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American Indians and Alcoholism


There is a stereotype that many Native Americans are alcoholics. Unfortunately there is some truth to that stereotype.

80% of young Indians, for example, report that they have experimented with alcohol. And studies show that 12% of deaths among Native Americans are alcohol-related.

According to the web site Native American Netroots, there is a common misconception that Indian alcoholism is connected to a genetic deficiency that doesn't allow them to metabolize alcohol normally. The site said there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim.

Native Americans have a long history with alcohol. The site writes that early Europeans who came to the U.S. introduced it to them:

Indian people learned to drink European alcohol such as rum from people who were not "normal" drinkers. That is, the early frontier Europeans - the traders, the trappers, the explorers - were often social rejects in their own society. Many were alcoholics. The drinking pattern which they taught Indians was not the polite social drinking of upper class European society, but rather it was the alcoholic model of the lower classes. Indians learned from these people that the purpose of drinking was to get drunk and drunkenness was to be expressed in violence and anti-social behavior.

In 1832 Congress passed a law that banned Indians from drinking alcohol. That prohibition lasted until 1953. While some tribes quickly went back to drinking, others continued the ban, which continue on some reservations to this day.

There are some who feel that the high rate of alcoholism and the high number of deaths which are alcohol related are a direct consequence of the federal prohibition against alcohol. This prohibition did not allow Indian cultures to develop their own norms for the use of alcohol.