Native American Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers
Native Americans experience some of the highest rates of drug and alcohol misuse, mental health disorders, and suicide when compared to other racial groups.1 The cultural and spiritual beliefs of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIANs), as well as the historical trauma suffered by people who identify with these ethnic groups, require special considerations to be taken in the treatment of addiction and other mental health conditions. It is important for Native Americans to seek the right type of programs or treatment centers that will help them achieve lasting recovery.
The American Indian and Alaska Native Population
Although American Indians and Alaska Natives make up a relatively small percentage of the total U.S. population, they are disproportionally affected by social issues that are widely recognized as contributing factors to drug and alcohol misuse, addiction, and overdose.
According to the most recent census, there are 6.6 million people who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, representing roughly 2% of the total population.2 Of any race/ethnic group, Native Americans have the highest poverty rate (26.6 %). The national poverty rate is 14.7%.3 About 21% of Native Americans lack health insurance coverage. The average life expectancy for this population is 4.4 years (73.7 years), lower than the national average (78.1 years).3
Currently, there are 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States, with a tremendous amount of diversity between each tribe, including unique and distinct governments, cultural traditions, customs, and languages.4
Over the past 3 decades, Native American populations have increasingly relocated from reservations and rural areas to cities.5 Roughly 67% of all American Indians live in urban areas, and this percentage continues to grow.5 Urban Native Americans may not feel a strong connection to their tribal communities, cultural history, or immediate family—a factor that may impact their mental health and contribute to issues such as depression and substance misuse.
Substance Misuse and Addiction Among Native Americans
American Indians and Alaska Natives face an increased risk of drug and alcohol misuse and addiction given their history in the United States. Forced relocations, broken treaties, and other political injustices have disproportionately affected this ethnic minority. High rates of historical trauma, violence, racism, loss, legalized segregation, isolation, and discrimination in native communities place these people at an increased risk for substance misuse.6
Historical trauma (HT) refers to the emotional and psychological harm that cumulates across one’s lifespan and across multiple generations.7 HT can include individual and collective trauma, and can result in depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, unresolved grief, and drug and alcohol misuse. People who experience HT may attempt to cope with painful feelings by self-medicating with alcohol or other substances.7
Compared with other ethnicities, Native Americans are more likely to report:6,8
- A history of substance misuse.
- Polysubstance use.
- Intravenous drug use.
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
- A history of depression.
- Hospitalizations due to substance use.
- Comorbid conditions.
- Difficulty finding or maintaining steady employment.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Within American Indian and Alaska Native communities, alcohol-induced deaths are the highest when compared to other populations, such as Whites and Latino groups.9 From 2000–2017, alcohol-induced deaths increased significantly at a rate of 4.0% per year, and were 5 times higher than the general population in 2019.9
Illicit Drug Use
Among AIANs, methamphetamine use has increased.9 Studies have found that about 15% of AIANs reported lifetime use of stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines.9
The negative consequences of meth use are felt across the entire tribe. In 2006, the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona testified in front of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that 30% of employees had recently tested positive for meth.10 Nearly 90% of child welfare cases in Yavapai-Apache Nation are related to methamphetamine. And, according to California Indian Legal Services (CILS), nearly every case in which an American Indian child must be taken from their home involves meth use by one or both parents.10
Opioid misuse is also a significant problem. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH, 2018), 7.4% of American Indian and Alaska Native adults aged 18–25 used opioids (compared to 5.5% of adults in the general population).9 The NSDUH also reported that opioid misuse rose from 4.7% (2015) to 6.2% (2018) for AIANs aged 26 and older.9
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Suicide and Mental Health
Suicide is a major public health problem among American Indians. Studies show that American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rate of suicide among all ethnic groups in the United States.11 Suicide is complex, and no single reason leads a person to commit suicide. Instead, a variety of individual and societal circumstances, barriers to mental health services, and co-morbid conditions such as drug and alcohol misuse all play a role in the occurrence of suicide.
