Life-Course Observations of Alcohol Use among Navajo Indians: Natural History or Careers?


In this article, I describe changes in patterns of alcohol use and abuse among Navajo Indians from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s. The prevalence of alcohol dependence continues to be higher than in the general U.S. population, but remission is also common, as it was in the 1960s and previously. Men have substantially higher rates of alcohol dependence than women. The former engage in heavy drinking largely in response to the heavy drinking of those around them. The latter drink excessively largely as a response to psychiatric disorders, depression, and abuse by a partner or husband. As increasing numbers of people have moved to reservation and border towns, a youth culture has developed in which alcohol use is initiated by teenagers with their peers rather than, as in the past, with older kinsmen. Alcohol use has thus been freed from the constraints imposed by both isolation and family obligations.