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In 1996, the most recent year for which data are available, alcohol consumption in Alaska was 2.63 gallons per person(1); only eight States had higher rates, many of which are attributable to cross-border alcohol sales (Williams et al. 1998). Alaska's consumption rate has been among the highest in the Nation in each year for which statistics exist. Although heavy alcohol use in Alaska is not restricted to Alaska Natives, alcohol abuse and its consequences are disproportionately high among this group, which constitutes approximately 15.7 percent of Alaska's total population (Alaska Department of Labor 1996).
One theory to explain the high rates of alcohol use among this special population faults the rapid industrialization that has taken place in Alaska. For many Alaska Natives, conflicts involving cultural identity as well as behavioral and lifestyle problems have resulted from adjusting to the rapid cultural changes. One way of coping with those feelings, particularly for younger Alaska Native men and women, may be to drink alcohol (Segal 1999).
This sidebar reviews what is known about alcohol use and alcohol-related problems among Alaska Natives. Directions for future research on preventing and treating alcohol abuse among this population also are discussed.
Alcohol-Related Violence and Death Among Alaska Natives
Since the late 1980s, Alaska has been among the five States with the highest annual rates of child abuse, accidental death, assaults, rape, and suicide, all of which have been linked to alcohol abuse (Brems 1996). For example, 25 percent of all deaths in Alaska are alcohol-related (Alaska Department of Health and Social Services [ADHSS] 1994). More recently, of the 192 Native deaths (from any cause) that occurred in rural Alaska between 1990 and 1993, 128 (66.6 percent) were found to be alcohol-related (i.e., the deceased had a blood alcohol concentration [BAC] of 0.08 or higher) (Demer 1997). In addition, Alaska Native men and women exceed other ethnic groups in Alaska with respect to alcohol-related problem behaviors, such as arrests for driving while intoxicated (DWI), alcohol-related accidents and injuries from automobile crashes, fishing-related accidents, and other causes of injury (ADHSS 1994).
Although all Alaskans have a higher risk of dying by accident or suicide compared with those in the lower 48 States, the rates are notably high for Alaska Natives. Suicides in Alaska have exceeded national rates for more than 20 years (Berman and Leask 1994). Hlady and Middaugh (1988) reported that the percentage of suicides that were alcohol-related in Alaska was almost twice the national average during the period 1983-1984 and that the percentage was significantly higher among Alaska Natives than among non-Natives (Hlady and Middaugh 1988).