Alcoholism Essay, Research Paper
When people hear the word drug, they usually think of illegal substances such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or any other drug that can be found on the street. Most never categorize alcohol as a drug, primarily because it is socially accepted. But, in fact, alcohol is responsible for destroying many people s lives and those around them, just like illegal drugs can. Alcoholism ranks as one of our four major health problems, and reliable national surveys show that there are over 5,000,000 alcoholics in the United States today. Their illness affects 20,000,000 other people including families, employers, and friends of the sufferers. Yet there is no major disease about which the public is more ignorant. Although moderate use of alcohol can actually lower some health risks, it becomes dangerous when alcohol is abused. Alcohol can have negative effects on some aspects of a person ranging from health problems to social problems to family problems.
To fully understand the effects of alcohol, one must first understand exactly what alcohol is. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is a poisonous liquid that the body can deactivate large amounts of without succumbing to its lethal effects (Block 118). Ethanol can penetrate through any of the body tissue easily, thus every part of the body is affected. It is sometimes called a downer because the brain is no longer able to utilize all of its functions. Alcohol is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream and the rest is processed in the stomach. Once the stomach has absorbed the rest of the alcohol, a person will be at his/her peak intoxication for that amount of alcohol. It may take anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes, depending on the amount of alcohol, to peak (Block 132).
Alcohol not only harms the consumer s body but also the people close to that person. It has been proven that most alcoholic marriages become abusive and end in divorce. Many families affected by alcoholism have no idea what normal family life is like. Family members unconsciously adapt to the alcoholics behavior by adjusting their own behavior (Gitlow 23). For children in alcoholic homes, life is a struggle by having to deal with constant stress, anxiety, and embarrassment. It is not uncommon for these children to be victims of violence, abuse, neglect, or even incest. When these children grow up they are much more prone to alcoholic behaviors themselves than are children from nonalcoholic families.
What some don t realize is that alcohol destroys many peoples family life. I have been unfortunate to see two of my aunt s and cousins lose husbands and fathers due to alcoholism. For example, my uncle Augie and aunt Rosie were married for 18 years before it was suddenly realized that alcohol had a negative impact on the whole family. Sometimes my uncle would not come home, leaving my aunt worried and heart broken, thinking he was cheating on her. My cousin, Anthony, missed the father figure he needed growing up as an adopted child in a big family. After many years of such a happy marriage, alcoholism began to deteriorate the relationship, causing a painful break up for them and the whole family. Suddenly, my mother, grandmother, and grandfather hardly heard from him and they knew alcohol had taken over his life. Aunt Rosie divorced him and Anthony never had the father he wanted. After being encouraged to go to Alcoholics Anonymous by my mother, my uncle Augie attended the meetings and now I am very pleased to say that Anthony has his father, and my uncle has been sober for three years. Most alcoholics will start to become quiet and withdrawn towards their family and go into mild depression. After interviewing my uncle for this paper he told me that his mind was clogged up with random thoughts from betting on the horse races to getting another drink. For him, going to the Silver Dollar, the bar in Fresno that he went to constantly, was much more important than going home to see his family. He said it was almost like all of the other alcoholics in the bar had become his family away from home. He told me that still to this day he thanks God that he was lucky enough to be cured and have his family back.
Furthermore, alcohol has been the common cause for many deaths in the United States due to drunk driving accidents. The leading cause of death for all age groups from 5 to 34 years old is traffic accidents (Mendleson 86). Approximately 41 percent of all traffic deaths are alcohol-related (Mendleson 86). It is estimated that three out of every ten Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related accident at some time in their lives (Mendleson 93). Furthermore, studies show that those involved in car crashes that have been drinking have a 40 to 50 percent higher chance of dying than nondrinkers involved in car crashes (Mendleson 92). Although national groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) track drunk driving cases through court systems to ensure that drunk drivers are punished, alcohol-related automobile crashes remain substantial.
There are also many affects alcohol has on different areas of the body ranging from the brain to the liver. Many of these effects can be deadly and must be taken seriously. Drinking too much alcohol has long term affects on the heart, which ultimately produce death. Since alcohol depresses cardiac contractility (or pumping ability) and changes conduction rates, these effects contribute to the disturbance in cardiac rhythms (Mendleson 208). Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death of adult males in the United States. It has been said that small amounts (3 ounces) of alcohol can actually reduce the chances of coronary artery disease. Moderate drinkers, in recent studies, had a significantly reduced risk of heart attack relative to those who never drank. There are now dozens of studies that suggest that the rate of coronary artery disease is reduced by 30 percent among moderate drinkers (Mendleson 209). Although these studies show that alcohol, in moderation, can be good for the heart, alcohol is very damaging to other areas such as the liver.
The liver is the organ that is most vulnerable to damage from alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis, the most severe form of liver disease, is highly correlated with alcohol abuse (West 27). Along with coronary artery disease, cirrhosis is also one of the leading causes of death among males in the United States. Cirrhosis can be a result of heavy drinking, and the liver begins to store fat known as fatty liver. If there is not enough time between drinking episodes, this fat cannot be transported to storage sites and the fat-filled liver cells stop functioning. If drinking continues, it can cause further deterioration called fibrosis. When the liver develops fibrous scar tissue, continuation of drinking would kill liver cells and the damage will be permanent.
