Childhood abuse related to alcoholism in Native Americans

New research on seven Native American tribes suggests that tribe members who were abused or sent away to school as children are more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life.

Men were almost twice as likely to abuse alcohol if they had experienced a combination of physical and sexual abuse as children. Women were almost twice as likely to have alcohol problems if they had been sexually abused and attended boarding school.

The study, published in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is the first to look at adverse childhood environments as a risk factor for alcoholism across a large number of tribes, say Mary P. Koss, Ph.D., and Nicole Yuan, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona and colleagues.

Alcohol abuse exacts a terrible toll among several Native American communities, making it important to understand factors that might influence alcohol abuse among the population, according to the researchers.

With the help of Native American interviewers and the cooperation of leaders of tribes in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Oregon, Maine and Arizona, the researchers collected information on adverse childhood experiences ranging from emotional neglect to physical abuse to adoption and boarding school attendance and drinking habits from 1,660 people. The participants were interviewed by a person from within their tribe or someone from another tribe, depending on tribal leaders' preferences.

The percentage of alcohol dependent tribe members varied significantly among tribes, from only one to two percent in one tribe to 56 percent of the men in another. Across all the tribes, 30 percent of the men and 18 percent of the women were diagnosed with some form of alcohol dependence. More than half said that they had at least one parent with alcohol problems.

More than two-thirds of respondents reported at least one kind of adverse childhood experience. Physical neglect and abuse were among the most widely

Contact: Mary Koss
Center for the Advancement of Health

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