Is Native American alcoholism genetic?

Experts are not sure. But alcoholism is generally a genetic factor, and may be more so among Native American people. We review here.

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We don’t know.

Alcoholism is caused by a combination of genetic, cultural, an environmental factors. But how much a factor are our genes? And are Native Americans more at risk than other racial and ethnic groups of becoming alcoholic? We explore here.

HUGE rates of alcoholism

According to estimates from the U.S. Indian Health Service, the alcohol dependency rate is six times greater for Native Americans than for the general population. In fact, rough estimates from missions that help Native American people  have found a 60-80% lifetime prevalence rate for the development of alcohol use disorders and alcohol dependence among Native American populations. And although many people will agree that the rates of alcoholism are high, experts still don’t really know if American Indians are especially susceptible to alcohol dependence or not.

Genetic theories for alcoholism among Native Americans

The main current theories for alcoholism among American Indians focus on alcohol metabolism to try to explain why alcohol dependence rates are so high among the population. Some researchers have thought that Native Americans are predisposed to alcoholism because of differences in the way they metabolize alcohol. More specifically, researchers think that alcohol metabolism may affect the regulation of alcohol intake, because interference with production or elimination of the alcohol metabolite acetaldehyde has behavioral effects. And while studies of families, twins, and adoptees support a genetic predisposition to alcoholism may confirm this, the exact genetic code has yet to be cracked.

What researchers have found is that alcohol is broken down and eliminated differently in Native Americans than in other populations. So far, studies have found a variant of the ALDH1 enzyme that is encoded by the ALDH1A1*2 allele and a variant of the ADH1B enzyme that is encoded by the ADH1B*3 allele. However, the genes that have been identified in Native Americans are associated with a protective effect and do not explain the high rates of alcoholism in the tribes investigated.

More research is needed

Although ongoing research examines individual and tribal differences in alcohol metabolism among American Indians, the most recent finding suggest that rates of alcoholism and alcohol-related problems are influenced by other environmental and/or genetic factors.  Why do Native Americans drink so much?

So while people can be protected against or predisposed to alcoholism by variations in the enzymes that metabolize alcohol (i.e., alcohol dehydrogenase [ADH] and aldehyde dehydrogenase [ALDH]), the presence of these enzymes and alleles is required before scientists can declare that alcoholism is genetic for Native Americans, or not.

Questions about alcoholism?

Do you have questions about alcoholism? We invite you to ASK YOUR QUESTION below. we respond to all questions personally and promptly, and will be happy to find you an answer or refer you to someone who can help

Reference sources: NIAAA update on alcohol metabolism
Variations in ADH and ALDH in Southwest California
Is there a genetic basis to the development of alcoholism among Native Americans?
Minorities and Genomics from the Human Genome Project
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. I drink alcohol (beer/wine) almost every day! I do have an american native blood line. Would it be dangerous if I stopped cold turkey?

  2. FORGIVNESS for those innocently victimized. Educate the school children with the ABC & D for
    drugs at a early age of this body chemistry dysfunction. Turn badness into goodness

  3. Hello Veeski. There are 24 hour hotlines you can call.

    1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848)
    The National Cancer Institute’s trained counselors are available to provide information and help with quitting in English or Spanish, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

    1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)
    Calling this toll-free number will connect you directly to your state quitline. All states have quitlines in place with trained coaches who provide information and help with quitting. Specific services and hours of operation vary from state to state.

    Boys Town National Hotline

    800-662-HELP (4357)
    National Drug Information Treatment and Referral Hotline

  4. I was looking for a support blog that would be helpful to me now that I have quit drinking and smoking. The main struggles I have having are wanting a cigarette all the time and eating sweet like crazy. I have not smoked or drank for almost 2 months. I am beginning to experience depression and feel very lethargic. Does anyone have any feedback. I failed to mention that I was drinking daily for 10 years.

  5. Are you serious? This is article is garbage….as an addiction counsellor working mostly in an urban Native community the so-called ‘scientific’ facts listed here come close to almost racist opinions…..alcoholism is not a matter of what one’s genetic makeup is….based on the type of ‘science’ suggested here, the Irish should have no problem with alcohol.

  6. i conclued that the difference between those who
    become addicted to alcohol and those who do not
    there is an absolute disfunction in the liver for
    those who become addicted where as in a the liver
    that is good will automatically break down the toxic effect and neutralizes the alcohol before it
    is able to get into the bloodstream. native americans are born with genetic disfunction. all school chidren should be thaught to abstain from
    all alcoholic substances

  7. There are simply a lot of alcoholic Native Americans because of the harsh reality that their people has been massacred and pillaged and their land taken and destroyed for the glory of the Union and still live in prejudice and mistreatment today.

  8. I have learned in a DUII Education class that Native people’s bodies can’t produce some enzyme in our bodies that digests the alcohol yet? Cause Europeans have been using alcohol for many generations in EUROPE. We were the last people to be introduced to alcohol & our bodies aren’t equipped for such TOXINS as of yet!!

I am ready to call
i Who Answers?