Scripps Research Institute Professor Cindy Ehlers has received a $3.6 million MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Award grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the risk factors for alcoholism in Native Americans.
Ehlers plans to use the five-year grant to better understand alcohol dependence and alcohol-related problems in Native American Indians and to determine why some groups of Native Americans are at high risk for alcoholism by identifying key genetic and environmental variables.
“We’ve found there is a strong relationship between early underage drinking in Native American young people and their risk for alcoholism,” Ehlers said. “The risk does not appear to be genetic. The new grant will give us the time to document whether exposure to alcohol in adolescence leads to specific and detrimental medical and psychological outcomes and to develop culturally relevant and sensitive ideas for treatment and prevention programs specifically tailored for these communities.”
Ehlers said she also plans to investigate whether Native Americans have a unique clinical course of alcoholism or a specific pattern of other psychiatric disorders present with alcoholism that may also influence treatment.
Ehlers’ previous work has done a great deal to dispel is the "firewater myth" that Native Americans are more sensitive to alcohol and they somehow metabolize alcohol differently.