Review: Genetic and environmental risk factors for alcohol use disorders in American Indians and Alaskan Natives

Am J Addict. 2017 Aug;26(5):461-468. doi: 10.1111/ajad.12420. Epub 2016 Sep 6.


Background and objectives: Genetic and environmental predictors for alcohol use disorder (AUD) are both important in the general population. As a group, American Indian and Alaskan Native individuals (AI/AN) are at increased risk for alcohol-related morbidity /mortality, early onset problem drinking and AUD.

Methods: Alcohol consumption behaviors amongst AI/AN tribes, environmental stressors and genetic studies in AI/AN and European-ancestry individuals are reviewed followed by an analysis of unique difficulties for undertaking research with AI/AN.

Results: Some AI/AN tribes have high rates of childhood trauma that predict psychopathology including AUD. The deleterious effects of historical trauma and forced placement in boarding schools cross generations to the present day. There are scanty numbers of genetic studies of AUD in AI/AN and these derive from only a few tribes. However, it is important to note that the results are largely similar to findings in European-ancestry individuals indicating that AI/AN do not have increased genetic risk for AUD. Conducting AI/AN genetic studies has been challenging, in part because of tribe disillusionment and mistrust over past experiences and unique hurdles in getting consent from tribes, each a sovereign nation. However, it is encouraging that a new way forward has been established-community-based participatory research with tangible health benefits and a focus on strength-based approaches.

Conclusions and scientific significance: Given the high prevalence of AUD in many AI/AN tribes and limited knowledge about genetic risk-resilience factors, it is important for our understanding of prevention and treatment that AI/AN research progresses and that more tribes are represented. (Am J Addict 2017;26:461-468).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / genetics*
  • Indians, North American / psychology*
  • Risk Factors