Cultural Dynamics, Substance Use, and Resilience Among American Indian/Alaska Native Emerging Adults in Urban Areas
Published in: Adversity and Resilience Science, Volume 4, pages 23-32 (March 2023). doi: 10.1007/s42844-022-00058-w
Posted on rand.org Jun 27, 2023
Identity development during emerging adulthood helps lay down the structure of values, social bonds, and decision-making patterns that help determine adult outcomes, including patterns of substance use. Managing cultural identity may pose unique challenges for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) emerging adults in "urban" areas (away from tribal lands or reservations), who are relatively isolated from social and cultural connections. This isolation is in turn a product of cultural genocide and oppression, both historically and in the present day. This paper uses qualitative data from 13 focus groups with urban AI/AN emerging adults, parents, and providers to explore how cultural dynamics are related to substance use outcomes for urban AI/AN emerging adults. We found that cultural isolation as well as ongoing discrimination presents challenges to negotiating cultural identity, and that the AI/AN social and cultural context sometimes presented risk exposures and pathways for substance use. However, we also found that culture provided a source of strength and resilience for urban AI/AN emerging adults, and that specific cultural values and traditions - such as mindfulness, connection to nature, and a deep historical and cosmological perspective - offer "binding pathways" for positive behavioral health. We conclude with two suggestions for substance use prevention and intervention for this population: (1) incorporate these "binding pathways" for health and resilience explicitly into intervention materials; (2) emphasize and celebrate emerging adulthood itself as a sacred cultural transition.