This is post number 20 in a series of guest posts written by a visiting anthropology student. You can read more about the author and these posts HERE.

Drinking is one of the first things I got to know about Navajo people right after I came to Navajo land. Randy and Jill have talked a lot about the consequences of drinking, generally car accidents. We touched upon the topics such as the genetic influence, cultural traditions and Navajo people’s world views. Much of what we have discussed is sporadic and lacks depth. I felt so especially after I read a scholarly research on Navajo drinking.

Quintero’s study (1997), conducted in the mid-1990s, provides a comprehensive analysis on Navajo drinking from local people’s perspective. By focusing on the narratives of Navajo people about their experience with or without drinking, this study investigates issues such as how and when Navajo people began drinking, how drinking behavior changed during one’s lifetime, what Navajo people’s attitudes to drinking are, and what the alcohol abuse treatment’s effects are, etc.

The author reveals that most people started drinking as an adolescent, as a result of socialization and growing up. Family is an important factor for the start of drinking behavior. The author emphasizes that drinking behavior changes during one’s lifetime due to various reasons such as consideration for children and family, health, religion. This study illustrates that there was a trend that problems associated with drinking happen at an earlier age among younger generations. According to the author, Navajo people consider drinking to have contributed to the decline of ethics. This study also investigates the cultural factors that affected the abandonment of alcohol use when people were older.

As to treatment programs, the author argues that the effects are not clear since people tend to change their drinking behavior while they are getting old, and that the label of sickness associated with drinking suggested in the treatment programs may negatively affect people’s psychology. In critiquing the theories that consider Navajo drinking as problematic for social change, this study emphasizes the social and cultural mechanisms that help control drinking.


Quintero, Gilbert. 1997. The Discourse on Drinking in Navajo Society. Ph.D Dissertation, University of Arizona.

(Note from Jill–although I haven’t read the referenced dissertation, I disagree with his conclusions as portrayed in this post in two respects. From what we have heard from “elderlies” in the community, there USED to be more effective social and cultural mechanisms that helped to control drinking. Today most family members throw their hands up helplessly and bemoan the deaths and violence caused by alcohol but state very clearly that nothing can be done about it. Second, we experienced first hand that often the older people who talked with pride about “being on the sobriety road” were actually drunk on numerous days per week. Navajo are very good at giving the expected answer in conversation. I know that we heard occasional joking among Navajo friends who had given nonsense information to outsiders who then believed that erroneous information. The Navajo saw this as a joke, not as something to be concerned about or something to be corrected. It seems to me that this might well have happened to the researcher who wrote the dissertation.)

(I have written a number of posts about our observations of drinking among local Navajo. You can see two of these posts HERE and HERE.)