American Indians and Native Alaskans Have Lower Alcohol Use Rate but Higher Binge Drinking Rate than National Average

Posted on July 20th, 2010
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

American Indians and Alaskan Natives are less likely than the general U.S. population to consume alcohol on a regular basis, but are more likely to engage in binge drinking, according to a new study. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that the rate of past month alcohol consumption among American Indian and Alaskan Native adults was significantly lower than that of the national average (43.9% vs. 55.2%), but that this group experiences a higher rate of binge drinking (30.6%) compared to the overall population (24.5%).

Based on SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), American Indian and Native Alaskan adult alcohol use had risen in their population alone in recent years. From 2004 to 2005, alcohol use among this group was at 42.8%, but had increased to 47.5% from 2007 to 2008. However, compared to the national average, past month alcohol use among American Indian and Native Alaskan adults was significantly lower than the national average. From 2004 to 2008, past month alcohol use was estimated at 43.9% among this group, whereas the national average stood at 55.2%. Although average alcohol consumption appeared to be lower than the general public, American Indian and Native Alaskan adults were shown to be engaging in more risky behavior such as binge drinking (30.6% vs. 24.5% national average) and illicit substance use (11.2% vs. 7.9% national average). Binge drinking and illicit substance use had slightly decreased among this group population alone between 2004 and 2008, but still remained higher than the national average.

When divided into age groups, the NSDUH showed that American Indians and Alaskan Natives of all ages were engaging in less alcohol consumption than the general public. The rate of past month alcohol use among individuals ages 18 to 25 within this group were 52.0% while the national average was at 61.1%; the rate of individuals between the ages of 26 to 49 was at 51.3% while the national average was at 60.5%; and the rate of individuals age 50 and older was at 31.0% compared to the national average of 46.9%. The occurrence of binge drinking among American Indians and Native Alaskans was relatively the same as the general public except among individuals ages 26 to 49. The rate of binge drinking among individuals of this age group was at 39.4% while the national average was much lower at 28.9%. Also, the rate of illicit substance abuse among this population was slightly higher than the general public, except among younger adults. For American Indians or Native Alaskans ages 18 to 25, the rate of illicit substance abuse was at 25.4%, while the national average was significantly lower at 19.7%.

When comparing health insurance statistics, SAMHSA found that uninsured American Indian and Native Alaskan adults were more likely than uninsured individuals from the general population to engage in binge drinking (44.4% vs. 33.1%). Similarly, American Indian and Native Alaskan adults living in poverty showed a higher rate of binge drinking than adults living in poverty among the general population (36.1% vs. 25.2%). The NSDUH showed that American Indians or Native Alaskans were much more likely to live in non-metropolitan areas than the general public (47.9% vs. 16.8%) and to be living in poverty (27.6% vs. 11.5%). The rate of individuals who are uninsured, however, was comparatively similar to that of the general public.

Most importantly, the study showed that 18.0% of American Indians and Native Alaskans (194,000 people) had a substance abuse problem during this time, which is twice more than the national average (9.6%). Currently, American Indians and Native Alaskans make up about 1% of the U.S. population (about 2 million people). However, American Indians or Native Alaskans and the general population had similar percentages of individuals with substance abuse disorders who sought treatment in the last year (12.6% and 10.4% respectively), or about one in eight individuals.

One of the nation’s top concerns regarding health care is eliminating disparity among diverse groups. Statistically, minorities are less likely to receive treatment for mental health or substance abuse disorders, have health insurance, and have higher rates of unemployment. Historically, outreach and prevention strategies have not adequately reached minority groups and have left many Americans underserved for treatment–putting them at higher risk of injury, illness, and premature mortality. By studying trends among certain minority groups, SAMHSA hopes to develop more effective methods of intervention and prevention to improve treatment rates and eradicate health problems that are overwhelming certain populations

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