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Participation in traditional cultural activities linked with less substance use among Native American college students

Little research has been documented regarding substance use among Native American college students. A new study examined alcohol, tobacco, and other substance use and their relation to gender, institution, age, and cultural involvement among Native American college students. Participants (N = 347) were Native American community college and university students living in a Southwest city. Participants completed an online survey, which included a series of questions related past-month and lifetime substance use including alcohol use, drug use, tobacco use and problematic substance use using the CAGE-AID screen. It also included questions related to student involvement in cultural activities including traditional spiritual activities and enculturation, i.e. participation in traditional activities and connection to home reservation or tribal lands. Results showed that in the past month, 43% of participants drank alcohol and of those participants, 61% reported at least one binge drinking episode. Furthermore, 23% had used other substances and the most commonly used ones were marijuana (14%), sedatives/sleeping pills (5%) and prescription opioids for non-medical reasons (4%). The smoking rate was 13% and included those who smoked some days and those who smoked everyday. With respect to lifetime substance use, 22% of participants had used a substance more then 100 times in their lives and 38% had scores on the CAGE-AID that indicated lifetime history of problematic substance use. Moreover, males, community college students and participants aged 26 years and older were significantly more likely than their counterparts to have a positive CAGE-AID score. In addition, there were lower rates of past-month alcohol and substance use among participants who spoke their tribe’s language, rated traditional spiritual values as important, and participated in their tribe’s traditional ceremonies and dances compared to participants who did not.

Take away: This study found that Native American college students who spoke their tribe’s language, rated traditional spiritual values as important, and participated in their tribe’s traditional ceremonies and dances, used alcohol and other substances at a lower rate then those who did not.

Greenfield, B. L., Venner, K. L., Tonigan, J. S., Honeyestewa, M., Hubbell, H., & Bluehorse, D. (2018). Low rates of alcohol and tobacco use, strong cultural ties for Native American college students in the Southwest. Addictive Behaviors.

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