snopes.com  

Go Back   snopes.com > Urban Legends > Medical

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 23 May 2008, 07:13 PM
bthyb's Avatar
bthyb bthyb is offline
 
Join Date: 31 January 2006
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 8,887
Icon86 Native Americans can't hold their liquor

The textbook I'm using for my Drugs and Health class specifically says it's a myth that Native Americans "can't hold their liquor." I have a student who is quite skeptical of the books claims, so I checked this one out before hand, and found references that it is indeed just a myth - there's no physiological evidence that would show that Native Americans have trouble processing alcohol.

But the student does want to persue the issue further - she's doubting the book on this one.

If there is something definitive posted or published on this, can anyone point me in that direction? Thanks.
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 23 May 2008, 07:17 PM
rangerdog's Avatar
rangerdog rangerdog is offline
 
Join Date: 19 July 2002
Location: Fairfax, VA
Posts: 6,193
Default

We had a thread on this quite some time ago, the old board perhaps.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 23 May 2008, 07:23 PM
DemonWolf's Avatar
DemonWolf DemonWolf is offline
 
Join Date: 24 April 2002
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 13,114
Wolf

Check the CDC. You student may be confusing her facts. Native Americans have higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse than other groups, but this does not mean that they "can't hold their liquor," simply that they are predisposed to certain addictions.

Addictions, like alcoholism, have been shown to be heredible, combined with other effects related to poverty, this can lead to a very high percentage of alcoholics and drug addicts in a very small group.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 23 May 2008, 07:33 PM
bthyb's Avatar
bthyb bthyb is offline
 
Join Date: 31 January 2006
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 8,887
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by rangerdog View Post
We had a thread on this quite some time ago, the old board perhaps.
I've searched both here and the old board (as well as the main Snopes site), and I'm not finding it. I'll keep looking.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
Check the CDC. You student may be confusing her facts. Native Americans have higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse than other groups, but this does not mean that they "can't hold their liquor," simply that they are predisposed to certain addictions.

Addictions, like alcoholism, have been shown to be heredible, combined with other effects related to poverty, this can lead to a very high percentage of alcoholics and drug addicts in a very small group.
I'm confused - what do you expect the CDC to have said on the matter? I did a brief search there, and nothing has come up.

And according to my textbook there's only a proven genetic link to alcoholism, not yet to other addictions.

Thanks for the suggestions!
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 23 May 2008, 07:36 PM
Dr. Dave Dr. Dave is online now
 
Join Date: 28 June 2005
Location: Montgomery County, MD
Posts: 4,439
Default

Let me get you started. Apologies in advance if I am assuming a lack of knowledge that you have- this response is intended so anyone can understand it.

I am also assuming that by "can't hold liquor," the statement means that a smaller amount of liquor gets the person drunk.

The biochemical determinant of alcohol metabolosm is an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase. So in theory, there could be a genetic variation- one group could have a lower average expression of this enzyme. Or there could be a deficiency state, and that mutation (polymorphism?- it is not really a disability) could exist in a higher prevalence in one group. The deficiency woul dmake one unable to hold ones liquor.

This means that in theory, a higher prevalence of Native Americans could be missing the enzyme. Or Ashkenazi Jews, or any genetic group.

A few caveats:
1. That would not mean that all Native Americans are missing the enzyme- if the prevalence was say 5% in Native Americans a 0.01% in other groups, it would be considered a mostly Native American issue; saying "Native Americans can't hold liquor" however would be like saying "Black people's blood sickles" or "Northern Eruopeans can't transport salt out of their lungs." Of course, if the prevalence of missing the enzyme was very high, then I guess the statement would be generally true.

2. Native Americans are/were multiple tribes, perhaps with little mixing back in time. So it could be one tribe that has this polymorphism.


Anyway, how to pursue this question- look for studies examining the prevalence of aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency in Native Americans. If your student wants a topic to study, give her that and go.

FYI, the folks who did this study say no.

As do these researchers for North American natives, but South American natives did have a deficiency

For natvie (aboriginal) people of Taiwan, there was a difference found.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 23 May 2008, 07:54 PM
Natalie Natalie is offline
 
Join Date: 15 January 2008
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Posts: 2,171
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Dave View Post
The biochemical determinant of alcohol metabolosm is an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase. So in theory, there could be a genetic variation- one group could have a lower average expression of this enzyme. Or there could be a deficiency state, and that mutation (polymorphism?- it is not really a disability) could exist in a higher prevalence in one group. The deficiency woul dmake one unable to hold ones liquor.
I have heard (not from reliable sources) that this is true for some Native Americans and also for some Asian groups. I think Russell Means repeats this claim in his autobiography, and sources it to somewhere, but I can't remember where.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 23 May 2008, 08:28 PM
DemonWolf's Avatar
DemonWolf DemonWolf is offline
 
Join Date: 24 April 2002
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 13,114
Wolf

Quote:
Originally Posted by bthyb View Post
I've searched both here and the old board (as well as the main Snopes site), and I'm not finding it. I'll keep looking.



