Page title background

Addiction Recovery for Native Americans

Table of Content

Table of Content

Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have significantly impacted and enriched our country.  It is important to celebrate the rich history and traditions of this group and the many contributions of Native people. It’s also a moment to bring awareness to Native Americans’ challenges — both historically and in the present.

Although Native Americans and Alaskan Natives make up a small percentage of the U.S. population, they’re disproportionately affected by social problems contributing to substance use and addiction.

According to the 2015 Census, about 6.6 million Native Americans represent approximately 2% of the U.S. population. Native Americans are twice as likely to live under poor conditions when compared to the general population. More than 30% of Native Americans don’t have health insurance, and their life expectancy is about six years lower than the rest of the population.

Native Americans are also highly likely to experience racial discrimination when compared to other groups. Research conducted by the Department of Justice found that at least 70% of crimes experienced by Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are committed by people who are not Native Americans. This rate of racial violence is significantly higher than that experienced by other groups.

As we honor the history and traditions of Native Americans, it’s also essential to focus on substance use awareness and treatment options available to native populations.

infographic explaining addiction recovery for native americans

Factors Influencing Drug Use by Native Americans

Native Americans have higher incidences of substance misuse due to their history in the U.S., including forced relocations and political injustices. High rates of violence, loss, isolation, trauma and discrimination also make individuals in this group susceptible to alcohol and drug use. 

Compared to other groups, Native Americans are more likely to report:

  • Drug and substance use
  • IV drug use
  • Suicide attempts
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Hospitalization because of drugs
  • Difficulty finding employment
  • PTSD
  • Domestic issues


Because of these risk factors and their shared history, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are at an increased risk for drug and alcohol use and addiction. Historical trauma is emotional and psychological harm that affects multiple generations rather than just individuals. The cumulative trauma impacting Native Americans can result in various mental health issues, ranging from low self-esteem to anxiety and depression, and even suicidal thoughts. Many people use substances to cope with these painful feelings.


It’s important to note that the rate of drinking among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives is lower than that of other racial groups. However, the percentage of people with alcohol use disorder is higher, especially among young Native Americans. The number of Native American youth turning to alcohol is increasing. In a 2019 survey, over 3% of kids under the age of 18 reported struggling with alcohol misuse, along with 13% of young adults between 18 and 25.


Illicit drug use by Native populations is higher than any other single ethnic group across all age groups, with 10% of Native Americans struggling with a substance use disorder. Among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, it has been reported that:

  • Nearly half have reported using marijuana in their lifetime
  • About 17% have used cocaine
  • More than 17% have used a hallucinogen
  • About 7% have misused prescription medications

The drug that seems to be doing the most damage among Native people is methamphetamine. Native Americans have the highest rate of meth use of any demographic, with nearly 12% of people over the age of 12 reporting having used this drug in their lifetime. Many tribes have observed the negative consequences of meth use, including employees testing positive for meth, meth-related child welfare cases, and even removing American Indian children from their homes.

Common Substance Addictions Among Native Americans

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among Native Americans. However, the use of illicit drugs is a factor, too. Research conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2015 found that the use of drugs among Native Americans aged 12 and older was approximately 54%, and about 23% reported having used drugs in the past year.

Some of the drugs most commonly abused by Native Americans include: 

Common Process Addictions Among Native Americans

Aside from alcohol and drug abuse, Native Americans may also have process addictions, which are commonly referred to as behavioral addictions. Common process addictions among Native Americans include:

  • Sex
  • Gambling
  • Eating
  • Internet
  • Gaming
  • Working

Barriers to Treatment for Native Americans

Barriers to treatment for alcohol and drug use among Native Americans include:

  • Lack of cultural inclusiveness in social activities
  • Lack of quality service providers
  • Absence of health insurance coverage
  • Lack of awareness of the adverse effects of addiction
  • Reservation or rural living far from treatment centers 
  • Lack of transportation

Substance Misuse Treatment for Native Americans

There are many factors to consider when it comes to substance misuse treatment for Native Americans. Many lack access to treatment centers because of their location on reservations. Additionally, most members lack health insurance and the means to pay for addiction programs, making it hard to get the help they need.

Different cultural beliefs should also be considered. Other beliefs, customs, and levels of trust in western medicine can affect treatment success in an addiction program. Specialized programs for Native Americans consider all of the above to provide an all-inclusive plan for addiction recovery.

Most facilities that offer Native American alcoholism and addiction treatment offer both traditional and modern treatment methods. The more culturally aware a program is, the more likely individuals from these groups seek addiction treatment.


While the prevalence of substance misuse among Native Americans may be disproportionately high, many community programs and tribal centers are speaking out and lending a helping hand. These resources connect Native Americans and Alaskan Natives with treatment that emphasizes the importance of integrating native rituals and addressing this population’s unique needs.

Addiction Recovery for Native Americans

If you’re struggling with substance misuse, seeking treatment for your addiction is the best thing to do. There are many treatment options available, and some programs facilities, including Gateway Foundation, offer addiction treatment for Native Americans.

If you want to learn more about Native American drug use treatment programs, feel free to call our qualified therapists at 877-352-9566 or reach out to us through our online contact page to get the help you need.

blue banner

Addiction Destroys Dreams, We Can Help