Native Americans and Alcoholism

Pine Ridge Indian ReservationCertain areas of the United States are known for their high concentration of bars and liquor stores, and some places have a higher percentage of alcoholics per capita. However, it is rare to find statistics for alcoholism as miserable as one Indian reservation in South Dakota is experiencing.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, on the southern edge of South Dakota, is among the poorest communities America. The unemployment rate at Pine Ridge is 80%, and life expectancy is just 45 to 52 years. The reason for the sad statistics in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is alcoholism. Four out of five families suffer with alcoholism, and one in four babies is born with fetal alcohol syndrome in this community.

Profiting from Alcohol Sales

What makes these statistics amazing is that this is a dry reservation; alcohol has been banned here for decades. However, near the reservation and just across the state border, the tiny town of Whiteclay, Nebraska has a number of liquor stores. Whiteclay has a population of 11 people, yet its four liquor stores sold 4.3 million cans of beer last year – most of which ended up in the hands of the Native Americans of Pine Ridge. A lawsuit brought by Pine Ridge last year sought to recover damages from the liquor stores, their distributors, and also the brewing companies for the alcohol-related problems of Pine Ridge. The $500 million lawsuit would have covered health care and law enforcement costs, as well as “family tragedies” associated with alcoholism.

Helping Pine Ridge

The lawsuit was dismissed, but there is no doubt residents of this reservation are suffering. The question is how to best handle the situation and how to get this community back on its feet. Many argue that closing the liquor stores in Whitclay would just send the alcoholics elsewhere to buy their alcohol. Leaders in the Pine Ridge community are considering making alcohol legal again, so that those who need help can more openly seek treatment.

The community of Pine Ridge is in distress. The best way to help these people is to offer effective alcoholism treatment and a program that will help them end the cycle of alcoholism that they see generation after generation. With the right community programs, prevention campaigns for young people, and treatment, these residents can end the control of alcoholism.

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