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Alcoholism and drug abuse

Some people should not drink at all, including:
  • 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

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.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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