Culture figures prominently in discussions regarding the etiology of alcohol and substance abuse in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities, and a substantial body of literature suggests that it is critical to developing meaningful treatment interventions. However, no study has characterized how programs integrate culture into their services. Furthermore, reports regarding the associated challenges are limited.
Twenty key informant interviews with administrators and 15 focus groups with clinicians were conducted in 18 alcohol and substance abuse treatment programs serving AI/AN communities. Transcripts were coded to identify relevant themes.
Substance abuse treatment programs for AI/AN communities are integrating culture into their services in two discrete ways: by implementing specific cultural practices and by adapting Western treatment models. More important, however, are the fundamental principles that shape these programs and their interactions with the people and communities they serve. These foundational beliefs and values, defined in this study as the core cultural constructs that validate and incorporate AI/AN experience and world view, include an emphasis on community and family, meaningful relationships with and respect for clients, a homelike atmosphere within the program setting, and an “open door” policy for clients. The primary challenges for integrating these cultural practices include AI/AN communities' cultural diversity and limited socioeconomic resources to design and implement these practices.
The prominence of foundational beliefs and values is striking and suggests a broader definition of culture when designing services. This definition of foundational beliefs and values should help other diverse communities culturally adapt their substance abuse interventions in more meaningful ways. (Psychiatric Services 63:686–692, 2012; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201100399)