Native Village 
Youth and Education News

October 1, 2012

Native American Spiritual Beliefs Influential in Spurring Youth to Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

Condensed by Native Village

New research suggests that urban Native American youth who follow their traditional spiritual beliefs are less likely to use drugs and alcohol.

The study, "Spirituality and Religion: Intertwined Protective Factors for Substance Use Among Urban American Indian Youth," appears in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.  The authors are Stephen Kulis, David R. Hodge, Stephanie L. Ayers, Eddie F. Brown, and Flavio F. Marsiglia. All are
social scientists from Arizona State University.

"Most American Indians now live in cities rather than tribal communities," Kulis said. "Our study is one of the few to address the role of spirituality and religion among urban Native youth, recognizing the unique histories of cultural integration that characterize today's urban American Indian communities and the complex belief systems and practices that sustain them in the urban landscape."

Native American spirituality is complex, cultural and intertwined in every aspect of one's daily existence. The study shows the strongest predictor of anti-drug lifestyles is adhering to Native American beliefs, an relationship with the Native American Church and/or following Christian beliefs. For some youth, the feeling of belonging to both Native and Christian cultures may help integrate the two worlds in which they live.

However, a general sense of spirituality without Native American traditions, beliefs, or culture did not deter against substance use.

"Rituals and ceremonies have helped American Indian communities adapt to change, integrate elements of different tribes, infuse aspects of Western organized religions, and make them their own," the paper states.

The general American youth population
Has higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse than among non-native peers.
Is more likely to use heavier amounts,
Begins substance use at an earlier age
Faces more severe consequences from substance use.
Most youth in the study who followed traditional beliefs:
Expressed strong anti-drug and alcohol beliefs
55% said they "definitely would not" use alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana
55% said its "Definitely not okay" for students their age to use those substances.
78% felt that their parents and grandparents (69%) would be "very angry" if they used drugs or alcohol
51% are "very sure" that they would reject any substance offers.
 53% had resisted offers of drugs in the past 30 days.
Spirituality was reflected as an important aspect in students' lives.
More than 80 % said spirituality held some importance to them and was part of their lives.
79% felt it was "somewhat" or "very important" to follow traditional American Indian beliefs
About 50% felt it was important to follow Christian beliefs.

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