Much of what is done in the way of prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse originates from outside indigenous cultures. However, many Native people have either remained sober or become sober without ever going into a formal treatment program. Ironically, until very recently, little research effort has gone into understanding the background and attitudes of this population. The People Awakening Project, a collaborative effort between a group of Alaska Natives interested in sobriety and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has changed that. Although the project is not finished, this presentation provides a clear sense of how the research is being conducted, what kinds of data are emerging from it, and what some of the preliminary results look like. Chase Hensen gave the original presentation in Quebec City. Sven Haakenson and Gerry Mohatt, who are heavily involved in the project, join him in authoring this written version.
Communities throughout rural Alaska are creating community-based treatment and prevention methods, as well as using existing indigenous cultural resources to treat and prevent health problems and alcohol and substance abuse. There is a growing revolution of hope known as the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Sobriety Movement. The sobriety movement stresses the need for people of the villages, not health agencies and corporations, to take responsibility for their own well-being. Yet, alcohol is just one of the health problems Alaska Native people face. Beginning with measures to control and eradicate TB in Alaska Native villages, which has been a major accomplishment, other health problems, particularly rising concerns about behavioral health risk factors, have received a great deal of current attention, because they account for the major causes of mortality. A concern about how to prevent health and behavioral health problems in Alaska has focused increasingly on building personal and community competence in order to increase hope among Alaska Native communities.
Available upon request at the Alaska Medical Library, located on the second floor of UAA/APU Consortium Library. Ask for accession no. 102392.
BACKGROUND: The People Awakening Project (1RO1 AA 11446-03) had two purposes, completed in Phase I and Phase II of the project. The purpose of Phase I was to complete a qualitative study; the research objective was discovery oriented with the specific aim of identification of protective and recovery factors in Alaska Native sobriety. Results were used to develop a heuristic model of protective and recovery factors, and measures based on these factors. The research objective of Phase II was to pilot these measures and provide initial validity data. METHODS: Phase I utilized a life history methodology. People Awakening interviewed a convenience sample of 101 Alaska Natives who had either recovered from alcoholism (n = 58) or never had a drinking problem (n = 43). This later group included both lifetime abstainers (LAs) and non-problem drinkers (NPs). Life histories were transcribed and analyzed using grounded theory and consensual data analytic procedures within a participatory action research framework. Analyses were utilized to generate heuristic models of protection and recovery from alcohol abuse among Alaska Natives. RESULTS: Analyses generated a heuristic model of protective factors from alcohol abuse. The resulting multilevel and multi-factorial model describes interactive and reciprocal influences of (a) individual, family, and community characteristics; (b) trauma and the individual and contextual response to trauma, (c) experimental substance use and the person's social environment; and (d) reflective processes associated with a turning point, or a life decision regarding sobriety. The importance of cultural factors mediating all these protective processes is emphasized. For NPs, the resilience process drew from personal stores of self-confidence, self-efficacy, and self-mastery that derived from ability to successfully maneuver within stressful or potentially traumatizing environments. In contrast, for many LAs, efficacy was instead described in more socially embedded terms better understood as communal mastery. One style of mastery is more associated with individualistic orientations, the other with more collectivistic. Future research is needed regarding the generalizeability of this group difference. CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that preventative interventions should focus on intervening simultaneously at the community, family, and individual levels to build resilience and protective factors at each level. Of particular importance is the building of reflexivity along with other cognitive processes that allow the individual to think through problems and to reach a life decision to not abuse alcohol.