I'm confused - what do you expect the CDC to have said on the matter? I did a brief search there, and nothing has come up.

And according to my textbook there's only a proven genetic link to alcoholism, not yet to other addictions.

Thanks for the suggestions!
The CDC may have had stats about alcoholism rates and whenther there is a medical condition why some people get drunk faster than others. "Alcohol native americans" brings up a few references to Native Americans having higher thqan average alcoholism rates, but I really did not look too deep.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 23 May 2008, 08:50 PM
llewtrah's Avatar
llewtrah llewtrah is offline
 
Join Date: 13 December 2001
Location: Chelmsford, UK
Posts: 16,364
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
The CDC may have had stats about alcoholism rates and whenther there is a medical condition why some people get drunk faster than others. "Alcohol native americans" brings up a few references to Native Americans having higher thqan average alcoholism rates, but I really did not look too deep.
Could the alcoholism rate might be due to cultural influences since the Europeans oppressed the native people? Alcohol is commonly used to blot out the outside world (I only have to walk through some of the rough sleeper areas of London to see that ) The next generation grow up regarding drinking to excess as normal and the cycle continues. I haven't checked for data, but the Aboriginal Australian situation might show similar alcoholism issues. for similar reasons.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 23 May 2008, 08:57 PM
Tarquin Farquart's Avatar
Tarquin Farquart Tarquin Farquart is offline
 
Join Date: 20 November 2005
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16,354
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by llewtrah View Post
Could the alcoholism rate might be due to cultural influences since the Europeans oppressed the native people? Alcohol is commonly used to blot out the outside world (I only have to walk through some of the rough sleeper areas of London to see that ) The next generation grow up regarding drinking to excess as normal and the cycle continues. I haven't checked for data, but the Aboriginal Australian situation might show similar alcoholism issues. for similar reasons.
Partly that, but also because the Europeans introduced alcohol.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 23 May 2008, 09:02 PM
DemonWolf's Avatar
DemonWolf DemonWolf is offline
 
Join Date: 24 April 2002
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 13,114
Wolf

Quote:
Originally Posted by llewtrah View Post
Could the alcoholism rate might be due to cultural influences since the Europeans oppressed the native people? Alcohol is commonly used to blot out the outside world (I only have to walk through some of the rough sleeper areas of London to see that ) The next generation grow up regarding drinking to excess as normal and the cycle continues. I haven't checked for data, but the Aboriginal Australian situation might show similar alcoholism issues. for similar reasons.
Actually, I did mention that in my earlier post as well. According to the quick search, Blacks also have a higer rate than whites, so that would appear to be consistant with societal pressures.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 23 May 2008, 09:03 PM
llewtrah's Avatar
llewtrah llewtrah is offline
 
Join Date: 13 December 2001
Location: Chelmsford, UK
Posts: 16,364
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tarquin Farquart View Post
Partly that, but also because the Europeans introduced alcohol.
Lots of cultures had fermented drinks before the Europeans got there. I think the Europeans had a different attitude to alcohol - an everyday thing (due to being safer than water until we cottoned on to how to sterilise water) rather than a ritual drink consumed rarely.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 23 May 2008, 09:08 PM
Tarquin Farquart's Avatar
Tarquin Farquart Tarquin Farquart is offline
 
Join Date: 20 November 2005
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16,354
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by llewtrah View Post
Lots of cultures had fermented drinks before the Europeans got there. I think the Europeans had a different attitude to alcohol - an everyday thing (due to being safer than water until we cottoned on to how to sterilise water) rather than a ritual drink consumed rarely.
I don't think the pre-Colombian Americans had fermenting but I don't think they had distilling.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 23 May 2008, 09:16 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 23,147
Default

That's interesting; I'm currently half way through an article called "Genocide" by Norman Lewis, about the persecution and murder of the native people of Brazil up until the 1960s. (Republished in the collection A View Of The World). In one description he says:

Quote:
Like Indians everywhere, the smallest intake of alcohol produces a deadly change.
(This was written in 1969, hence "Indians"). Seems he was wrong about the "everywhere", but possibly correct in general about the people he was actually describing, in the Mato Grosso.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 23 May 2008, 09:16 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
Join Date: 29 December 2005
Location: Greenwood, IN
Posts: 5,161
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
Actually, I did mention that in my earlier post as well. According to the quick search, Blacks also have a higer rate than whites, so that would appear to be consistant with societal pressures.
So, it would be useful to have data on alcholism in native americans who live on reservations (higher poverty rate, dismal outlook for happineness etc.) versus native americans that live off of reservations.

