Cover: Cultural Dynamics, Substance Use, and Resilience Among American Indian/Alaska Native Emerging Adults in Urban Areas

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

by Ryan Andrew Brown, Alina I. Palimaru, Daniel Dickerson, Kathy Etz, David P. Kennedy, Benjamin Hale, Carrie L. Johnson, Elizabeth J. D'Amico

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.

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