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As A Native American, Am I More Susceptible To Alcoholism?

October 14th, 2010 – Posted by James W. West M.D. F.A.C.S. in Doctors Office


Question:   I am a student at a university where there is a lot of drinking.  My parents and grandfather warned me that persons with my Native American heritage are susceptible to alcoholism. 
Since I am in a very demanding scholastic pre-medical program, I do not have time to party.  However, I am concerned about my high risk for alcoholism if I drink.  Your comments please.

Answer:  The Harvard Mental Health Letter (Dec. 1997) published an interesting article (Andrade, Wall and Ehlers; “The firewater myth and responses to alcohol in Mission Indians.”  American Journal of Psychiatry 154:983-988, July 1997), in which men with at least a 50 percent Native American ancestry were shown to have a much lower sensitivity to alcohol.
In a measured substantial dose of alcohol in a flavored soda drink, persons with a 50 percent or higher Native American ancestry were much less likely to say they felt clumsy, confused, dizzy, nauseated or “high” after consuming the alcoholic drink.
The authors point out that other studies have indicated low alcohol sensitivities in Europeans and Euro-Americans with a family history of alcoholism.
They also noted that alcoholism is uncommon among ethnic groups in which most people have strong responses to lower doses of alcohol.
It would be prudent to follow your parents’ and grandfather’s advice.  A high tolerance to alcohol is not good.  In fact, it is a sure marker for risk of alcoholism.
Good luck in your medical career.  The best doctors do not drink because they are always on call.

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