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What Prevents American Indians from Seeking Treatment for Alcohol Issues?


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a significant problem for communities throughout the country. For American Indians (AI), the rates of AUD are startlingly high—yet few seek treatment for their dependency. Numerous studies have been conducted on treatment barriers among people with AUD, but few have focused on barriers for AIs, and those that have relied on reservation-dwelling samples. To extend the insight into treatment barriers for AIs, Kamilla L. Venner of the Department of Psychology at the University of New Mexico recently led a study focusing on treatment barriers among a nonreservation sample of American Indians.

The participants were 56 AIs with a history of AUD. All of the participants were interviewed and then completed surveys asking them about barriers to seeking treatment. The participants revealed four prominent areas in which they perceived the most barriers: personally, socially, pragmatically, and general concerns related to help seeking. More than half of the participants cited personal barriers such as stigma surrounding help seeking. Specifically, they believed they would be perceived as weak if they were not able to overcome their alcohol dependency on their own. The participants reported financial restrictions as a major pragmatic barrier to treatment, whether inpatient or outpatient. They also raised concerns about the cultural disparities between treatment professionals and themselves. They were unsure if the clinicians would be sensitive to their cultural and ethnic differences and felt as if most people in treatment were “Anglos.” This supported their contention that they were not “one of them.”

Finally, social barriers existed, including lack of family or community support. In sum, the results demonstrate that AIs may avoid help seeking for AUD as a result of many factors. Although the participants volunteered and were not selected at random, and time of sobriety varied greatly, the overall findings warrant further exploration into ways to decrease perceived treatment barriers among this segment of the population. “Community and family interventions to decrease the stigma of substance abuse problems and increase the perception that treatments and traditional healing are effective would be a worthy endeavor,” Venner said.

Venner, K. L., Greenfield, B. L., Vicuña, B., Muñoz, R., Bhatt, S., O’Keefe, V. (2012). ‘I’m not one of them’: Barriers to help-seeking among American Indians with alcohol dependence. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029757

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  • wade October 4th, 2012 at 3:27 PM #1

    never gonna be easy unless you take the step forward.yes there may be more obstacles for you than the person next to you but until and unless you are ready to walk the extra mile to help yourself then nobody else can do anything about it.

  • Tim October 4th, 2012 at 3:54 PM #2

    It is such a cultural thing with this community. There has been so much stigma against native americans for a long time now, really since the settling of the country. There has always been this false truth that has circultaed about them, that they are drunks and drink to avoid doing anything else. Well you know what? If I had been treated with the kind of lack of respect that they have been then maybe I would have the same problems too. Drinking is not uncommon among many different peoples, but this group in general has had it harder than most. Maybe they fail to seek treatment because it is not as available to them, or they are are ashamed or maybe too proud. There are numerous issues at play that will take a whole lot of work to sort out.

  • rona October 5th, 2012 at 3:54 AM #3

    When you don’t have the full support of your family then it is going to be difficult to make any kind of change. The same is true whether it is drinking, eating, gambling, etc. There has to be that familial support, and when that is lacking then there is a greater chance that any efforts to change are going to fail.

  • betty.K October 5th, 2012 at 8:44 AM #4

    Its good to have data on the at-risk groups.Would definitely serve a purpose in preparing plans for the future when it comes to healthcare I think.With people coming from vast and wide geographies that America attracts, it only makes sense to make healthcare inclusive.

  • Liam October 6th, 2012 at 8:01 AM #5

    It’s not that they think they are ineffective treatments- it’s that they really don’t want the help. This is the kind of life that they live and if they can’t see anything more positive than this then why aim for more? They have watched parents and grandparents battle the stereotypes and have simply become what they assume that others already think that they are. It is a sad life but the reality for so many Native Americans in this country.

  • darcy s October 8th, 2012 at 9:04 AM #6

    worry? money? shame? lots of things that could be holding someone back, worth taking a good look at

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