Today, the problem of alcoholism becomes an issue of the day. Looking at the entire range of society’s current attempts to deal with licit and illicit mind-acting substances, there are tensions in the system wherever one’s glance falls. Nowhere does it have the appearance of a splendidly settled, workable and unworried coexistence, likely to endure for a thousand years. Citizens can drink alcohol life long in moderate quantities without significant risk to health or social well-being. Unfortunately, some people who take alcohol regularly are unable to resist the temptation and increase the quantity of alcohol that lead to alcoholism. The research paper is aimed to examine health effects of alcohol from the chemical, biological and psychological perspectives, evaluate the current state of the problem, and the necessity of preventive measures.
Thesis statement Today, alcoholism is more a social problem than a problem of a particular individual, and this problem requires a special attention of society, and prevention measures accepted on the governmental level.
Definition of Alcoholism
Today, alcoholism becomes a serious problem for many people worldwide because of lack of governmental control that makes alcohol available for majority of people. Alcohol is considered as the most accessible drug. If other drugs such as cannabis are prohibited alcohol is becoming widely used.
Alcoholism is a disease that can be defined as over consumption of alcoholic beverages that results in addiction. According to Chafetz and Demone “Alcoholism is a type of abnormal mental reaction; alcohol has been found to be an antidote for some obsessions or emotional depressions” (Chafetz and Demone, 1962, p. 33). Also, alcoholism is closely connected with physical effects such intoxication, chronicle use and dependence, and physiological problems. Some times alcoholism is called “a chemical disease because it breaks down differently in the stomach and has an entirely different effect on the brain of the alcoholic than on the non-alcoholic. It is biological in the sense that the chemical predisposition is inherited” (The Disease of Alcoholism-Defined & Explained. N.d). Alcoholism is made more threatening by the fact that it has a subtle but dangerous potential to enmesh its users in a drug dependence. To set up a dependence on this drug will take at least some years of use, and will often require twenty or thirty years on the drink before morning shakes appear.
Chemical and Biological Effects
Form the chemical and biological point of view alcohol has potent effects on areas of the brainstem called the locus coeruleus and the raphe nuclei. These play an important role in both motor coordination and alertness, which unsurprisingly are two of the functions most impaired by having a drink or three. Substances like morphine have specific receptor sites within the brain – indeed brain manufactures its own morphine in the form of endorphins, which are released in response to pain, stress and physical effort. Alcohol has no receptor sites of its own within the brain. Its molecules are electrically uncharged, which means that they are attracted to similarly uncharged regions within the brain – such as those that exist within the membranes of neurons. As a result, alcoholism has the potential to disrupt pretty much every brain function (Goodlett, et al. 1999).
Alcoholism also causes release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens – the brain’s reward system – which is why people perceive its initial effects as being pleasurable. This activity within a reward system also explains why alcohol use has what psychologists call a ‘reinforcing effect’. In other words, people return to patterns of behaviour that give them pleasure.
Alcoholism ruins personality and males a person dependant on alcohol. For instance: “The neurotic is at no greater risk than is the non-neurotic. The introvert and the extrovert are even in risk just as the meek and the mighty. Rich or poor, tall or short, fat or thin, male or female, all fall into the alcoholic spectrum in an orderly and predictable pattern–each being equal to the other” (The Disease of Alcoholism-Defined & Explained, n.d.). Some of alcohol’s effects may have less to do with its chemical actions on the brain and more to do with the very pervasive power of suggestion. Psychologists have performed tests on people who are receiving a dose of alcohol and others who believe they are but in fact are imbibing straight tonic water. They have found that believing people are drinking can in itself be sufficient to produce many of the symptoms of being drunk, such as sexual arousal and aggression.
