurance, and the average life expectancy for this population is 6 years less than the national average. 

Furthermore, Native Americans are more likely to suffer from interracial violence than any other ethnic group. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 70% of crimes experienced by Native Americans are committed by someone who does not identify as Native American. 

Here are a few more problems facing Native American communities today:

  • Unemployment 
  • Violence against women and children
  • Less education 
  • Poor quality housing
  • Inadequate health care 
  • Limited financial institutions 
  • Unable to exercise voting rights  
  • Native language is becoming extinct 

Addiction in Native American Communities 

With so much turmoil on Indian reservations, more Native Americans are relocating to larger cities. Unfortunately, this doesn’t automatically fix things. Tribal communities and urban communities have a lot of differences, separating families, impacting cultural ties and raising the risk for depression and substance abuse. This is why we’re seeing high rates of substance abuse and mental illness across the Native American population – not just on the reservations. 

To fight symptoms of mental illness and provide an escape from impoverished conditions, Native Americans struggle with the following problems: 

Alcohol abuse 

The rate of alcohol abuse among Native Americans is actually lower than among whites and blacks. However, the rate of binge drinking is much higher, as is the rate of people with alcohol use disorders. According to the Native American Center for Excellence

  • 8.5% of Native Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 have an alcohol use disorder 
  • 20.8% between the ages of 18 and 25 have an alcohol use disorder 
  • 23.6% of natives age 12 to 20 engage in binge drinking 
  • Chronic liver disease is the 6th leading cause of death for Native Americans 

Illicit drug use 

Illicit drug use by Native Americans is higher than all other ethnic groups. Here are some findings for Native Americans over the age of 12 from a 2015 National Survey

  • Nearly 50% have used marijuana 
  • More than 17% have used cocaine 
  • More than 17% tried a hallucinogen
  • Nearly 12% reported using inhalants 
  • Almost 12% admitted to using methamphetamines 

Group of young Native Americans

Violence in Native American Communities 

Another problem in Native American communities is the violence. Many crimes go unreported on Indian reservations, so we can expect the data to be flawed. In addition, the justice systems on tribal lands tend to be underfunded, making them less equipped to deal with violence. Unfortunately, violence among Native Americans often overlaps with substance abuse and mental illness. 

Some of the most frequent types of violence that occur in Native American communities include: 

  • Gang violence. 23% of Native American communities report gang activity. While gang activity has always been an issue, it’s getting worse and spreading because drug traffickers take advantage of loopholes in law enforcement on tribal lands. 
  • Intimate partner violence. Women who live on Indian reservations face domestic abuse at much higher levels than other races. A CDC study found that nearly 40% of native women were victims of intimate partner violence. 
  • Sexual assault. In addition to physical violence, native women are also more likely to be sexually assaulted. The same CDC study reported that native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or assaulted than women in the general population. 

Treatment Considerations for Native Americans 

Many Native American communities lack resources for medical care, let alone treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders. Even if a Native American wanted to receive help, they are likely to be stopped by a number of barriers such as a lack of transportation, poor health insurance, poverty and cultural stigmas. 

Not to mention, every tribe is unique, and not all believe in Western medicine. This is why treatment for Native Americans can’t just be labeled as such – it needs to address the barriers and needs of each individual tribe. At Continuum Recovery Center, we are always learning more about our clients and their individuals needs, including those from Native American communities. 

Below are some of the approaches our drug rehab in Phoenix has had good experiences with: 

  • Talking circles 
  • Meditations 
  • Spiritual practices 
  • Promoting healing from within 
  • Introduction to the 12 steps 
  • Artistic expression
  • Music therapy 

Native Americans: Where to Get Help for Dual Diagnosis 

Continuum Recovery Center treats substance use and mental health disorders (dual diagnosis) in Native Americans. Our team of medical doctors can diagnose underlying mental health problems like PTSD and trauma. We also have an understanding of the issues indigenous people often face, including the loss of sacred lands, family conflict and forced assimilation. 

Rather than lumping everyone into one group, however, we take the time to learn about each client and the issues they are facing. Our alcohol rehab in Phoenix then creates a personalized treatment plan that is mindful of the person’s history and lifestyle, as well as their barriers to recovery. To learn more about how we can treat a Native American suffering with substance abuse, mental illness or both, contact Continuum Recovery Center today.