Alcohol also may cause cancer. Heavy drinkers are at higher risk for certain types of cancer, particularly of the gastrointestinal tact (Mendleson 198). Repeated alcohol abuse has been linked to cancer in parts of the body such as the esophagus, stomach, mouth, tongue, and liver (Horvath 87). A 1994 study of male drinkers by the Harvard Medical School showed a 12 percent increased risk for cancer for those who had only one drink a day and a 123 percent increased risk for those who had two drinks a day (Horvath 98).
Many studies on animals show that high doses of alcohol can cause a loss of brain cells.
Alcohol can permanently damage the biochemical system response for conducting ions into and out of the nerve cell body. For example, alcohol can damage the structure of the outer membrane or wall of the nerve cell and impair the manufacture and transport of substances called nucleic acids. These nucleic acids are crucial for maintenance of the protein structures of nerve cells. Since certain types of nucleic acids have been implicated in the process of memory storage, alcohol-related changes in memory function have been linked to adverse effects of alcohol on the brain cell nucleic acids (Mendleson 215).
Even moderate alcohol consumption affects cognitive abilities, while larger amounts interfere with the oxygen supply to the brain, a possible cause of blackout or temporary amnesia during drunkenness. Alcohol abuse destroys brain cells, producing brain deterioration and atrophy, and whether the organic brain damage and neuropsychological impairment linked to alcohol can be reversed is unknown. Alcohol also alters the brain’s production of RNA (a genetic “messenger”), and serotonin, endorphins, and natural opiates whose function may be linked to the addictive process.
One of the most disturbing facts is that unborn children can have their whole life affected by the abuse of alcohol. Any alcohol intake during a pregnancy will have nothing but negative effects on the unborn child (Gitlow 202). Infants exposed to alcohol, while in the womb, have been known to suffer from a variety of ailments, the most common being Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Exposure (FAE). Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is highly linked with birth defects and is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation in the Western Hemisphere. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is characterized by a number of congenital birth defects which include prenatal and postnatal growth deficiency, facial malformations, central nervous system dysfunction, and varying degrees of major organ system malfunctions (Burgess 112). Children with FAS and FAE are often described as hyperactive, distractible, or impulsive. They often have short attention spans similar to attention deficit disorder, but with lower IQ’s particularly in the FAS child. In addition to attention deficits, problems with judgment, comprehension, and abstract thinking are common. Some new research says that kids with FAS and FAE are more vulnerable to alcohol exposure. Although alcohol intoxication is on the decrease in general, babies being born with alcohol birth defects are on a steady rise. Within a fourteen-year period, birth defects have increased over six fold (Gitlow 115).
Just like many diseases, alcoholism can be treated, but not cured, once and alcoholic, always an alcoholic. The alcoholic ready for help has several avenues available for treatment: psychologists and psychiatrists specializing in the treatment of alcoholism, private treatment centers, hospitals specially designed to treat alcoholics, community mental health facilities, and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a private, nonprofit; self help organization founded in 1935. In these, members will find out that last names are never used and members are never forced to speak. AA is a support group where members talk about their struggles with one another. There are no requirements for joining AA, only the need to stop drinking. AA was started in 1935 when two men, Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. met in Akron, Ohio to help each other stay sober. Today, AA has grown to over 87,000 groups in more than 130 countries, with more than two million members. Their motto is to stay away from one drink at a time, one day at a time. As stated earlier the members are taught to believe that their alcoholism is a lifetime problem and can never be cured, only controlled.
AA uses the twelve-step method in approaching sobriety:
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had became unmanageable.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to other human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so we would injure them or others.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge or His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principals in all our affairs.
New comers are not forced to follow all of these steps if they are unwilling or unable to do so because of religious or personal beliefs. They will however be asked to keep an open mind, to attend meetings, and to read AA literature describing the AA program.
There are also other treatment techniques such as Pharmacotherapy, which uses the method of medication to treat the disease, and Psychosocial therapies, including behavioral therapies, motivational therapies, 12-step programs (AA), and therapeutic therapies. All of these therapies work but different people respond differently to each and every one.
In conclusion, alcoholism is a serious problem in today’s society. It is extremely important that the public, including the large groups of users and abusers of alcohol, gain as much knowledge as possible about the symptoms and effects of alcoholism if we ever want to see the reduction of static s involving fatalities, injuries, diseases caused from the use and abuse of alcohol. Education and realization of the effects alcoholism can have on the different aspects of a person’s life are the best ways that we can help control the number of alcoholics in the United States.
Block, Marvin A., M.D Alcoholism: Its Facets and Phases 1997
Burgess, Louise Bailey. Alcohol and your health New York: Pacific, 1993.
Gitlow, Stanley E., M.D. Alcoholism: New Book of Knowledge Cleveland,1991.
Horvath, Arthur T. Coping with Addictions. New York, 1998
Mendleson, Jack H. Alcohol: Use and Abuse in America Boston, 1995
West, Suzanne . Pharmacotherapy for alcohol dependence: (AHCPR) California, 1998