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“Serious Drinking,” “White Man’s Drinking” and “Teetotaling”: Drinking Levels and Styles in an Urban American Indian Population

Thomas S. Weisner, Joan Crofut Weibel-Orlando, John Long

The differences between abstainers, moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers were examined in American Indians living in Los Angeles, California. Equal numbers of these three groups (total N = 155) were selected from four tribal groups: Siouan-speaking, Navaho, Five Civilized Tribes (of eastern Oklahoma origin) and indigenous California tribes. The relative predictive powers of sociostructural, cultural and psychological variables in accounting for current drinking levels were then assessed. The results indicated that, much as for non-Indian populations, heavy drinkers were more likely to have had heavy-drinking models in the family of origin, to be men and to score high on psychophysiological stress indices. Socioeconomic status and traditionalism were found to be weaker predictors of drinking level. Differences in drinking styles over individuals’ lifetimes and between tribes were also studied. Ethnographic observations, case vignettes and statistical summaries of the sample by tribe and by drinking level showed that tribal origins, age and socioeconomic status influenced drinking style and attitudes toward alcohol, even if they did not predict the current drinking level of the subjects.