Subscribe to minority women's health email updates.
- Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
- People who plan to drive or do other things that require alertness and skill (like using high-speed machinery)
- People taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medicines
- People with medical conditions that can be made worse by drinking
- Recovering alcoholics
- People younger than age 21
Alcoholism and drug abuse
Alcohol and drug abuse are significant problems for many American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Alcohol and drug abuse have been linked to increases in injuries, violence, and mental health problems, including suicide. These problems also are among the top health concerns for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Alcoholism is a pattern of drinking that is harmful to the drinker or to others. It is a disease that includes the following:
- Craving: a strong need to drink
- Loss of control: can't stop drinking once drinking has started
- Physical dependence: having withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after a time of heavy drinking
- Tolerance: need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to "get high"
For women, heavy drinking is consuming an average of more than one drink per day. Binge drinking is consuming four or more drinks on a single occasion, generally within two hours. Both heavy and/or binge drinking can lead to alcohol problems, including alcoholism. Binge drinking can raise a woman's risk of being hurt or raped.
American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of binge drinking, although this problem is more common among men than women. American Indians and Alaska Natives also have high rates of drunk driving and alcohol-related fatal crashes.
Alcohol abuse also harms the youngest American Indians and Alaska Natives. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a problem for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Babies whose mothers drank alcohol while pregnant can be born with FAS. FAS can cause lifelong problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, and hearing.
Alcohol abuse is not the only substance problem affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives. Drug abuse is also a serious problem. American Indians and Alaska Natives have higher rates of marijuana, cocaine, and hallucinogen abuse than other minority groups. Methamphetamine use is also a growing problem.
Drug abuse plays a role in many major community problems. It is a direct cause of many injuries and illnesses. These include car crashes and fatalities, violence, stress, and child abuse. Drug abuse can also lead to homelessness, crime, and missed work or problems with keeping a job. It harms unborn babies and destroys families.
If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drugs, get help. Talk to your doctor or locate a drug or alcohol treatment program near you.
Explore other publications and websites
Alcoholism: Do You Have a Drinking Problem? (Copyright © Mayo Foundation) — Take this alcohol use self-assessment to better understand your drinking habits. This assessment can't diagnose you with an alcohol use or abuse problem, but it can help you evaluate your drinking and understand whether you may benefit from treatment.
American Indian and Alaska Native Women's Health — This site offers information for health service providers and consumers about American Indian and Alaska Native women's health. It discusses cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, cardiovascular disease, and access to care.
American Indian Health — This website is an information portal to information about the health of native peoples of the United States. The topics include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and environmental health.
Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy (Copyright © March of Dimes Foundation) — Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause physical and mental birth defects. This fact sheet explains the hazards of drinking during pregnancy and breastfeeding, the effects of the father's drinking, and what the March of Dimes is doing to prevent fetal alcohol exposure. It also discusses fetal alcohol syndrome.
Drinking and Your Pregnancy — This brochure explains how alcohol can cause problems during pregnancy and lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. It also provides a list of resources for more information and where to get help.
How to Help Yourself, Your Family Member, or Friend Be an Alcohol-Free Mother-To-Be: Tips for Native Women — This brochure describes how Native women can help themselves and other women have alcohol-free pregnancies. It discusses the risks of drinking during pregnancy and includes suggestions for talking to pregnant relatives or friends about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). It also lists things women can do to support healthy pregnancies — for themselves and others.
Impaired Driving — This resource provides statistics on the number of impaired driving incidents. It also talks about risk factors for impaired driving and how to prevent it.
National Health Observance — Alcohol Awareness Month Online Toolkit — Alcohol Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness of alcohol abuse and encourage people to make healthy, safe choices. This toolkit can help you keep track of your drinking, set a drinking limit, and cut back if necessary.
Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health — If you drink alcohol, this pamphlet can help you determine how much is too much and what to do if you're thinking about a change. It offers statistics on alcohol use, a checklist of symptoms for an alcohol use disorder, and a list of further resources.
Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator — This website will help you locate a substance abuse treatment facility in your area.
What You Need To Know: The Effects of Alcohol on Women — This fact sheet provides data and statistics on women and drinking, including associated health risks and the effects of drinking during pregnancy and nursing. It also provides resources for additional information about alcohol and women.
Connect with other organizations
American Indian/Alaska Native National Resource Center for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Center for Excellence, SAMHSA, HHS
Indian Health Service
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.
National Indian Women's Health Resource Center (NIWHRC)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, HHS
Content last updated May 18, 2010.
Resources last updated May 18, 2010.
A federal government website managed by the Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
200 Independence Avenue, S.W. • Washington, DC 20201