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Native American Addiction Treatment


A long and rich tradition with deep spiritual roots, the Native American culture precedes any other in the United States, and has also been one of the most severely affected by drug and alcohol abuse patterns.

A recent survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), shows that the prevalence of substance abuse in Native American school-aged children is significantly higher than national rates, especially in categories of marijuana, alcohol, and OxyContin abuse.

In fact, a 2015 SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration) study showed that alcohol misuse disorders among Native or Indian Americans was at 9.7%, whereas the next highest percentage was 5.4%, in the Native Hawaiian group.

Alcohol abuse has long been the most pervasive of all substance abuse issues in the Native and Indian American communities.

As with any culture or race of people, addiction does not discriminate in who it may affect, which is why addiction treatment covers such a broad population, consisting of several unique groups of people. However, help for the Native American population has not always been as widely available, as it has to other citizen groups of the United States.

As a branch of the Department of Human and Health Services, the Indian Heath Services is dedicated to the specific health needs of the American and Alaska Native Indian people, specifically including the ASAP (Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program). This program is aimed at working with individual tribes, to reduce the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse in this community to levels which are either at, or under the national averages.

Why is it So Hard to Find Native American Addiction Treatment?

Traditionally, and most often due of socioeconomic disadvantages, members of Native American tribes have had very limited access to proper addiction treatment. Even with new government initiatives to bring help to the tribes, it is not necessarily conducive to the continuance of tribal rituals and traditions.

With the advancement of addiction treatment, and the growing varieties of approaches, one which is less known and less common is Native American Rehab.

Mostly located in states with high Native American populations, like South Dakota, Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma, Washington, and New Mexico, there are a handful of addiction treatment programs which are either strictly devoted to serving a Native American population, or which offer a treatment track, honoring Native American culture and traditions.

The emergence of Native American treatment has truly shown the growth of the addiction industry, its ability to evolve, and address the needs of all populations, especially one with such deep spiritual traditions.

What Does a Native American Treatment Program Do Differently?

The vast majority of Native American drug treatment programs follow evidence-based therapies and treatments, such as medical detox, cognitive behavioral therapy, and individual and group counseling.

Similar to the way may holistic treatment practices are used to supplement the core treatment plan, rehab programs which refer to themselves as “culturally sensitive” to Native American traditions, aim to offer several services and therapies, which are intended to ensure their Native American population can maintain their traditions, and spiritual rituals during the treatment process.

Some of these vary between programs, but may include:

  • Maintaining Native American staff
  • Encouragement for Native American clients to speak their native language
  • Validation and implementation of cultural and spiritual practices of Native American clients
  • Inclusion of cultural sensitivity classes and training
  • Purification ceremonies in on-premise sweat lodges
  • Integration of Native American culture with the 12-step program
  • Strong family program, to maintain comfort and connection with the home reservation

Most treatment programs offering these types of services are a tremendous step in catering to the Native American population, and honoring the rich cultural traditions of the various tribes to which Native Americans maintain their connections.

Do Native American Treatment Centers Provide More Healing?

The ritual practices of Native and Indian American tribes are vast, serve many different purposes, from medicinal to spiritual healing, and maintain a connection to the Earth and its sacred animals. Individual Native and Indian American tribes may have slightly different ways in which they undergo and apply the details of these healing and spiritual rituals. When rituals are practiced in a treatment center setting, they are just as they would be in Native American tribes, but done in a such a way that individuals from different tribes can still benefit from their unique tribal application.

Some of these important cultural and traditional rituals which are honored in Native American treatment programs can include the following:

  • Talking Circle (or Peacemaking Circle, or Healing Circle)
    Deeply rooted in indigenous traditional practices, a talking circle begins with members seated in a circle to ponder a question or problem. The ceremony starts with a prayer by the elder, or individual convening the ceremony. A talking stick, or other meaningful or sacred object is passed around the circle, granting its holder the opportunity to speak, and all others must remain quiet. When that person in finished speaking, the object is passed to the next person in the circle.
    The structure of a Talking Circle prevents reactive or direct communication, and promotes deeper reflection and listening. This also helps to encourage multicultural awareness and more respect for individual differences.
  • Medicine Wheel (or Sacred Hoop)
    This is a ceremonial tool used in the Native Indian tradition which is used for health and healing. It embodies all four directions (north, south, east, and west), The Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Spirit tree.
    All of these symbolize the dimensions of and health and cycles of life. Used medicinally, movement in the medicine wheel is typically in a clockwise or “sun-wise” direction. Often, before entering the wheel, there is an offering of an herb of some kind. This may vary from tribe to tribe, but the offering of tobacco, sage, cedar, or sweetgrass (for example) are to let the spirits know that the members are entering with pure hearts, free from negativity and ego.
  • Smudging Ceremony
    Smudging ceremonies are customs of Native Americans, which have become popular in mainstream America, for the purpose of cleansing bodies and physical spaces, prior to moving into a new home, after a death, or following an argument or fight. In the Native and Indian American culture, the smudging ceremony is used to create a cleansing smoke bath, which is used to purify the body, aura, energy and any other ceremonial space.
    Smudging ceremonies are the burning of sacred plants used to drive away negative energy, and help to restore balance. In a smudging ceremony, plants like cedar, sage, tobacco, sweetgrass, juniper, lavender, and copal are burned, and the smoke is directed with a single feather, or a fan made of several feathers.

The simple truth is that Native and Indian American rituals and cultures do involve a large amount of deeply rooted traditions, all of which are intended to bring about healing, peace, connection with nature, and with each other. For many people who are not Native or Indian American, these rituals have proven to be very effective and healing, but every person takes his or her journey to health differently.

The purpose of Native American addiction treatment is to provide indigenous people with a safe place of healing from addiction, in which their culture and spiritual connection is honored and practiced as similarly to their home tribe, as possible.

Finding a Native American Addiction Treatment Center

As with any specialized treatment track for recovery from drug abuse and addiction, Native American drug rehab options should be carefully considered. The vast majority of programs are government funded, and as such, many of them are exclusively for indigenous peoples. However, there are a handful of private rehab programs, which are dedicated to honoring the cultures and rituals of the Native and Indian American people.

Most often, indigenous people can seek help through their own tribe, most of which have a current government negotiation or establishment of support and drug rehab programs which have been mace available for their members.

For individuals who are not indigenous, or looking for treatment outside of government-funded programs, and seeking the healing and spiritual rituals of the Native and Indian American people, there are options in the private treatment centers, either exclusively designed in the Native American culture or offering a track which honors it.

If you or someone you know is in need of addiction treatment, and looking for the Native and Indian American path of healing, it may be extremely difficult to navigate through programs which are government funded, those which claim to be Native American, but do not truly honor the traditions, and those which are authentic in their Native and Indian American practices.

We understand how difficult and daunting the task is, to find the right rehab for yourself or your loved one, and that is why we are here to offer free and confidential consultations with our addiction counselors. Call us now, to speak with someone who is ready to help you find the best Native American addiction treatment for your family, and the right path to complete healing from drug abuse and addiction. There is never a reason to struggle another day, call us now. We are here to help.