Bougainvillea Manor

Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Native Americans in Recovery

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Native Americans have higher rates of substance abuse and dependence compared to the overall population. Native American youth have the highest rate of alcohol use, which in turn, makes them far more likely (than their peers from other ethnic groups) to seek out other substances/drugs.

This increased vulnerability to substance abuse puts them at a higher risk of seeking out other drugs. Understanding the specific substance abuse patterns within Native American communities is crucial for developing effective interventions.

Alcohol as the Primary Substance of Abuse:

Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that of the Native American adults who seek treatment for substances, alcohol was the most highly reported substance of abuse at approximately 66%.  Alcohol is followed by opioids (11.4%), and marijuana (7.4%). These statistics highlight the urgent need for targeted interventions addressing alcohol abuse and addressing the emerging challenges related to opioids and marijuana.

Treatment Disparities and Access Barriers:

Unfortunately, many Native Americans who need substance treatment do not get the appropriate care.  In fact, in 2019 less than 10% of Native Americans who struggled with substance abuse received any form of treatment. This low treatment utilization rate among Native Americans is the lowest among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Barriers to access include geographic remoteness, limited healthcare resources, cultural and linguistic barriers, and historical mistrust of mainstream healthcare systems.

Effectiveness of Culturally Responsive Treatment: 

Native American-specific treatment programs have shown promise in improving outcomes for individuals struggling with substance abuse. Research published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs demonstrates that Native American clients who participate in culturally responsive addiction treatment have significantly lower rates of relapse compared to those receiving traditional Western-style treatment. Culturally responsive approaches incorporate Native American values, traditions, and healing practices, promoting a sense of identity, connection, and belonging during the recovery process.

Empowering Native American Communities:

  • Culturally Tailored Prevention and Education: Raising awareness about substance abuse risks and providing culturally tailored prevention programs are crucial in addressing substance abuse disparities. By integrating traditional knowledge, storytelling, and culturally relevant materials, prevention efforts can effectively engage Native American communities, empowering individuals to make informed decisions and resist substance abuse.
  • Culturally Competent Treatment Services: Expanding access to culturally competent treatment services is essential in addressing the treatment gap. This involves providing Native American-specific treatment programs that respect cultural values, incorporate traditional healing practices, and involve community elders and leaders. By offering a safe and supportive environment that acknowledges the unique experiences of Native Americans, these programs can foster healing and recovery.
  • Community-Based Support and Healing: Community-based initiatives that emphasize peer support, mentorship programs, and community involvement play a vital role in addressing substance abuse disparities. These programs provide a platform for individuals to share their experiences, seek support from those who have overcome addiction, and rebuild social connections within their communities.

The Benefits of Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Native Americans

Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP) has several potential benefits for Native Americans with substance abuse, including:

  • Peer Connection/Support: Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) commonly incorporate group therapy and support group modalities, providing a valuable opportunity for Native American clients to build connections with others who share similar struggles or experiences. This sense of connectedness is particularly significant for Native Americans who may have experienced isolation and loneliness due to a history of trauma and geographical isolation. By fostering a supportive community, IOP programs can enhance the healing process and provide a space for shared understanding and empathy.
  • Flexibility and Accessibility: IOP programs are designed to be flexible and accommodate clients’ work schedules or childcare needs, making them particularly beneficial for Native Americans who may reside in rural areas with limited access to treatment facilities. By offering evening or weekend sessions, telehealth options, and providing transportation assistance, IOP programs aim to remove barriers and ensure that treatment is accessible to those who need it.
  • Culturally Sensitive Approaches to Treatment: Tailoring IOP programs to specifically address the needs of Native Americans is essential. This involves incorporating cultural values, traditions, and healing practices into the treatment experience. By respecting and integrating Native American cultural perspectives, rituals, and languages, IOP programs can create a safe and culturally appropriate environment. This approach enhances the comfort and engagement of Native American clients, ultimately leading to improved treatment outcomes.
  • Holistic Healing: IOP programs that adopt a holistic approach addressing all aspects of an individual’s addiction, including emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions. This aligns with the traditional healing practices and beliefs of many Native American cultures, which emphasize the importance of achieving harmony and balance within oneself. By integrating traditional healing practices, such as ceremony, storytelling, or connection with nature, IOP programs can provide a comprehensive healing experience that resonates with Native American clients.
  • Cost-Effective: Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) are often more cost-effective than residential treatment programs, making them a viable option for Native Americans who may not have health insurance or have limited coverage. By offering an affordable treatment alternative, IOP programs help increase accessibility for individuals who may face financial constraints while still providing comprehensive and quality care.


Overall, IOP programs have the potential to provide effective and culturally sensitive treatment options for Native Americans struggling with substance abuse. By addressing the unique barriers faced by this population, IOP programs can improve treatment access and outcomes for Native Americans and promote long-term recovery.

In conclusion, addressing the complex issue of substance abuse among Native Americans requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses raising awareness, challenging stereotypes, promoting culturally sensitive treatment, and advocating for accessible and tailored interventions. By breaking down the stigma associated with substance abuse, implementing comprehensive support systems, and acknowledging the unique cultural contexts of Native American communities, we can create an environment that fosters healing, resilience, and long-term recovery. Through collaborative efforts and a commitment to holistic approaches, we can strive for healthier outcomes, reduced disparities, and improved well-being for Native Americans impacted by substance abuse.

Sources Cited

  • Burdon et al. Differential effectiveness of residential versus outpatient aftercare for parolees from prison-based therapeutic community treatment programs. Substance Abuse Treatment Prevalence Policy. 2007.
  • NIDA. Principles of Effective Treatment. National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
  • Laudet et al. Pathways to long-term recovery: a preliminary investigation. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2002.
  • French et al. The economic costs of substance abuse treatment: updated estimates and cost bands for program assessment and reimbursement. J Substance Abuse Treatment, 2008.
  • Mericle et al. “Sober living house characteristics: A multilevel analyses of factors associated with improved outcomes.” J Substance Abuse Treatment, 2019.
  • (2013). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues Within Native American Grand Parenting Families. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 3(12), 210-227.
  • (2012). Community Partnership to Affect Substance Abuse among Native American Adolescents. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 5(38), 450-455.
  • (2012). Walking On: Celebrating the Journeys of Native American Adolescents with Substance Use Problems on the Winding Road to Healing. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 2(44), 153-159.
  • (2011). Use of the evidence base in substance abuse treatment programs for American Indians and Alaska natives: pursuing quality in the crucible of practice and policy. Implementation Sci, 1(6).
  • (2011). Alcohol Treatment in Native North America: Gender in Cultural Context. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 4(29), 379-402.
  • (2011). Holistic System of Care: A Ten-Year Perspective. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 4(43), 302-308.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *