Help support TMP

"What's Behind the Myth of Native American Alcoholism?" Topic

18 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to The Old West Message Board

Back to the French and Indian Wars Message Board

Areas of Interest

18th Century
19th Century

1,409 hits since 18 Jun 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP18 Jun 2018 3:40 p.m. PST

"Few images of Native peoples have been as intractable and damaging as the trope of the drunken Indian. It has been used to insidiously and overtly support the claims of Indian inferiority that, as we have seen, have been deployed in a host of ways that result in loss of culture, land, and sovereignty.

The trope is deeply woven into American social narratives  perpetuated both in popular culture and in scholarly circles  and it plays out in a number of ways. For instance, the drunken Indian male (a version of the degraded Indian) is often seen as morally deficient because of his inability to control himself, making him a menace to society. Or he has become alcoholic because of his tragic inability to adjust to the modern world  he is the Indian stuck between two worlds, and he is pitied. More recent explanations of Indian alcoholism hold that it is genetically inherited. Regardless of the prevailing stereotype, the underlying logic is that Indians are somehow predisposed to addictive drinking, more so than non-Native people, who, naturally, can "hold their liquor."

Europeans introduced alcohol to American Indians as an instrument of trade and diplomacy. By the time the Great Plains were being settled by Europeans, virtually all treaty negotiations included complex and subtle uses of alcohol, and alcohol even became a bargaining chip. But it is well known that Indians were no strangers to consciousness-altering practices. Plants such as datura, peyote, and tobacco were widely used in questing for visions and spiritual knowledge. Don Coyhis and William White noted that some Southwestern tribes used not only psychoactive plants ceremonially, but also ritualistically used alcohol made from fermented plants long before European contact…"
Main page


JimSelzer Supporting Member of TMP18 Jun 2018 4:06 p.m. PST

obviously the author has never lived next to a welfare Indian family. While I will admit the over the top nature of the stereotype it does have a factual base to it. Watch any of the reality shows about Alaska and Montana and you can see for yourself that it has a higher percentage in that community than society at large

John Leahy18 Jun 2018 5:02 p.m. PST


Joes Shop Supporting Member of TMP18 Jun 2018 6:30 p.m. PST


Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian18 Jun 2018 7:16 p.m. PST

Discussion of historical topics is allowed on the forums. Those who do not wish to participate are not forced to do so.

This information is certainly pertinent to gaming, so that scenarios can be designed and characters created which do not reinforce stereotypes.

Cacique Caribe18 Jun 2018 8:06 p.m. PST

Hollywood sure did quite a bit to expand and perpetuate the myth.

I remember many films that had unscrupulous people selling "firewater" and guns to the North American Indians. And movies where the only Indians around were those who stuck around towns begging for a drink.


mildbill18 Jun 2018 8:34 p.m. PST

The romans used wine against the celtic culture that had only drank beer.
Cultures that don't have alcohol tend to have higher incidence of alcoholism when it is introduced.

goragrad18 Jun 2018 8:35 p.m. PST

So once again the prevalence of alcohol abuse and alcoholism is the result of historical mistreatment and continuing oppression.

Not genetic.

The White Man drove/drives Indians to drink…

Dn Jackson18 Jun 2018 9:46 p.m. PST

Oddly enough I've actually done some research on this for a class I teach at the local high schools on driving under the influence.

American Indians have the highest rate of alcohol related death of any ethnic group in the US. It is five times higher than the rest of the US population.

American Indians do not produce aldehyde dehydrogenase, an enzyme that helps the body metabolize alcohol. It is my understanding that this enzyme helps prevent alcoholism. So, while this trope has been around for centuries, its been around for a reason. There is some truth, and a reason, this trope exists.

lloydthegamer Supporting Member of TMP18 Jun 2018 10:38 p.m. PST

+1 to Dn Jackson. My wife had to laugh at this topic. She grew up on the Ft. Peck reservation in Montana. Alcohol abuse abplenty there. It's no trope, unfortunately it is reality

Cacique Caribe18 Jun 2018 11:06 p.m. PST

Well, then … I wonder if that genetic predisposition is also present in Native Americans south of the border, and with mestizos throughout Latin America. A large percentage of my wife's family, on both her Mom's and Dad's side are serious alcoholics and, oddly enough, diabetic.


Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2018 12:07 a.m. PST

A few years ago I read a book about Flemish immigrants moving to Wallonia to work in the industry and coal mines in the 19th century. Most had to move less than 150km or roughly 100 miles in what is the same tiny country of Belgium.

The narrative was that the immigrants were utterly alien and at every level their behavior was shockingly bad. Common accusations was a refusal to speak French, even when capable of doing so, they did not participate in the social life, kept to themselves, priests often discovered that barely a handful of them would go to church, whereas often dozens or even hundreds lived in their community and were all from the same catholic branch.

Police, local government, even at the state level found that the Flemish immigrants caused major problems, alcoholism was rampant, they would often react violently to any altercations, criminal behaviour was commonplace etc.

Even on a personal level, as an anecdote, my great-grandmother would rather have died of hunger than cross the main street of the village and get a loaf of bread from "the wrong side of the street". Less than a hundred yards from the doorstep into a side street was considered "the countryside" and it was forbidden for my grandmother to go play with the children there.

Other than language and a few local customs Flemish people and Walloons share the same culture and yet when one group migrated to get work, they found themselves at the bottom of the social ladder and started the behave accordingly and did things they would never be caught dead doing in their native village or town. Alcoholism was so rampant it became a national topic and factory owners considered looking elsewhere for workers, fearing that the Flemish were doomed to remain a lower social caste for all eternity. A century later Flanders is the economic heavyweight of Belgium and the once flourishing Wallonia is now an economic backwater with huge social problems as a result.

Therefore it's no surprise to me that if you crank up social differences from the start, you get major rifts in society when people move to seek work elsewhere and end up at the bottom of the ladder.

Native Americans have been pushed into the fringes of US society and the slide downwards is so much easier than upwards.

rvandusen19 Jun 2018 3:19 a.m. PST

Dn Jackson reveals the science behind the "myth."

What's the problem with a genetic predisposition as an answer? Next they'll be telling us lactose intolerance is a myth perpetuated by Northern Europeans and that a deficiency of lactase is a trope deeply woven into Western narratives of oppression and that many non-dairy producing cultures in fact were drinking antelope milk long before contact……

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2018 9:53 a.m. PST

This ends up that they need 28 mm figures with long hairs, bandanas and a bottle in hand , dancing perhaps.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2018 11:41 a.m. PST

Genetic predisposition is interesting….


DOUGKL19 Jun 2018 5:57 p.m. PST

Actually there is a genetic component. I believe it was an episode of NOVA on PBS, that noted Native Americans have a lower tolerance to alcohol because of the way their body processes it. Now, that is not to say that Europeans and later U.S. citizens did not take advantage of that fact.

MiniPigs24 Jun 2018 7:23 p.m. PST

It may be that Native Americans missed enzymes that allowed them to resist alcohol but it is also that European groups developed enzymes, or wherever produces the selective tolerance, over centuries for their respective alcohols whether it was scotch or vodka.

I believe the Irish are not the solid ethnic group people once thought and the people on the Island were partly broken up into Lactose intolerant vs. Lactose tolerant.

Bowman In the TMP Dawghouse12 Aug 2018 7:30 p.m. PST

American Indians do not produce aldehyde dehydrogenase, an enzyme that helps the body metabolize alcohol. It is my understanding that this enzyme helps prevent alcoholism.

Sorry, but that is simply not true. Most ethnic groups, including native Indians, show a varied polymorphism in the genes that produce the ADH and ALDH enzymes. At any rate, it is ADH that initially breaks down the ethanol. This produces aldehyde which is consequently oxidized by ALDH.


……and the people on the Island were partly broken up into Lactose intolerant vs. Lactose tolerant.

Isn't everyone broken down into these two groups?

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.