Rumors and old wives’ tales such as stress makes women heavier drinkers, divorce prompts heavy alcohol use, people drive better when they are drinking, and teenagers are the main group of drunk drivers, are being thrown at today’s society left and right in an effort to blame the other guy. With all the talk about alcohol use and abuse these days, people are lost between fact and fiction. All of this tossed in with the truth leads to confusion where most of society is torn between tradition and personal beliefs.
Alcohol is a destructive drug that can lead to addiction, arrest, illness, and even death; all of these consequences, however, have not caused much of a dramatic change in alcohol’s social acceptance or usage. Most people know what alcohol is, but not everyone knows its history, where it comes from, or how it is produced. Alcohol is a word derived from the Arabic al-kohl, which was a term used to describe eyeliner that Middle Eastern women wore. Later, the definition broadened to mean an exotic substance (Monroe 5-6).
It was primarily used among ancient people for special ceremonies, magic, and medicine, and “by about 1500 BC, Egyptian doctors included beer or wine in about 15 percent of their medicines”(Monroe 8-9). Alcoholic beverages are produced through a process called fermentation using plants such as corn, rye, barley, potatoes, and grapes, and are classified by their types and proofs. Some types of alcohol are beer, ale, stout, porter, malt liquor, wine, whiskey, bourbon, gin, rum, brandy, and liqueur. The term proof refers to the percentage of pure alcohol contained in a drink.
While there is no international standard, in the United States, each degree of proof is equal to 0. 5 percent alcohol (Fettner 275). Beer, wine, and whiskey tend to be the three major categories used when comparing alcohol. Most beers contain about two to eight percent alcohol, which is one to four proof. Wine, depending on whether it is natural or fortified, can have anywhere from eight to twenty-one percent alcohol—eight to fourteen percent for natural and eighteen to twenty-one percent for fortified. Whiskeys usually range from about twenty to twenty-five proof, or forty to fifty percent alcohol.
The strongest type of alcohol, however, is brandy used to fortify dessert wines, which can be up to ninety-five percent alcohol (Fettner 275-276). Although studies show that alcohol consumed in small amounts can actually help the body remain healthy by stimulating cell functions, heavy or chronic use produces an opposite, suppressive effect on cell production (Wolfgan 3-4). Excessive usage can cause damage to many areas of the body, including the liver, the heart, and the brain. The liver is the primary target because it deals directly with the metabolism of alcohol.
And even though light use of alcohol has been shown to help prevent coronary artery disease, prolonged use causes many problems for the heart and brain, which are the next two hardest hit organs. Heart disease, heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, and neuropsychological disorders are among the worst consequences (Wolfgan 5). Also, taking depressants or tranquilizers while drinking can cause death (Fettner 276). Alcohol does not only affect its immediate users, either; it may also affect the offspring of chronic users.
Exposure in prenatal and early postnatal development shows an increased risk of disrupt in development or damage to the immune system. The most severe defect resulting from prenatal alcohol consumption, however, is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), characterized by many behavioral problems (Wolfgan 7). Several types of violence, including homicides, suicides, and spousal abuse, suggest a strong relationship with alcohol. In more than sixty percent of homicides, violators were drinking at the time of the offense, and thirty-six percent of suicide victims had a positive blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
Researchers have several suggestions about the link between alcohol and violence. One theory is that aggression is triggered by sensitivity to pain and frustration. Furthermore, the frustration may be caused by lack of problem-solving skills through effects on the brain’s frontal lobe (Wolfgan 8-9). In alcohol metabolism, the first sip of alcohol usually only takes a few minutes to move to the brain. The alcohol briefly irritates the mouth and esophagus lining, and then flows into the stomach. Food in the stomach slows alcohol progression to the rest of the body while the stomach absorbs about twenty percent itself.
However, once the alcohol gets past the stomach, it quickly moves into the small intestine, bloodstream, and heart. The bloodstream carries alcohol to the brain where it begins to slow down brain cells and increase heart rate. The only two ways that the body can remove alcohol is through excretion and metabolism. But, only ten percent of consumed alcohol is released through excretion—urine, breath, saliva, and sweat—leaving the other ninety percent to be broken down in the liver. A typical liver can handle about a half an ounce of pure alcohol in about one and a half-hours.
And, for example, a twelve ounce can of beer, a twelve ounce wine cooler, a five ounce glass of wine, and a drink with 1. 25 ounces of liquor each contain about one-half ounce of pure alcohol (Monroe 21-24). The effects of alcohol depend on several factors including weight, age, gender, type of alcohol, and history of use. Alcohol generally effects women and teens faster than men because women and teens have smaller bodies. Teens and children are still developing physically, mentally, and emotionally, and likewise are more easily affected.
Females are affected faster than men also because they have a higher percentage of body fat. Fat absorbs alcohol poorly; therefore alcohol tends to concentrate more in a woman’s bloodstream. Tolerance to alcohol builds up in chronic, heavy drinkers (Monroe 24). According to the 1998 edition of The World Almanac and Book of Facts “regular alcohol use by seniors from 1975 to 1997 has declined from 90. 4% to 81. 7%” (878). And, Lori Wolfgan found that “average annual alcohol consumption per person began to decline in the early 1980s and continued to drop through 1993, when it reached 2. gallons of alcohol—the lowest level recorded since 1964” (1).