For Native Americans, many of the risk factors that contribute to high rates of substance misuse also contribute to a high risk of suicide. These include historical trauma, cultural distress, poverty and unemployment, family history of mental illness and/or drug and alcohol misuse, and feelings of hopelessness, isolation, or stigmatization.12
For Native Americans, many of the risk factors that contribute to high rates of drug and alcohol misuse also contribute to a high risk of suicide.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 9th leading cause of death among American Indian/Alaska Native people. Among AI/AN males between the ages of 15 and 34, the suicide rate is 82.1 per 100,000.13
Drug and Alcohol Treatment Considerations
Many Native American communities have limited access to substance misuse rehab and treatment services. Nearly 20% of native adults need treatment for drug or alcohol use disorders, but only 12% actually receive treatment.1
These low rates of recovery program engagement may be in part due to significant barriers to treatment that native communities face, including transportation issues, lack of health insurance or poor insurance coverage, poverty, cultural stigma associated with substance misuse, and a shortage of appropriate rehabilitation and treatment options in regions where native populations are concentrated.14
Researchers have developed strategies that blend traditional native teachings with evidence-based practices.
Every tribe is unique, with varying locations, populations, histories, drug and alcohol misuse patterns, and degrees of trust placed in westernized medicine. In order to be effective, treatment approaches need to be tailored to address the barriers and needs of each individual tribe and patient.
To help eliminate these barriers to care, communities and researchers have developed strategies that blend traditional native teachings with evidence-based practices and cognitive behavioral therapies.
Traditional approaches include but are not limited to:14,15
- Talking circles.
- Art circles.
- Ceremonial tepee construction.
- Drum circles.
- Meditations with elders.
- Smudging ceremonies.
- Sweat lodges.
- Sun dances.
- Vision quests.
- Purification sweats.
- Medicine wheel.
- Sacred pipe.
Researchers have noted that the most successful treatment programs are based on traditional healing approaches, Alcoholics Anonymous, or a combination of both. Using traditional healing to addresses substance misuse and mental health problems alone or in combination with westernized approaches may provide a more holistic approach to treatment.16
Some researchers advocate that more native communities turn toward traditional healing methods when addressing substance misuse and mental health issues within the tribe.17
Indian Health Service (IHS), the federal health program for American Indians and Alaska Natives, recommends an approach that blends the traditional medicine wheel with the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. The IHS also funds the Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI), which aims to develop prevention programming and culturally relevant best practices to address high rates of methamphetamine use and suicide among American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Drug and alcohol misuse prevention and treatment programs should always be respectful of a person’s culture, beliefs, practices, and language needs. It’s important that intervention and prevention efforts tailor information to address the community it is serving—whether Native American or any other ethnic or religious group.
Residential Inpatient Treatment Centers
Residential inpatient treatment for drug and alcohol addiction can be an important milestone on the road to recovery from substance use disorders, especially for Native Americans who are dealing with severe addiction-related issues and even some with dual diagnosis mental health conditions.
Residential substance misuse treatment centers provide 24/7 supervision and care while you live at the center for the duration of the program. Hospital-based inpatient programs offer around-the-clock medical care from healthcare professionals. Many non-hospital-based residential programs also facilitate access to medical services when needed.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment Programs
Some Native Americans may suffer from both substance misuse (such as drug or alcohol addiction) as well as mental health disorder (such as depression or anxiety). A tailored program can be created to help with the treatment of both, which is commonly referred to as dual diagnosis treatment.
Dual diagnoses require integrated and comprehensive care programs to fully address and rectify both conditions. This type of treatment is offered by treatment centers that provide rehab from substance misuse and help with mental health related issues.
Rehab Centers for the Native American Community
It’s important to carefully consider the various types of treatment programs available to ensure your needs are met. The best and most effective treatment is that which is tailored to your individual needs, whether it’s short-term or long-term, residential inpatient, outpatient, or dual diagnosis programs.
Depending on your location, you may find there is not an appropriate treatment program in your area. However, if there are programs nearby, consider the pros and cons of being admitted to a local program versus traveling out of state. Our rehab directory can help you search through treatment providers throughout the United States. Some popular States include California, Florida, and Texas.
Don’t Wait, Find Help Today
If you’re a person of Native American descent struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, don’t hesitate to seek out the help you need. There are treatment centers, programs, and resources available to help you find a rehab program that honors your culture and beliefs. Don’t let addiction keep you from living a healthy and fulfilling life. Call .
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