A new study, presented by Arizona State University social scientists, shows that Native American youths, in urban areas, who follow traditional Native American spiritual beliefs are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Arizona State University social scientists will present these finding at the upcoming 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver, Colorado. They also recently published their findings in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse with an article called "Spirituality and Religion: Intertwined Protective Factors for Substance Use Among Urban American Indian Youth”.
"Most American Indians now live in cities rather than tribal communities. Our study is one of the few to address the role of spirituality and religion among urban Native youth, recognizing the unique histories of cultural integration that characterize today's urban American Indian communities and the complex belief systems and practices that sustain them in the urban landscape," Kulis said.
In the Native American population, drug and alcohol abuse is higher than in other populations, at younger ages, and with more consequences, but the study revealed that the Native American youth, who adhere to Native American spiritual beliefs, were less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
According to the study, Native Americans do not separate spirituality from other areas of their life, making it more complex, both socially and culturally, because it is intertwine with their daily existence.
Researchers found that adherence to native American beliefs was the strongest predictor of anti-drug attitudes, norms, and expectations. Concerning substance use, aspects of spirituality and religion associated with lower levels of use were affiliation with the Native American Church and following Christian beliefs.
Researchers collected data from five urban middle schools in 2009 and the average age of the 123 respondents was 12.9 years. Most of the participants in the study were anti-drug and alcohol. Additionally, 55% of the respondents claimed they would not smoke cigarettes or marijuana, or drink alcohol, even if given the opportunity to do so. They stated that it was not OK for people their age to use such substances.
Among the participants claiming that the use of such substances was wrong, 78% said their parents would be angry and 69% their grandparents would be angry if they did. Fifty-one percent were sure they would not use such substances, if offered, and allegedly 53% were offered such substances within the past 30 days of the researchers asking them the questions and stated they rejected the offers to use the substances.
More than 80% of the participants stated that spirituality was important to them, as well as part of their lives. Seventy-nine percent felt it was important to follow traditional American Indian beliefs and around half stated that it was also important to follow Christianity too.
However, spirituality, which did not refer to American Indian traditions, beliefs, or cultures, did not deter substance abuse.
"Rituals and ceremonies have helped American Indian communities adapt to change, integrate elements of different tribes, infuse aspects of Western organized religions, and make them their own," according to the paper.
The paper also stated that a feeling of belonging to both Native American and Christian traditions helped to foster integration of the two worlds that the urban youth live in today. This integration, in turn, caused participants to feel a sense of belonging.