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Alcohol Dependence among Alaska Natives Entering Alcoholism Treatment: A Gender Comparison

Victor M. Hesselbrock, Bernard Segal, Michie N. Hesselbrock

Objective: An ongoing study of phenotypes of alcohol dependence among Alaska Natives provides an opportunity to investigate the nature and patterns of alcohol problems among Alaska Native men and women admitted to treatment in three residential programs in Anchorage, Alaska. Method: A comprehensive, standardized clinical assessment (including the SSAGA-I diagnostic interview, family history information, personality traits and cognitive functioning) of consecutive admissions to each of the three programs is being undertaken by trained interviewers. To date, 200 (103 male) subjects have been assessed. The mean (±SD) age of the sample is 32 ± 8.5 years old. The development of alcohol problems, the psychological and physical consequences of chronic drinking, the flushing response, withdrawal symptoms and comorbid lifetime psychiatric conditions were examined. Results: The sample was characterized by an early onset of drinking and an acute exacerbation and clustering of drinking problems during late adolescence, followed by the development of severe alcohol dependence. A high lifetime prevalence of DSM-III-R major depressive disorder was found, typically complicated by chronic drinking. The rates of other substance dependencies were relatively low, except for cannabis and cocaine dependence among female subjects. Conclusions: This sample of treatment-seeking Alaska Natives was found to have an early onset and severe form of DSM-III-R alcohol dependence, with few gender differences noted. While the prevalence of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence among Native American populations has been reported to be quite high, the onset and patterning of symptoms among this sample of treated Alaska Natives has revealed more similarities with treated alcoholics from the majority population than important differences specific to Alaska Natives. (J. Stud. Alcohol 61: 150-156, 2000)