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University Of Arizona Study Debunks Native American Alcohol Use Myths

The beliefs are long-held and often-repeated — Native Americans have a high rate of alcohol use and abuse. Now, University of Arizona research refutes those myths.

College of Medicine researchers analyzed data from several multiyear surveys and published their conclusions this week. Heavy alcohol use and binge-drinking rates are nearly identical between Native Americans and whites. The study found Native Americans are more likely, 60 percent, than whites, 43 percent, to abstain altogether from alcohol use.

“People have this assumption that everyone on the reservation has an alcohol problem or at least it’s more excessive than it is anywhere else, and I think we know that’s not true,” said Teshia Solomon, director of the Native American Research and Training Center at the UA.

Solomon is a member of the Choctaw Nation and co-authored the study.

James Cunningham, of the Family and Community Medicine department, led the research. He said negative stereotyping can create health disparities.

“Sometimes it’s possible that if a patient comes in and is looking for help from a doctor and the doctor believes in this stereotype, and it’s a very common belief, it may be biased toward looking toward alcoholism as an explanation for some of the health problems,” Cunningham said.

Native Americans seeking a job may not get serious consideration for a position because an employer believes that the person may abuse alcohol, he said.

The study’s findings will be shared next week at the training and research center’s annual conference for Native American researchers and with tribal leaders.

Sara Hammond has an extensive background in journalism as well as corporate communication. A graduate of the University of Arizona’s (UA) School of Journalism, Hammond interned at the Tucson Citizen and, after graduation, spent 10 years reporting for the Portland Press Herald in Maine.