Friday, August 29, 2008

True Tales of Alcoholism

A recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention report shows that 12% of Native American deaths are alcohol-related (usually a car crash or liver disease), a rate 3 times higher than the general population. I find that overwhelmingly sad and I've often wondered what's the real core reason for all of that drinking. The closest thing I've gotten to finding an answer was reading Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Reminding me a bit of Holes, The Absolutely True Diary is the diary/sketchbook of Junior, a young Indian man on the Spokane Indian Reservation who more than a little resembles Alexie (they were both born with "water on the brain" and Alexie is from Spokane also). Junior loses acquaintances, friends, his grandmother and his sister to alcohol-related incidents and determines that he will never drink and that he will make something valuable from his life. In order to jump-start his life, he stops attending the local reservation high school and instead walks, hitch hikes or bums rides miles away to the nearest white town and school.

The novel focuses on the varying levels of rejection and acceptance he experiences from whites and Indians alike. But in the end, he decides that it's okay to leave the reservation, even if he'll be seen as a deserter. His best friend tells him that he's like the Indians are supposed to be - migratory - while the others have become trapped in the reservation and have lost that part of themselves.

Which, like I said, is the closest thing I've seen to really explain all the alcoholism and death. The Center for Disease Control's report drew a similar conclusion because the majority of alcohol-related deaths were in areas where reservations are remote and desolate.

The Center's suggestions for combatting this are to hold "culturally appropriate clinical interventions" and make the trbal courts and health centers work together better. Personally, I've never thought interventions were helpful - I don't believe any real change occurs without the person's will for it to do so. Making the courts and the health centers work more closely together is always good, but what is that really going to do to address the problem? Probably not much.

You can hear Sherman Alexie read the first two chapters of
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian at

Images by Ellen Forney are from
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Related posts:
USA Should Open Borders, Open Minds
Have and Have-Nots of the iPod Generation
The Woman Warrior

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Joe Pontillo said...

When I was working on Celebrity Rehab, Dr. Drew was talking about alcoholism in isolated populations. It had something to do with war mentality and the inability to turn off the need for that level of stimulation. I'm clearly not doing justice to this argument, but he talked a lot about Braveheart, and how the type of brain that's wired for battle is the same type of brain that needs other stimulation when not in battle. And this would occur in small, isolated populations such as island nations which were frequently at war.

I tried to find a decent link, but nothing was coming up. Sorry.

thomson2008 said...

Consumption of alcohol should be less. It depends upon the kind of mentality you keep while consuming it.