A compliment or a fatal stabbing, that is the extent of the influence which psychological expectation, the surrounds, the shaping influence of the culture, can have when alcohol physically impacts on the brain. Alcohol is exemplar, but what is being said here about the capacity of this particular drug to produce a physical impact on the brain, which is then transmuted by many kinds of factor into a felt experience, is true also for every other kind of mind-acting substance (Goodlett et al, 1999).
Causes of Alcoholism
The causes of alcoholism are not easily explained. Primarily, alcoholism is considered as a disease caused by natural self-determinacy. The anthropological research shows that people in different cultures can react in very different ways to alcohol. Some people will still be smiling and paying each other compliments up to the point when they drunkenly pass out, while in another culture fiesta drinking will routinely result in knives drawn and homicidal violence (Chafetz, Demone, 1962)
The social causes of alcoholism are that drinking has become increasingly common. During their studying at collage or university young people are usually found of drinking within parties while socializing with their friends, after the college. Surprisingly, most of these students are not aware of the adverse effects of drinking on their health. Most of them suppose that smoking is more dangerous than alcohol. For instance, “a survey focusing on alcohol-related problems of high school seniors and dropouts found that in 1996, about 80 percent reported either getting drunk, engaging in binge drinking, or drinking and driving. More than half said that drinking had caused them to feel sick, miss school or work, get arrested, or have a car crash” (Greenblatt, 2000). The esteem in which alcohol is held in a drinking culture means that any citizen living in that environment will have their assessment of the pleasures of alcohol endlessly enhanced, and perception of the threats constantly down-played. The packaging invites them to drink and drink up, and neutralizes warnings of danger as nanny talk.
These problems are the main causes of adult alcoholism. These figures are very important because it was found that “alcoholism is caused by a person who is genetically predisposed to alcoholism drinking alcohol in sufficient quantities over a sufficient period of time. Some, who are 100% predisposed to alcoholism, are alcoholic from the first drink” (The Disease of Alcoholism-Defined & Explained, n.d.).
Apart from its effects on other major organs like the heart and liver, alcohol can bring about a most profound change in the brain. It may appear to be a stimulant, but it is mostly a central nervous system depressant. It interferes with the neurotransmitter GABA, and frontal cortical control is progressively lost. Although initially there may be a feeling of happiness and well-being, alcohol produces loss of emotional control, violent behaviour, inability to coordinate movement, nausea, confusion and coma. Alcoholic coma is not a minor problem – it results in death in about 1 in 20 cases. Once people who use alcohol heavily are habituated to this drug after five or so years, blackouts, nightmares and hallucinations are common if drinking stops “Alcoholism causes premature death through overdose, organic complications involving the brain, liver, heart and many other organs, and by contributing to suicide, homicide, motor vehicle crashes, and other traumatic events” (The Definition of Alcoholism (NCADD/ASAM, n.d.).
Withdrawal also produces uncontrolled trembling of the limbs, delirium and epileptic attacks that do not always respond to anti-epileptic drugs. Prolonged use of alcohol results in brain degeneration, particularly of the cerebellum with loss of Purkinje cells, and nutritional disorders with visual disturbance, loss of memory and impaired intellect. While this is not by any means a complete list of the horrors, dementia caused by loss of cortical neurons, nerve damage and palsy are also well documented. Finally, it should be mentioned that in my own field of medicine, alcohol abuse has a profound effect on the baby in the uterus – including causing abnormalities of head and face development, and of brain function. Alcohol can have an effect every bit as severe as repeated sporting trauma from boxing, or, of course, a major head injury.
Cirrhosis can have causes other than alcohol, and there are many ways of dying of drink besides contracting alcoholic liver damage. Fatal Alcohol Syndrome ”affects approximately 0.29 to 0.48 per 1,000 live births, with incidences increasing to 2.99 per 1,000 in certain socioeconomic and ethnic groups (Goodlett, et al, 1999, p. 1)
Another dimension of this problem is a gender issue. For a long time, researchers supposed that alcoholism primarily affects men. This problem was caused by lack of substantial research and analysis of female alcoholism. Nevertheless, further studies in this field found that female alcoholism is also an important problem that effects society and always holds back.
