Resiliency Factors Related to Substance Use/resistance: Perceptions of Native Adolescents of the Southwest

By Waller, Margaret A.; Okamoto, Scott K. et al. | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Resiliency Factors Related to Substance Use/resistance: Perceptions of Native Adolescents of the Southwest


Waller, Margaret A., Okamoto, Scott K., Miles, Bart W., Hurdle, Donna E., Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


This exploratory, qualitative study examined risk and protective factors influencing drug and alcohol use and/or resistance of Native youth in the Southwest. Thirty-two Native middle school students participated in 10 focus groups that explored their experiences with alcohol and drugs in their school and reservation communities. The findings indicate a complex interaction of both risk and protective factors related to substance use. Respondents" cousins and siblings, in particular, played a key role in their decisions to use or resist drugs. Implications for social work practice are discussed.

Keywords: Native, Indigenous, youth, substance use, family

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Grounded in resiliency theory (Waller, 2002), this exploratory, qualitative study examined the operative risk and protective factors influencing drug and alcohol use and/or resistance of urban Native seventh graders in the Southwest. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of cultural context on drug use/resistance among Native youth as reflected through their narratives. Particular attention was given to the way in which respondents conceptualized and experienced "family." In this paper, the terms Native, First Nations, and Indigenous are used interchangeably, as contemporary Native scholars prefer them to the linguistic colonialism implied in the terms Indians, American Indians, and Native Americans.

Historical Context of Native Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA)

The usefulness of research on substance abuse among Indigenous youth is limited when data are decontextualized. Analyses that present quantitative data independent of context may identify problems but present an incomplete picture of these problems and how Indigenous people experience and respond to them (Weaver, 1999). Many researchers have attributed alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA), family violence, and other manifestations of psychosocial distress among Native people to deficits, euphemistically termed cultural or genetic "differences" between Native and non-Native people. Suggested cultural determinants include lax moral codes (Holmes & Antell, 2001) and loss of traditional cultural values and norms (Caetano, Clark, & Tam, 1998). In addition, for many years, researchers believed that Native people had a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. However, repeated clinical studies have demonstrated that no such genetic predisposition exists (Bennion & Li, 1976; Chan, 1986; May, 1994).

By contrast, a growing number of researchers maintain that contemporary social problems can only be understood in the context of historical trauma related to colonization. European colonizers, by means of force or deception, have destroyed or appropriated Native people's lives, lands, resources, wealth, cultures, and languages, and have repeatedly violated treaties, and both sovereign and civil rights. Contemporary researchers are examining the relationship between historical trauma related to these human rights abuses and contemporary social problems such as substance abuse and its sequelae in Native communities (Frank, Moore, & Ames, 2000; Beauvais, 1998).

Finally, institutionalized oppression of Native people is not just a historical artifact--it persists in contemporary life. Examples include federally-run, Eurocentric Indian health care, education, social service, and criminal justice systems that have always been and continue to be underfunded and poorly administered, resulting in culturally inappropriate and substandard services. Poverty, geographic isolation, and lack of access to needed resources further restrict the range of opportunities available to Native youth (Schaefer, 2000).

The Impact of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (ADOA) on Native Youth

ADOA is a powerful risk factor impacting the psychosocial well being of Native youth (Ehlers, Wall, Garcia-Andrade, & Phillips, 2001). One intertribal study of 1464 Native high school adolescents found that forty percent of them had used marijuana at least once a month (Novins & Mitchell, 1998). …

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