The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Winter
2010

Native American Youth at Risk


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


For some time, informed observers have lamented the baleful consequences of alcohol and drug use among Native American populations. The authors of a new study acknowledge that “substance use among American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth is one of the most significant challenges faced by Native American communities today,” adding that “alcohol and other drug use contributes to the top three leading causes of death among AI/AN youth. ” But these researchers—affiliated with the University of Washington—adduce evidence that not all Native American youth are equally vulnerable to the harm caused by alcohol and drug use: those living in intact families are significantly less likely to succumb to the temptation to use such substances.

Scrutinizing data collected from Seattle public schools enrolling Native American students, the researchers identify family structure as a strong predictor of substance abuse among Native American youth. “Among this sample,” the researchers conclude, “each of the three types of substance use [alcohol, tobacco, marijuana] was greater among youth not residing in original two-parent homes.” The researchers calculate that, compared to peers in intact families, Native American youth in single-parent homes are more than five times as likely to start marijuana use (Odds Ratio of 5.215; p.01), almost five times as likely to initiate alcohol use (Odds Ratio of 4.713; p.05), and more than three times as likely to use tobacco regularly (Odds Ratio of 3.144; p.10).

Examining their findings, the Washington scholars suggest, “Youth residing in original two-parent homes may be better able to delay initiation of use of these substances [alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana].” Such delay is important because “delayed alcohol and drug initiation is predictive of less misuse later in life.”

The harm that American settlers have done by introducing alcohol and illegal drugs to Native Americans has apparently been compounded by liberal social activists advocating easy divorce and non-traditional family forms.

(Heather S. Lonczak et al., “Family Structure and Substance Use Among American Indian Youth: A Preliminary Study,”Families, Systems, and Health 25.1 [2007]: 10–22.)

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