But, back to the OP. The question "can't hold their liquor" is really not the same as the rate of alchoholism. IIRC, alcoholics actually "hold their liquor" better than non-alcoholics. It takes more alcohol to get an alcoholic drunk than it does a non-alcoholic.

My wild-ass-guess is that native americans can "hold their liquor" as well as europeans. Social and economic pressures may contribute to a higher incidence of alcoholism. Historically, prejudice has greatly amplified the two issues (alcoholism rate and ability to "hold their liquor") to the point where the actual facts were irrelevant and the "legend" was/is based soley on prejudice.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 23 May 2008, 10:29 PM
bthyb's Avatar
bthyb bthyb is offline
 
Join Date: 31 January 2006
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 8,887
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by llewtrah View Post
Could the alcoholism rate might be due to cultural influences since the Europeans oppressed the native people? Alcohol is commonly used to blot out the outside world (I only have to walk through some of the rough sleeper areas of London to see that ) The next generation grow up regarding drinking to excess as normal and the cycle continues. I haven't checked for data, but the Aboriginal Australian situation might show similar alcoholism issues. for similar reasons.

I believe poverty and alienation are two of the factors of alcoholism among Native Americans, in particular the ones living on reservations with high rates of poverty.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 24 May 2008, 06:27 PM
catty5nutz catty5nutz is offline
 
Join Date: 22 January 2007
Location: Christchurch, New Zealand
Posts: 1,638
Default

I don't know if it is true or not, but I have heard that Asians traditionally have an intolerance to milk and milk products. Humans, like all mammals are not meant to have milk after infancy, but in some cultures, generations of the consumption of milk, cheese, butter and other milk products has meant that people in that society have in over many generations adapted to having milk products after infancy.
Could the same thing be true of alcoholic products? That over time, in some cultures where alcoholic consumption is common, that people actually develop a genetic tolerance to alcohol.
And it is not just Native Americans that have an alcohol problem. Many Australian Aborigines have serious alcohol problems. And the same goes for many Maori.
Of course, Like the Native Americans, many Aborigines and Maori have bleak, grim lives, making them more likely to use alcohol and other addictive substances as an escape.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 24 May 2008, 09:32 PM
Silas Sparkhammer's Avatar
Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
 
Join Date: 22 September 2000
Location: San Diego, CA
Posts: 26,843
Whalephant

Quote:
Originally Posted by catty5nutz View Post
I don't know if it is true or not, but I have heard that Asians traditionally have an intolerance to milk and milk products. Humans, like all mammals are not meant to have milk after infancy, but in some cultures, generations of the consumption of milk, cheese, butter and other milk products has meant that people in that society have in over many generations adapted to having milk products after infancy.
Could the same thing be true of alcoholic products? That over time, in some cultures where alcoholic consumption is common, that people actually develop a genetic tolerance to alcohol.
American Indians (North and South America) are also predisposed to lactose intolerance, and so are Africans. Some cultures (there's a pun here) have developed yogurt, where bacteria help with digestion.

David Quammen, my favorite living science writer (Neil deGrasse Tyson is giving him a run for his money!) noted an Arizona desert tribe of Indians that had become accustomed, over centuries, to the cycle of agricultural boom and bust. In lean years, everyone lost a lot of weight, but after a good harvest, everyone ate like crazy, fattened up to the max, and gained as much weight as possible. The result, once modern agriculture and transport changed everything, is that this group of people have a terrible problem with obesity. They are genetically accustomed to eat everything in sight, because, while their minds know better, the very cells of their bodies are anticipating the next few years of starvation.

Quote:
And it is not just Native Americans that have an alcohol problem. Many Australian Aborigines have serious alcohol problems. And the same goes for many Maori.

Of course, Like the Native Americans, many Aborigines and Maori have bleak, grim lives, making them more likely to use alcohol and other addictive substances as an escape.
Yep; that's why it is so terribly difficult to isolate any single cause, at least using observational methods only. That's why genetic testing is so valuable: it can help indicate where the ultimate causes are.

(AND....hooray for Congress for passing the law -- and Bush for signing it -- that forbids insurance companies taking these genetic dispositions into account when issuing coverage! Okay, yes, my genes do make me more likely to suffer from alcoholism than another guy's: to charge me more for medical coverage on that basis alone is perilously close to racism. It's "genism," or perhaps "geneism." The absurd extrapolation of the idea would be to lock up anyone who has a predisposition toward violent or anti-social behavior. Do we really want to go there?)

Silas
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump


All times are GMT. The time now is 09:23 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.