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Crouch Receives F32 Award from NIAAA to Study Alcohol Use Among Alaska Native Populations

August 06, 2021
by Jordan Sisson

Maria Crouch, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry, has been awarded an F32 Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Alaska Native people are incredibly impacted by alcohol, Crouch explained, but also have the highest rates of abstinence among any racially ethnic group. And among the Alaska Native and American Indian community, most people who recover from alcohol addiction don’t use Western models or treatment, but rather with cultural methods that predate Western methods.

Crouch’s grant, “Secondary Analyses of Clinical Trial Data to Understand Factors Associated with Alcohol Use Among Alaska Native Populations,” will study trauma, physical health, and culture and the role those have on alcohol treatment, specifically for Alaska Native people, through secondary analyses. Her long-term goal is to address trauma and problematic alcohol use in the Alaska Native population, through clinical trial research aimed at developing culturally-guided intervention and treatment.

“For me, research has provided the path for trauma-informed and culturally innovative and adaptive approaches to alcohol use disorder and stands as a bridge between large institutions and tribal organizations and between the hopes and dreams of my Alaska Native ancestry and the holistic health, advancement, and healing of Alaska Native people,” Crouch wrote in her grant application.

In a separate interview, Crouch added: “We have evidence-based practices in Western culture, which is beautiful, and we need that, but in indigenous culture we have practice-based evidence – things that work and a canon of research held by elders that is culturally informed and embedded within our culture. It is critical that these two areas coalesce, and we need to marry the two to create the most benefit, to serve people.”

Crouch is a member of the Deg Hit’an (Athabascan) tribe and her family is from the Native village of Anvik. Her uncle, Robert Rude, negotiated treaties with the United States government in the 1960s and 1970s, as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, to procure sustainable resources for health care, education, housing, and cultural advancement. Crouch said she has been identified by her elders to continue Rude’s work.

“I traveled all the way across the country to be able to do research that serves Alaska Native communities, and that is really beautiful and very exciting for me,” Crouch said. “My goal is to go home to Alaska after my three-year fellowship of doing work and developing experience and expertise that I can then take home to benefit and serve the Alaska Native people. I’m very grateful.”

While helping her develop expertise and other research skills, Crouch’s grant specifically aims to be responsive to the Alaska Native community, as well as culturally sensitive, with the goal to create a program of community-based research to take back to the Alaska Native community.

While most F32 awards have up to three mentors, Crouch has six: Stephanie O’Malley, PhD, Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Substance Abuse Research in Psychiatry; Angela Haeny, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry; Joan Cook, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry; and Ralitza Gueorguieva, PhD, Senior Research Scientist in Biostatistics and Director of Biostatistics in Psychiatry. Additionally, Crouch will receive mentorship from Judith Prochaska, PhD, MPH, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University with the Stanford Prevention Research Center and a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute and Joseph P. Gone, PhD, Professor of Anthropology and of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University and Faculty Director of the Harvard University Native American Program.

Crouch’s grant was one of the only ones funded that wasn’t specifically biomedically based. She said it is significant that the NIAAA funded her culturally-based research plans.

“The NIAAA has said that Alaska Native and American Indian communities are a priority. There are disparities and underrepresentation, and it hasn’t always felt that way,” Crouch said. “This was incredibly meaningful to me because it felt like a huge investment in my community. I’m honored by that. I feel like it’s a good time and I feel like people are investing in our community and I’m going to take it and run with it.”

Submitted by Jordan Sisson on August 05, 2021