Monday, November 29, 2010

Alcohol Use Rates Lower than National Average...But...

I was looking through some data sponsored by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and came across this headline,

“New Study Shows that the Alcohol Use Rate Among American Indian or Alaska Native Adults is Well Below the National Average”

My first thoughts were, “Wow…finally some good news. Maybe prevention and treatment dollars targeted to Natives are finally showing some improvements.” It has constantly and consistently been reported that Natives mostly lead all rates of problematic alcohol and drug use. To read now that they are “well below the national average” of alcohol use rate is outstanding. Then, as I was brimming with excitement, I read the next, smaller, non-bolded headline underneath – it states,

But Native American or Alaska Native adults have a higher rate of binge drinking than the national average

Well, that great feeling was short lived! So what the heck is going on inside these data? Did they find that Natives have lower alcohol use rates overall but those who do drink are heavier drinkers, compared to others? The article indicates that…”A new national study reveals that the rate of past month alcohol use (i.e., at least one drink in the past 30 days) among American Indian or Alaska Native adults is significantly lower than the national average for adults (43.9 percent versus 55.2 percent).” Significantly lower past month alcohol use is very good news for this group.

Some Background

SAMHSA concerns itself with the substance use and mental health of the U.S. Every so often it conducts a nation wide health survey. Basically, someone calls folks living in the U.S. and asked a series of health-related questions. The main reason for this particular study was to look at the health of minority groups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population is made up of about one-third racial/ethnic minorities. The Census Bureau projects that by 2050 that rate will increase to about 54 percent being minority (A side note, while I have struggle through a few math and stats courses, I’m somewhat sure 54% is no longer considered as being in the minority). Understanding the health disparities among minority groups in the U.S. and addressing those disparities will be critical in the coming years. Allowing these well-known disparities to continue is inhuman and callous.

This SAMHSA study compared 2004 survey responses to 2008 responses looking for any differences among certain groups.  Along with the good news discussed above, the report goes on the state that “American Indian or Native Alaska adults have a rate of past month binge alcohol drinking (i.e., five or more drinks on the same occasion - on at least one day in the past 30 days) well above the national average (30.6 percent versus 24.5 percent).”

What I take away from this is while a lower percent of Natives (compared to the national average) have drank alcohol in the past month, those Natives who did drink, went on to drink more (compared to the national average).

Some other significant findings from this study:

  • The level of past month illicit drug use was also found to be higher among American Indian or Alaska Native adults than the overall adult population (11.2 percent versus 7.9 percent).
  • Eighteen percent of American Indian or Alaska Native adults needed treatment for an alcohol or illicit drug use problem in the past year, nearly twice the national average (9.6 percent).
  • 1 in 8 (12.6 percent) American Indian or Alaska Native adults who were in need of alcohol or illicit drug treatment in the past year received it at a specialty facility - about the same as the national average (10.4 percent).

While I appreciate SAMHSA headlining the one positive finding within this study – it makes me wonder why they would? I will not issue all of my theories now, but can’t help but wonder why this headline was picked when the overall story is so depressing? SAMHSA reports on its website that its mission is to “reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.”  As it relates to Native communities, they seem to be falling short on pretty much all areas. You can read the complete article here,

A Final Thought

Let’s say SAMHSA’s mission was to reduce the rates of pool drowning in the U.S. and they reported on study comparing 2004 to 2008 drowning rates data. I wonder if they would put up a headline reading,

New Study Shows that Natives are Drowning in 10 Feet of Water which is Well Below the National Average of Drowning in 15 Feet of Water

But Natives have a higher rate of swimming in 12 feet deep pools than the national average

Peace, DAP

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