However, “heavy alcohol use by 8th graders between 1991 and 1997 has risen from 12. 9% to 14. 5%” (Famighetti 878). Heavy alcohol use is generally defined as five or more drinks consecutively at least once a week (Famighetti 878, Wolfgan 5, Peradotto 63). Also, the above statistics do not include school dropouts and absentees, which normally have higher usage. Arrests in 1996 that were related to alcohol use were divided into three general categories—driving under the influence, drunkenness, and liquor laws.
The World Almanac and Book of Facts lists the total estimated arrests as “1,467,300 for D. U. I. s, 718,700 for drunkenness, and 677,400 for liquor laws” (892). With the drop of alcohol use also came the fall in alcohol-related crashes. Recent alcohol research has shown that “from 1983 to 1993, the proportion of fatal crashes that involved alcohol decreased by 26 percent” (Wolfgan 8). And while “the number of male drivers of all ages who were involved in crashes between 1977 and 1993 decreased by 22 percent…the number of female drivers involved in such crashes increased by 18 percent” (Wolfgan 8).
Despite the steady rise for women, Wolfgan shows that “the total number of fatal traffic accidents involving women drivers who were legally intoxicated has remained far below that of men” (8). Many alcohol-related rumors are repeated so often that society begins to accept them as truth. For instance, Marilyn Elias tells us that “the more roles women play—wife, mother, worker—the less likely they are to have drinking problems,” which is the opposite of the commonly accepted idea that stress makes women heavier drinkers (61).
Elias also discredits the theory that divorce prompts more alcohol use by saying that “leaving an unhappy marriage marred by problem drinking…improves women’s chances of ending an alcohol habit” (61). Sylvain Tremblay and Anna Kemeny note that “although public opinion often associates teenagers with impaired driving, the latest statistics indicate that it is people aged 20 to 44 who are substantially over-represented among those charged: while they make up 57% of all licensed drivers, they account for 74% of all impaired charges” (64).
Health problems are not the only negative side effects; addiction can also result from chronic drinking. There is, however, a difference between dependence and abuse. The most recent edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines alcohol dependence as “a cluster of symptoms that includes continued drinking despite significant alcohol-related problems,” while alcohol abuse is listed as “repeated drinking in harmful situations with negative consequences” (Wolfgan 2).
According to the above definitions, a large national survey conducted in 1994 shows that 7. 4 percent of those sampled could be classified as engaging in alcohol abuse, experiencing alcohol dependence, or both (Wolfgan 2). Many research projects have been conducted in an attempt to find treatment and prevention for alcohol dependence, which “is the most widespread form of drug abuse, affecting at least 5 million persons” (Fettner 276). Through this research, several factors have been determined as predictors of treatment success or failure.
They are subjective well being, drinking-related beliefs, patient readiness to change, alcohol-related expectancies, social functioning, and social support for drinking or abstinence. There are many reasons why society should be concerned with alcohol abuse and addiction—about one-third of the nation’s high school students are thought to be problem drinkers (Fettner 276). Alcohol consumption among youths can produce far worse effects than on adults. For example, youths that start drinking before their fifteenth birthday are four times more likely to become alcoholics than people who begin drinking at age twenty-one.
Furthermore, the risk of alcohol dependence decreases by fourteen percent for every year that a teenager waits to start drinking (Patrick 62). Excessive alcohol consumption has some negative side effects that do not deal with health; consider the fact that drinking is a leading cause of social and personal problems and loss of income (Fettner 276). Individual factors, environmental factors, and genetic influences all impact drinking behavior and alcoholism risk.
Two broad dimensions of personality—deviance proneness and negative emotionality—have been associated with the risk of alcoholism through research. Deviance proneness, also termed behavioral undercontrol and behavioral disinhibition, is marked by unconventionality, over-activity, aggression, and impulsivity, while negative emotionality is characterized by depression and anxiety. There are three main environmental factors that can influence or significantly impact a person’s decision about alcohol use.
First, are the cultural norms, which can affect a person’s views on the propriety of drinking, how much is acceptable, and what timing is appropriate. Another major influence is friends’ and family members’ habits. Exposure to and parental standards regarding alcohol consumption greatly affect a person’s views. Thirdly is the psychological stress that the person is experiencing at a given period of time (Wolfgan 3). Many people—parents, students, and even some educators—continue to see under-age drinking as a simple rite of passage.
Patrick says that “society has focused so much attention on the anti-drug message that alcohol, which many people don’t consider a drug, has gotten lost” (62). Of course there are some teachers, administrators, and law officials who dedicate their time to programs like D. A. R. E. in an attempt to educate children (Patrick 62). Although these programs are not perfect, they do seem to help in preventing abuse and misuse at a young age. But, alcohol misuse will not be stopped until society changes its views and beliefs about alcohol.