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There are approximately 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the US They fall into about 300 different tribal or language groups Alcohol abuse has caused compounded problems for these people The problems also have led to an unfortunate stereotype of these people This stereotype perpetuates the image that all Indian people are afflicted with alcohol problems No one really pays attention to the vast number of Indian people who are sober and live productive lives Oetting and Beauvais 1989 Before the Europeans arrived and started to colonize there were no alcoholic beverages like there are today Some tribes produced a weak beer or other fermented beverages for ceremonial purposes only When European colonists suddenly made large amounts of spirits and wine available to the Indians the tribes had little time to develop social legal or moral guidelines to regulate alcohol use Colonists often used it to establish trade for highly sought after animal skins and other resources Traders found that serving alcohol at trade meetings gave them a distinct advantage in their negotiations Liban and Smart 1982 Silk-Walker 1988 Extreme intoxication became more frequent in the inexperienced Indian populations Numerous historical accounts describe violent bouts of drinking among tribes during trading sessions and on other occasions History may have therefore sown the seeds for prevalence of alcohol abuse in the North American indigenous population Early demand with no regulation and strong encouragement may have contributed to a tradition of heavy alcohol use passed down from generation to generation which has led to the current high level of alcohol-related problems May and Moran 1995 There is a history of the introduction of foreign intoxicants by dominant or conquering cultures Perhaps the most often noted example in addition to the effect of alcohol on Indians is the impact of opium on the Chinese when imported by the British from India where it had been used ceremoniously for centuries without harmful effects In China
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