Ethnic Pride Biculturalism, and Drug Use Norms of Urban American Indian Adolescents

By Kulis, Stephen; Napoli, Maria et al. | Social Work Research, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Pride Biculturalism, and Drug Use Norms of Urban American Indian Adolescents


Kulis, Stephen, Napoli, Maria, Marsiglia, Flavio Francisco, Social Work Research


This study examines how strength of ethnic identity, multiethnic identity, and other indicators of biculturalism relate to the drug use norms of urban American Indian middle school students. The article distinguishes categories of norms that may affect drug use. Regression analysis of self-reports by 434 American Indian seventh graders attending middle schools in a large southwestern U.S. city indicated that students who had a more intense sense of ethnic pride adhered more strongly to certain antidrug norms than those who did not. Whereas American Indian students with better grades in school held consistently stronger antidrug norms, there were few differences by gender, socioeconomic status, or age. These results have implications in social work practice for better understanding and strengthening the protective aspects of American Indian culture in drug prevention efforts.

Key words: adolescents; American Indians; biculturalism; drug use

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Use of alcohol and other drugs is a serious problem among American Indian youths. As an undifferentiated group, American Indian youths appear to begin drug use relatively early, have a high prevalence of lifetime use, and use certain substances, such as marijuana, more regularly than other youths. Nearly one-third of all American Indian children try alcohol by age 11 (Mail, 1995). About 20 percent of American Indian adolescents are reported to be heavily involved in some type of drug use--indicated by using several times per week or using multiple drugs--and this proportion has remained largely unchanged since 1980 (Beauvais, 1996). One intertribal study found that 40 percent of American Indian adolescents used marijuana at least once per month (Novins & Mitchell, 1998).

For certain substances, American Indian youths' rate of use appears to be comparatively high. Herring's (1994) review of studies of substance use among American Indian youths found that they had a higher rate of lifetime alcohol use, as well as higher rates of alcohol and marijuana abuse, than the white population or any other ethnic minority group. This pattern also appears in more recent large-scale national studies. Using data from the Monitoring the Future survey, American Indian youths reported significantly higher lifetime substance use than non-American Indian youths for marijuana and cocaine, whereas non-American Indian youths reported significantly higher use rates of inhalants and tobacco (Plunkett & Mitchell, 2000). American Indian youths also reported higher past-30-day use of five of seven substances (that is, marijuana, cocaine, stimulants, alcohol, and barbiturates) than reported by non-American Indian youths (Plunkett & Mitchell).

In comparing American Indian youths with others, it appears to be important to consider regional variations in drug use patterns (Plunkett & Mitchell, 2000). Analysis by geographic regions reveals that American Indian youths have significantly higher lifetime use of some substances in certain regions, and non-American Indian youths have significantly higher use in other regions. When region is controlled American Indian youths use rates are significantly higher than that of other groups on only three of seven substances--alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine (Plunkett & Mitchell). Other use patterns appear to be national, for example, inhalants use is less prevalent among urban than reservation Indian adolescents (Howard, Walker, Walker, Cottler, & Compton, 1999).

Although American Indian adolescents' relatively high use rates of alcohol and some other drugs have been recognized for decades (French & Hornbuckle, 1980), prevention and intervention resources available to Indian communities are negligible (Inouye, 1993). Considerable effort has been made to delineate the scope of the problem (Brady, 1995; Wright & Watts, 1989) and develop strategies for prevention and intervention (Locklear, 1977; Schinke et al.

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