Does the Disease Concept of Alcoholism Benefit Native Americans?

Hello, Dr. Stanton Peele!

addiction-articles-114-healthyplaceI, as have many Native American people, have been tremendously affected by the consequences of alcohol addiction running rampant through my family, my clan, my tribe, and friends and family in other tribes.

Please tell us: What is the rate of alcohol addiction among women of child-bearing age on our reservations, and what is the rate of F.A.S. amidst the new-borns?

What is available for our child-bearing-aged women, and how can we grandmothers step in to help protect our heritage (the children)?

Can you direct me to more information aimed at statistics for individual reservations? Perhaps we can learn from those experiencing a reprieve as well as those who are not achieving positive results.

Is there a web site that allows us to converse and compare programs and ideas?

Thank You for your time;

Dear Wendy:

I am not an expert on this topic, but many people are very concerned. You need to contact groups working with native American alcoholism — I do know the rate of FAS is many (30!) times as high among native Americans as among Whites.

What my site is about — and I believe it applies doubly to Native Americans — is whether telling people they are born with the disease of alcoholism is helpful. I say not.

Best, Stanton

Dear Dr. Peele:

Thank you for responding to my note. I agree that the disease-model is not positive for my people for a number of reasons.

First, it gives an excuse: "Yes, there's something wrong with us and we can't help ourselves, so let's just go out and fulfill our destiny."

Second, the disease model ignores many of the real issues surrounding Indigenous people in the United States. For example, aside from being coerced from our ancestral lands and needing to adjust to new diets (which results in all varieties of bodily illnesses through several generations), many of our family members, clan members, tribal members died from new diseases, malnutrition, bounties, and so forth.

We wrapped our remaining relatives closely to us, tolerating addictions and other maladaptive behaviors simply to hold on to those few who remained. In 1979, thanks to Jimmy Carter's Freedom of Religion Act, we were finally given permission to pray in our own way without being jailed for doing so, then in the late eighties, the U.S. government finally stopped removing children — for educational purposes (the Carlisle School) — from their reservations at the age of six.

It has been a long holocaust for us, and I'd say my people need treatment for generations of pent up anger, post traumatic stress, horrific depression, and low self-esteem for having been so helpless to prevent what happened. Further, because the children — all but a few who were hidden — were regularly removed over several generations, I'd say we also could use parenting skills!

No, the disease model only serves to prolong our substance abuse difficulties. We as a people fairly collectively believe that our hope and our heritage lie within the children. If this is so, then surely our hope lies within ourselves to model the laying aside of addictions and to begin to demonstrate honor and sober integrity.

Yet as I reach out across the web, I'm finding no statistics, no real research, no positive connections, hence, I must be searching the wrong venues.

Again, thank you for your time, and further, thank you for you.

Wendy Whitaker

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 21). Does the Disease Concept of Alcoholism Benefit Native Americans?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Last Updated: June 27, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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