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Addiction Treatment for Native Americans

Table of Contents

Addiction is a serious problem among Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians. According to research, Native people struggle with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and hallucinogen at higher rates than other ethnic groups. As with other populations that are hit hard by addiction, such as military service members, substance abuse has led to serious consequences. For instance, alcohol use and suicide rates are closely related. Individuals with alcohol use disorders also have a higher likelihood to have experienced trauma in the past.

These trends show a clear need for addiction treatment and awareness in Native American communities that can both treat and prevent the disease of addiction. While the opioid epidemic dominates the national spotlight other drugs like cocaine and alcohol continue to be a problem. American Indians see particularly high rates of alcohol use disorders and alcoholism.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder and you’re interested in seeking addiction treatment, learn more about your options. Addiction is a chronic disease that needs to be treated to address effectively. Learning more about your treatment opportunities and resources can help you or your loved ones become free of active addiction.

Options for Native Americans Seeking Treatment

Addiction treatment needs to be tailored to individuals rather than trying to fit individual people to one-size-fits-all treatment plans. Native Americans who are seeking addiction treatment have several resources to help them achieve long-lasting recovery. Addiction treatment programs are the best way to address substance use disorders and any underlying issues effectively. 

In addition to private addiction treatment programs, there are also federally provided treatment options that can help you to get connected to the resources you need.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) through Indian Health Services. ASAP is intended to reduce the prevalence of substance use disorders and their consequences but establishing alcohol and substance abuse programs in tribal communities. These programs include emergency treatment, inpatient, and outpatient treatment.

Indian Health Services also uses an evidence-based practice called Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) that also aims to reduce and prevent addiction. 


Screening refers to health care professionals assessing at-risk individuals who have exhibited risky substance use behavior. Brief intervention includes a meeting with a health care professional to give feedback and recommendations. Referral to treatment includes a referral by a health care professional therapy or treatment resources if screening suggests it would be necessary. This may help you connect to the treatment services you need to avoid or overcome severe substance use issues.

You may also be able to find addiction treatment resources through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The offer educational resources on alcohol and drug use, mental health, and suicide prevention. They also can direct you to resources that can help treat opioid use disorders.

Federal options are excellent for people with limited resources; however, accredited private addiction treatment programs often offer the most comprehensive programs.

Finding the Right Treatment for Your Needs

Finding an addiction treatment program that is effective and right for your needs is an important step on your road to recovery. It’s important to seek out treatment centers with the proper credentials such as current certifications and board-approved medical and clinical professionals. 

It’s important for a treatment center to offer an evidence-based approach, using therapies that have been scientifically tested. It’s also important that they work to personalize your treatment plan. No two people are the same when it comes to their substance use problems and their underlying issues. 

Effective treatment can address multiple needs including medical, psychological, social, legal, and financial issues that might threaten long-term sobriety.

Your treatment plan should also be modified each week as you work through issues and new ones become apparent. Finally, treatment centers should recognize addiction as a chronic disease rather than a bad habit or a moral failing. As a chronic disease, it can be effectively treated, leading to long-term sobriety.

How Addiction Treatment Works

Addiction treatment is a process that involves treating the medical, psychological, and social impacts of the disease. Effective treatment is tailored to the individual needs of a person, and there are no one-size-fits-all treatment plans. When you first enter a treatment program, you’ll go through an intake process that’s designed to pinpoint your specific needs and your appropriate level of care. 

If you have high-level medical or psychological needs, you may go through a high level of care. Medical detox is common for people who enter treatment after recently stopping drug use or while still intoxicated.

Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and even potentially deadly without medical attention. For that reason, medical detox will primarily focus on immediate medical needs. 

However, medical detox programs often have clinicians on staff to help you when needed. After detox, those clinicians will help you find the next level of care for your needs. If you still have pressing medical or psychological needs, you may go through an inpatient treatment or residential program that involves 24-hour medical monitoring or clinical care. As you progress in treatment, you may continue to an outpatient treatment program.

Intensive outpatient treatment can involve 12 hours of treatment each day to just over nine hours per week. This level of care is ideal for people who are ready for more independence but still need daily treatment and therapies. 

After intensive outpatient treatment, you can move to a standard outpatient program that involves fewer than nine hours of treatment services each week. Outpatient treatment serves as a transitional level of care between higher levels and complete independence. You will begin to encounter the real-life challenges of life in recovery, but you will have therapies each week where you can process them.

Throughout treatment, you will go through a treatment plan that is designed around your specific needs. Your plan may have a variety of therapies and treatment options that are intended to address your substance use disorder and any underlying issues. You may attend individual, group, and family therapy to work through psychological and social issues. 

Behavioral therapies are common, and they can help you increase your motivation and make behavioral changes. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most often recommended therapy options. CBT is a helpful tool in creating relapse prevention strategies to safeguard your sobriety after treatment.

From detox to your last day of outpatient, addiction treatment can last for several months. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that research has shown the ideal minimum time in treatment would be 90 days. However, medication-assisted treatment can last as long as a year.

Seeking Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one may be struggling with a substance use disorder, and you would like to learn more about addiction treatment, there is help available. Speak to an addiction treatment specialist at Serenity at Summit to learn more about your treatment options.

Sources

ASAM. (n.d.). Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program (ASAP). Retrieved from https://www.ihs.gov/asap/

Dickerson, D. L., Spear, S., Marinelli-Casey, P., Rawson, R., Li, L., & Hser, Y. (2011, January). American Indians/Alaska natives and substance abuse treatment outcomes: Positive signs and continuing challenges. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042549/

Indian Health Services. (n.d.). Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.ihs.gov/asap/sbirt/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 7: Duration of treatment. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/6-duration-treatment

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Evidence-Based Approaches to Drug Addiction Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Behavioral Therapies. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies

SAMHSA. (n.d.). Opioid Treatment Program Directory. Retrieved from https://dpt2.samhsa.gov/treatment/

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