Alcohol use among Native Americans compared to whites: Examining the veracity of the 'Native American elevated alcohol consumption' belief

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Background: This study uses national survey data to examine the veracity of the longstanding belief that, compared to whites, Native Americans (NA) have elevated alcohol consumption. Methods: The primary data source was the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2009 to 2013: whites (n = 171,858) and NA (n = 4,201). Analyses using logistic regression with demographic covariate adjustment were conducted to assess differences in the odds of NA and whites being alcohol abstinent, light/moderate drinkers (no binge/heavy consumption), binge drinkers (5+ drinks on an occasion 1-4 days), or heavy drinkers (5+ drinks on an occasion 5+ days) in the past month. Complementary alcohol abstinence, light/moderate drinking and excessive drinking analyses were conducted using Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data from 2011 to 2013: whites (n = 1,130,658) and NA (n = 21,589). Results: In the NSDUH analyses, the majority of NA, 59.9% (95% CI: 56.7-63.1), abstained, whereas a minority of whites, 43.1% (CI: 42.6-43.6), abstained-adjusted odds ratio (AOR): 0.64 (CI: 0.56-0.73). Approximately 14.5% (CI: 12.0-17.4) of NA were light/moderate-only drinkers, versus 32.7% (CI: 32.2-33.2) of whites (AOR: 1.90; CI: 1.51-2.39). NA and white binge drinking estimates were similar-17.3% (CI: 15.0-19.8) and 16.7% (CI: 16.4-17.0), respectively (AOR: 1.00; CI: 0.83-1.20). The two populations' heavy drinking estimates were also similar-8.3% (CI: 6.7-10.2) and 7.5% (CI: 7.3-7.7), respectively (AOR: 1.06; CI: 0.85-1.32). Results from the BRFSS analyses generally corroborated those from NSDUH. Conclusions: In contrast to the 'Native American elevated alcohol consumption' belief, Native Americans compared to whites had lower or comparable rates across the range of alcohol measures examined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-75
Number of pages11
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Alcohol
  • American Indian and Alaska Native
  • Binge drinking
  • Heavy drinking
  • Native American
  • Stereotype

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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