The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) recently reported that 11.7 percent of deaths for both Native Americans and Alaska natives over a four-year period were a direct result of excessive alcohol consumption. Advocates for Native American tribal health are taking these numbers as a “call to action” for an issue that has long been ignored and swept under the rug on reservations around the US. These statistics were discovered after the CDCP’s epidemiologists undertook an exhaustive study of Native American death certificates.
The Exact Alcohol-Related Causes of Death Were Varied
During the period of study, 1,514 individuals lost their lives to alcohol use on tribal lands. The researchers believe this number is likely lower than the actual number of untimely deaths due to alcohol, as only the death certificates were used and certain diseases that may be caused by drinking were not able to be counted without further information. The highest figures were seen in the Northern Plains and the lowest were in Alaska.
The researchers ascertained that the top causes of alcohol-related death were car accidents and cirrhosis of the liver. These two factors added up to more than 25 percent of all the deaths due to drinking. Surprisingly, almost seven percent were murders and just over five percent were a result of suicide.
Genetics May Play a Large Role in the Propensity for Native American Alcoholism
Scientists at the Indiana University School of Medicine have been on a search for the genetic variables that influence the development of alcoholism and those that help prevent its progression. They have identified two genes that actually may provide protection against someone engaging in excessive drinking and these two genetic components are found in high numbers among those of Asian descent. Turns out these mutations for an enzyme called “aldehyde dehydrogenase” are missing in the Native American population.
When aldehyde dehydrogenase is not present to break down the alcohol properly, the person’s skin will quickly turn red, their heart rate increases, and possible nausea and extreme tiredness ensue. All these physiological reactions stop someone from wanting to continue drinking, thus, protecting the individual from abusing alcohol. Dr. Li, one of the head researchers states, “We have shown that Native Americans, who have a high rate of alcoholism, do not have these protective genes.”
This does not mean Native Americans are destined to abuse alcohol by any means; it is just evidence that they are at a greater risk for developing a drinking problem, if the mental and emotional factors are there.
If you are struggling with a dependence on alcohol, contact us immediately. We can connect you with quality treatment and rehabilitation programs that will assist you on your journey back to a healthy, sober life.