The term alcoholism has been used over the years as a vague, poorly understood, and sometimes morally flavored term. Alcoholism is described as a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations (Silverstein, 32). This is a disease, which has destroyed many people and families, and is a constant burden on our society. For many years alcohol has been the most widely abused substance in America (Kronenwetter, 14). Alcoholism is a disease with many possible causes, and several detrimental effects on the alcoholic and those around them.
The causes of alcoholism are highly controversial, but include both genetic and environmental factors. The main factor is genetics; the idea that addiction is passed on to children through inherited genes. In comparisons of genetic and environmental factors, the genetic factor seems to be more closely associated with the development of alcoholism as a disease (Silverstein, 64). Meaning environment may encourage drinking, but the continuing urge to drink is due to genetics. In a recent study, 28.1 % of sons of alcoholic biological mothers were also alcohol abusers (Silverstein, 89). Environmental factors simply make it harder for an alcoholic to resist the drink. We are surrounded by the message that alcohol is fun, sexy, desirable and harmless (Buckalew, 206). As alcohol is portrayed as harmless, why wouldn’t youths flock to it as a social tool for a feeling of popularity or comfort in themselves? As drinkers start younger, there must be a stop of the glamorous portrayal of alcohol consumption. A shocking 31.1% of youths had their first drink, other than a sip, before age 13 (Buckalew, 137). Worse yet is the fact that most adult alcoholics began drinking at age 11 (Kronenwetter, 124).
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Alcohol causes many psychological and physiological problems in heavy drinkers and light drinkers alike. A few well-known consequences of alcohol on the brain and body have been proven. This includes: cognitive mood and memory disturbances, injury to the gastrointestinal and intestinal tracts, and injury to cardiovascular, pulmonary, endocrine and integumentary systems to name a few (Ball, 28). Alcohol has an adverse effect on almost all of the body’s normal functions. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a growing problem. Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs when expectant mothers drink during pregnancy. This condition afflicts over 5,000 infants a year causing mental retardation, constant confusion, withdrawal after delivery, and many visible physical defects (Sora, 145). Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common alcohol related health problem. Approximately 10,000 to 24,000 deaths from cirrhosis are attributable to excessive alcohol consumption each year (Kronenwetter, 64). When a person is deep in alcohol addiction, psychological problems begin to be apparent. Three main problems are blackouts, repression and euphoric recall (Silverstein, 100). All of these deeply affect the memory system making the alcoholic believe even stronger that they have no problem. However, despite all of these alcohol related health disasters that are publicly acknowledged, people continue to take drinking to the extremes.
There are two basic types of alcoholics, those who inherit a predisposition to compulsive drinking, and those who develop a problem from long-continued stress or long-term social drinking. In either case, brain wave patterns and brain chemistry are abnormal (Silverstein, 22). These abnormalities lead to the symptoms and characteristics of alcoholism, which vary from person to person. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes early symptoms as: restlessness, anxiety, stubbornness and anger (Bender, 57). This drives the person to self-destructive and anti-social behavior. The outer phenomenology of an alcoholic provides an image of a defiant, overconfident, exuberant and independent personality; behind which is a victim who feels inferior, depressed, dependant, helpless and worthless (Buckalew, 52). Even though the alcoholic realizes the danger, the short-term rewards are so great and the urge so powerful that the drinking habit must be protected, and adverse effects denied (Bender, 8). Since alcoholics can portray there is no problem, it is often difficult to spot a person in trouble.
The impacts of alcoholism on society are terrible and far-reaching. Driving under the influence is a deadly practice that alcoholics experience often, mostly while coming home from clubs or bars. In 1996 there were 1,893,700 drunken driving arrests in the United States (Bender, 83). It is estimated that upwards of 75% of those arrested are alcohol abusers. In our nation, more than 20,000 people die annually in alcohol related car accidents (Silverstein, 21). Despite the effect on motor skills and other normal brain functions, drunks still believe they are able to drive, resulting in many innocent deaths. Alcoholism also devastates families and loved ones of the addicted individual. Of the approximate 18 million alcoholics in the United States, each one adversely affects at least four other people. Families of alcoholics suffer the same symptoms of the disease as the alcoholic (Kronenwetter, 68). Excessive use of alcohol claims at least 100,000 lives each year, either through accidents or health problems. This is 25 times more loss of life than all illegal drugs combined (Bender, 168). Alcoholism and related problems cost taxpayers an overwhelming $85.8 billion in mortality and reduced productivity (Sora, 193). However, alcohol is still looked upon as a non-threatening dilemma.
There are many methods of treatment for alcoholics to use to try to kick their habit. One approach is Alcoholics Anonymous or AA. AA is a twelve-step program designed to make the person realize their problem, and also allow them to talk to others with the same addiction problem. Treatment of alcoholism is best done in groups and twelve step programs where an individual can relate to those in a similar situation (Sora, 63). Other approaches include treating the patient with drugs. These drugs deter withdrawal symptoms such as cramps, hallucinations, and frustration. Many conventional programs use drugs like Valium or Librium to offset withdrawal from alcohol (Sora, 53). However, later on patients must be weaned off of the fore-mentioned drugs, many times causing a relapse into alcoholism. The most effective way to deal with alcoholism is prevention. Since alcoholism usually develops before the age of 13, preventing the first drink from occurring would obviously work best. The Assistant Secretary of Health of our country stated, “ I can tell you that at this stage of the game we are losing the war on alcohol because we are allowing mixed messages to reach our youth, when in reality they need to be told the truth about the dangers of alcohol (Ball, 121).” Clearly our society is causing alcohol problems in youths by portraying alcohol as harmless. We must begin to prevent alcohol from ever becoming a factor, as our kid’s lives are at stake.
Alcohol and drug addiction has plagued mankind for thousand of years. There is no easy answer or solution to addiction. Many sober people ask, “ Why don’t these people see what’s happening to them and stop drinking?” The answer is, they can’t. Alcoholics cannot see what is happening to themselves and unload negative feelings on others, claiming there problems are due to other people not alcohol (Kronenwetter, 54). Until someone brings to light the urgency and seriousness of the alcohol problem in our country, we will continue down the same path of destruction. Alcoholism is a complex disease with many possible causes but consequences that are always deadly. To begin to solve the problem of alcoholism we must treat it with the respect and urgency it requires.
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