Understanding the relationship between substance use and self-injury in American Indian youth

Allison Barlow, Lauren Tingey, Mary Cwik, Novalene Goklish, Francene Larzelere-Hinton, Angelita Lee, Rosemarie Suttle, Britta Mullany, John T. Walkup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: American Indian communities compared to other US populations are challenged by the largest health disparities in substance abuse and suicidal behavior among youth ages 1524. Objectives: This article examines the co-occurrence of substance use and self-injury among reservation-based youth in the US. Methods: White Mountain Apache tribal leaders and Johns Hopkins University formed a partnership to address self-injury and substance abuse among Apache youth. Data on suicide (deaths, attempts, ideation), non-suicidal self-injury, and substance use were analyzed from the White Mountain Apache tribally mandated self-injury surveillance registry from 2007 to 2010, including 567 validated incidents from 352 individuals aged 1524 years. Findings regarding characteristics of co-occurrence including differences in the type of self-harm behavior, gender, and reported reasons for the act were interpreted through a community-based participatory research process. Results: From 2007 to 2010, 64 (n = 7/11) of Apache youth ages 1524 were "drunk or high" at the time of suicide death with data missing for 2/11 deaths; 75.7 (n = 118/156) were "drunk or high" during suicide attempt; 49.4 (n = 83/168) during suicidal ideation; and 49.4 (81/166) during non-suicidal self-injury. Co-occurrence of substance use was higher for more lethal acts and among males. Conclusion: High rates of co-occurring self-injury and substance use within this population highlight the importance of research to understand relationships between these behaviors to design preemptive and integrated interventions. Scientific Significance: Tribal-specific and culturally informed data on the co-occurrence of self-injury and substance use hold promise for reducing the combined toll of years of productive life lost among American Indian youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-408
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • American Indian
  • Binge substance use
  • Prevention
  • Self-injury
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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