Substance Abuse in Native American Youth in Oklahoma

While many issues occur around substance abuse, a major one is within the Native American community. Oklahoma is the second state with the largest Native American population in the U.S. In this demographic, alcohol abuse is the leading cause of death. About 80 percent of Native American youth have substance-abusing peers and are active drinkers themselves by the twelfth grade. These kids and teens also do not have a strong identity with Native American culture and tend to not do well in school. A study by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services showed that culturally-based intervention can be more effective to reduce substance abuse in Native American youth.

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When we think about addiction, we might think of it as an adult issue, but unfortunately, it is also a huge issue with the youth population. For more information to help an adolescent or anyone struggling with addiction, please call us at 405-583-4390. You can also visit our Rehab Treatment page and find what treatment options can be right for you or your loved one.

The History of Addiction with Native American Youth in Oklahoma

In a state like Oklahoma, filled with some of the highest alcohol and drug abuse rates, it is also at the top with issues related to substance abuse in Native American youth. Oklahoma is home to about 39 tribes, including Kaw, Cheyenne, Cherokee, and others. Since the 1956 Indian Relocation Act, when Natives were moved to a certain area, it brought along issues that still exist today.

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Factors Contributing to Substance Abuse

With a long history of poverty and substance abuse on reservations in the area, substance abuse became a major issue. At a young age, Native Americans may receive early exposure to drugs and alcohol and may not have the right resources or prevention for it. In the past, substances like tobacco and inhalants were used for medicine or religion, but have been used like any other drug for a long time as well.

Substance abuse on and near reservations can be tracked to 1974. Compared to other ethnic groups in the U.S., Native American adolescents fall under the highest-ranked in substance use. Substances include marijuana, alcohol, and inhalants. Some factors that contribute to addiction in these areas can be historical trauma, unemployment, discrimination, violence, and more.

How Substance Abuse in Native Youth Impacts Oklahoma

Substance abuse is not limited to a specific age or ethnic group. Many believe it only affects adults but in reality, it reaches people of all ages. Native American reservations make up about half of the land in Oklahoma. A big issue Oklahoma faces is not only substance abuse in Native American youth, but also adults. Some kids get exposed to addictive substances as children and some are even exposed in their mother’s belly before they are even born. An anonymous study found out that Native youth on or close to a reservation reported having used drugs much higher than the national sample of American youth. While early preventive efforts can not eliminate the issue, it might be able to help.

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Depending on what you decide, whether it is to stay in Oklahoma City or receive help somewhere else, you can find the right place and program for you. You can contact us at 405-583-4390, to learn more or to enroll.

Effects of Substance Abuse

Drugs and alcohol do not only cause people physical health issues but can also affect people’s mental health. It can ruin relationships with family members, colleagues, friends, and others around you. Native Americans have had a tragic and harsh history, which can result in people having historical trauma. Substance abuse in this population can lead to violence, poverty, high unemployment levels, racism, and discrimination. It can also increase the number of people lacking healthcare plans, along with a low amount of people with an education. While alcohol abuse is the leading risk factor for Native youth, it is also one of the most costly risks. You can end up with low-income and also have major health issues that can lead to premature death.

Effects That Prevent Seeking Treatment

The majority of the time, children tend to look up to those they grow up with and are surrounded by. If they see their peers and caretakers participating in certain activities like substance abuse, then they can not see right away that it is something bad. Without decent role models, children can get into drugs and alcohol at a young age and grow up not knowing they have an issue so that makes it harder for them to seek help. Some people do not know they have an addiction problem, especially when it has been part of them for so long. Depending on where they live, resources and help might not be as accessible to them. Money and health insurance can also play a role in someone not seeking help.

Possible Solutions to This Issue

While there is not one fast and simple solution to substance abuse in Native American youth, some things can help to improve the issues. A good place to start is by talking about the issue and educating people about it. It can be helpful to explain to kids at a young age why drugs and alcohol are bad for them and how it can impact them and their future. A study showed that culturally-based intervention was significantly more effective than others. These can be traditional indigenous spiritual healing practices that can be found in several treatment centers.

How to Overcome Substance Abuse in Native American Youth

Children and teens do not have much control or power on what they do when they are young. They look at their surroundings and the people they see as role models for help with most decisions. Sadly, some of those habits and traits they pick up might harm them in the future. Research shows that about 80 percent of Native American youth are active drinkers by twelfth grade. This is even before they become real adults and before they have the legal age to buy alcohol themselves.

Treatment Options

No matter the severity of your addiction, you can find the right treatment for you. For those who live on reservations or away from treatment facilities, it might be beneficial to travel somewhere for treatment. Distance should not be an obstacle in anyone’s way to recovery. This might mean you should participate in an inpatient program to stay at the facility or if you prefer driving a few times a week for an outpatient program. The most important thing is that you get the help you need.


If you or a loved one struggle with substance abuse, please call us at 405-583-4390 for more information or check out the treatment programs we offer.

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