According to Diana Wilke: “There is an inherent contradiction in that women’s alcoholism is viewed as abnormal or different when compared to men’s but women are researched as if their alcoholism were the same” (Wilke, 1993, p. 29). The influence exerted by the silent, unnoticed but ever-present contextual factors which shape the individual’s drinking, is immensely powerful. According to the statistical results death rate in USA is approx 1 in 18 or 5.55% or 15.1 million people. In general, in the USA there are 15.1 million alcohol-abusing or alcohol-dependent individuals and 4.6 million are women (Death Statistics for Types of Alcohol abuse, 2005).
Women have higher death rates then males alcoholics, approximately 50 to 100%. Another problem is that half of the female alcoholic’s deaths are caused by physiological disorders and suicides. In general, women are more sensitive to alcohol tissues damage than a man that is also resulted in premature deaths.
The Necessity of Prevention Programs
The spectrum of crimes to which alcoholism contributes goes all the way from petty public-disorder offences, where it is a big contributor, to murder, where in some countries 30-40 per cent of those convicted of homicide will have been drunk at the time of the offence. People who are intoxicated not only have an enhanced likelihood of committing violent offences, but are themselves also at heightened risk of being robbed or assaulted. The drink-crime connection is however complex: drinking is sometimes central to the offence, can be part of a causal network, but may be merely coincidental. In general, the government spends about $80 billion a year for alcoholism prevention programs and treatment. To take measures is important because alcoholism can impair many aspects, of social life. The contribution which alcoholism makes to social problems is more difficult to quantify than with physical illness.
In particular, public health policies towards healthier generation are crafted with attention to their impact on human rights. The solution is implementation of alcohol prevention campaign which will involve broad social context: media, social workers, school authorities, etc. If the provision of service or benefits programs (e.g., counseling, education and treatment) do not adequately protect public health, more restrictive policies may be warranted. Governments sometimes feel public pressure to respond to an urgent public health concern with restrictive or punitive measures. Public opinion may call for civil commitment offering alcohol addicts incentives and services , but is more effective in helping them complete the full course of their medication than compulsory treatment or commitment. The restriction should be applied to entire population, which help to create an image of a healthy population free from alcohol abuse.
Alcohol is a same drug with the double-edged capacity to give good cheer and inflict damage, but seen in another light it is a commodity, something else on the supermarket shelf and with a couple of dollars or a pound off a person can get two bottles cheap in this week’s promotion. Clearly articulated goals against alcoholism help to identify the true purpose of the intervention, facilitate public understanding and debate around legitimate health purposes, and reveal prejudice, stereotypical attitudes, or irrational fear and exploration of more intrusive measures are permissible where clearly necessary.
1. “Alcoholism”. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2004. p. 1158.
2. Chafetz, M. E., Demone J. W. Jr. Alcoholism and Society, Harold W. Oxford University Press, 1962.
3. Death Statistics for Types of Alcohol abuse. 2005. Available at: http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/a/alcohol_abuse/death-types.htm
4. The Disease of Alcoholism-Defined & Explained. N.d. Available at: http://webpages.charter.net/rfhale/alcoholism.htm
5. The Definition of Alcoholism (NCADD/ASAM). Available at: http://www.asam.org/ppol/Definition%20of%20Alcoholism.htm
6. Goodlett, Ch. R., Hannigan, J. H., Spear, L. P., Alcohol and Alcoholism: Effects on Brain and Development, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999.
7. Greenblatt, J.C. Patterns of Alcohol Use Among Adolescents and Associations with Emotional and Behavioral Problems. 2000. Available at: http://www.health.org/govstudy/adolemotion/
8. Wilke, D. Women and Alcoholism: How a Male-as-Norm Bias Affects Research, Assessment, and Treatment. Health and Social Work, Vol. 19, 1994, p. 29.