Nearly 15% of the American Indian and Alaskan Native population meets the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder, compared to 4.6% for Asians, 7.4% among African Americans, and 8.4% among Caucasians.

These statistics are probably shocking to the general public because the struggles of the American Indian and Alaskan Native community are usually not discussed enough by those outside the tribal community. But those in this community know just how prevalent addiction is.

But why is addiction such a huge issue for the American Indian and Alaskan Native community? What struggles do they face that are unique to everyone else?

Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons why addiction rates are so high for these individuals in these communities. We’ll get to the basics below and talk about a few of the painful struggles that this community goes through.

Historical Trauma Affects Many Generations

There are 566 federally recognized American Indian and Alaskan Native tribes and villages in the United States, each with their own culture, language, history, and unique traditions. Just a few of these tribes that are recognized in Michigan are Bay Mills Chippewa Indian Community, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.

Throughout passing generations, however, they have battled to maintain their cultural identity.

In the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, the U.S. government enacted legislation that forcibly removed American Indian and Alaskan Native children from their homes and placed them in Christian boarding schools.

Many of these children endured horrible abuse by their peers and teachers. They were punished for speaking their Native language with beatings, verbal abuse, and sexual abuse. They were stripped of their identity and forced to assimilate into a culture that they were not a part of. Those who survived this abuse returned years later to find themselves completely disconnected from their families and traditional ways.

Although this happened over a hundred years ago, the effects of these actions were long-lasting. The trauma and persecution endured by older American Indian and Alaskan Native generations led to a breakdown of the Native family and tribal structure and a weakening of spiritual ties. Some children who attended boarding schools lost their sense of self through enforced shaming of their cultural identity. As a result, their children were raised with little awareness of their Native heritage and became disconnected from their tribal ways of knowing.

This has led to many generations of American Indian and Alaskan Native individuals to have an identity crisis. They have felt pressured to fit into American society and lose their Native culture.

Many of the Native American and Alaskan Natives who endured this abuse as children suffered from addiction and mental illness, and have passed on these common problems that American Indians and Alaskan Natives face to future generations.

This form of trauma is commonly referred to as historical trauma because the events that have happened throughout history to American Indians and Alaskan Natives affect many generations of people, and still affects them today.

Due to the horrific abuse and suffering that has been passed down to many generations of American Indians and Alaskan Natives, the suicide rate for the American Indian and Alaskan Native community is very high.

Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death among American Indians and Alaskan Natives, and the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 34. The overall death rate from suicide for American Indian and Alaskan Native adults is about 20% higher as compared to the non-Hispanic white population.

American Indians and Alaskan Natives Need Culturally Sensitive Treatment

Many rehabs don’t have a unique program designed for American Indians and Alaskan Natives, which contributes to the high rates of addiction and mortality rates.

It is important to note that different tribal groups within the American Indian and Alaskan Native community have different perceptions and definitions of mental disorders. Some see mental illness as having no distinction from physical illness, following the idea that the physical body has no separation from the mental and spiritual spheres. Others discredit Western methods of assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness, often distrusting “white” medicine.

Other tribal points of view may consider mental illness as expressions of demonic possession, as spiritual gifts, or as terminal losses of the soul. As a whole, treatment providers can best support this population by adopting a culturally competent approach in understanding various frameworks and understandings of mental illness.

It’s also very difficult for many to ask for help, or admit the traumatic abuse that they have endured. The biggest issue that American Indians and Alaskan Natives face that can cause addiction and issues with mental health is unresolved trauma. Talking about these traumatic experiences requires compassionate trauma-informed care at rehab facilities.

Effective American Indian and Alaskan Native treatment incorporates cultural sensitivity with evidence-based practices, including medically assisted detox, residential care, and support groups. Depending on the person’s needs, treatment planning for long-term care, which can include inpatient treatment, sober living, and individual and family therapy is recommended.

In recovery practices, clinical teams should consider specific interventions related to honoring tribal cultures, such as healing circles, sweat lodges, and dancing rituals. Within the American Indian and Alaskan Native population, balancing both medical and holistic care appears to be an essential feature of successful recovery.

Where Can the American Indian and Alaskan Native Community Turn for Addiction Treatment?

Skywood Recovery in Augusta, Michigan offers dual diagnosis treatment and trauma-informed care that can help you or a loved one move on from past trauma and recover from an addiction. At Skywood, we offer the Medicine Wheel for spiritual healing, and you or a loved one can join the group, Mending Broken Hearts, to help repair unresolved grief. Both programs have been developed by the Native American/Alaskan healers at White Bison. Our facility is a safe space for you or a loved one to heal from these painful struggles.

We’ll offer compassionate and culturally sensitive care to you or a loved one in need. Our master’s level clinicians can help you or a loved one get back on track. Being in the hands of the highly experienced and compassionate staff underneath serene Augusta skies can help the transition to sobriety be an easier one. Call Skywood Recovery today at 269-280-4673 to help you or a loved one recover from addiction.