“Alcohol is a socially acceptable, legal drug that is consumed by the majority of Americans without problems to themselves or others (Milgram xiii). ” Misuse of alcohol can lead to alcoholism, one of the most widespread and complex problems in America. The reasons some people become dependent on alcohol and others do not are unknown. Many health problems are associated with chronic alcohol abuse, including damage to the liver, brain, or central nervous system. Alcohol is probably the most widely used recreational drug in the world.
The production of alcohol is the result of the fermentation of plant products such as fruit grains. Gin, Vodka, Whiskey, and other hard liquors, require a further process known as distillation. The active chemical ingredient in beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages is ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is a potentially addictive drug and a depressant of the central nervous system (Kestler 6). Alcohol acts as a sedative and as an anesthetic, reducing nerve transmissions and impulses to the central nervous system.
This depresses mental, motor, and vital functions such as pulse rate, respiration, and blood pressure (Kestler 6). The body can absorb alcohol very quickly, approximately 20% goes directly into the blood stream from the stomach, the rest enters the body through the small intestine. Moments after alcohol enters the blood stream it reaches the Cerebral Cortex, the part of the brain responsible for judgement. The areas of the brain controlling caution and self control are effected first, so most people feel more relaxed. Extremely large doses of alcohol may result in coma or death (Knox 42).
Intoxication varies greatly from one person to the next depending on his/her blood alcohol level. The speed of consumption can cause the blood alcohol level to rise. Other factors including body weight, emotional state, tolerance to alcohol, amount of time over which drinking takes place, and the amount of food in the stomach can also influence the blood alcohol level (Kestler 7). In a one-hundred and sixty pound person, alcohol is burned at the rate of one drink every two hours. The more rapidly alcohol is ingested, the faster the peak blood alcohol level will be reached.
When a person drinks faster than the alcohol can be burned, the drug accumulates in the body, resulting in higher levels of alcohol in the blood. The more body muscle a person has in relation to fat, the lower the blood alcohol concentration will be from a given amount of liquor (Taylor 23). A persons tolerance has developed if the drinker requires more alcohol to get the same effects he/she used to get with a lesser amount. If a person is alcohol tolerant he/she can “hold” or “handle,” or “not show” the amount of alcohol consumed (Long 57-58).
If a person has a high tolerance, the initially pleasant “buzz” or “glow” may wear off quickly leading them to drink more to recapture it (Kestler 7-8). A can of beer can raise a drinkers blood alcohol level just as much as a glass of wine or a cocktail with half an ounce of hard liquor. An ounce of beer does not contain as much alcohol as an ounce of whiskey but beer is usually consumed in greater proportions than other beverages. Wine contains between 12 and 15% alcohol and beers range from about 3 to 8%.
The percentage of alcohol in other types of liquor is indicated in proof, which is twice the percent of alcohol by volume. For example one hundred proof Vodka contains fifty percent alcohol (Kestler 6). Admittedly, there is no single cause for alcoholism, however, the most widely believed cause is the use of alcohol to solve problems. Alcoholism is thought to arise from a combination of a wide range of physiological, psychological, and genetic factors. It is characterized as an emotional and often physical dependence on alcohol (Milgram 85).
A sudden stop in the chronic abuse of alcohol may cause a withdrawal syndrome which can include Delirium Tremors, seizures, hallucinations, and acute anxiety (Kestler 9). Around 10% of adult drinkers in the United States have experienced drinking problems or are considered alcoholics. More males than females are affected, but drinking among the youth and among women is increasing (Knox 75). Alcoholism develops from several factors, including hereditary predisposition, home environment, and learned behavior. Children of alcoholics are more likely to become an alcoholic than a child born to a non-alcoholic.
Although the disease clearly has a family pattern experts disagree on whether it is due to genetics or behavior patterns learned from parents (Kestler 12-13). Alcoholism has been variously thought of as a symptom of psychological or social stress, although, unlike psychoactive drugs, alcohol is accepted in society. More recently it has come to be viewed as a complex disease entirely in its own right. Alcoholism usually develops over a period of years. Early symptoms include placing excessive importance on the availability of alcohol.
Ensuring this availability strongly influences a persons choice of associates and activities. Alcohol comes to be used more as a mood changing drug than as a beverage served as part of a social custom (Holmes 62). Certain behavioral changes are warnings of alcoholism. These changes include secretive drinking, drinking five or more drinks daily, drinking in the morning, drinking that threatens family and social relationships, repeatedly trying and failing to stop drinking, habitually drinking to the point of drunkenness, experiencing blackouts, or changing beverages to try to control drinking (Kestler 7).
Earlier and better treatment for alcoholism has led to an encouragingly high recovery rates. Specialized residential treatment facilities and separate units within general or psychiatric hospitals are rapidly increasingly in number. As the public becomes more aware of the nature of alcoholism, the social disgrace attached to it decreases, alcoholics and their families tend to conceal it less, and diagnosis is not delayed as long (Alcoholics 17).
In addition to managing physical complications and withdrawal states, treatment involves individual counseling and group therapy techniques aimed at complete and comfortable abstinence from alcohol. Such abstinence is the desired goal, despite some controversial suggestions that a safe return to social drinking is possible (Taylor 37). Alcoholics Anonymous is the oldest and largest group in the world dedicated to helping recovering alcoholics. There are about two million members in Alcoholics Anonymous of which more than half live in the United States.
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. , two alcoholics (Kestler 9). All men and women who feel they have a drinking problem are welcome to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Members are anonymous at the public level, and no dues are required. The Alcoholics Anonymous program is one of total abstinence, in which members are encouraged to stay away from one drink, one day at a time.
Their sobriety is maintained by sharing their experiences, strength, and hope at group meetings, and following the suggested twelve steps to recovery (Lang 76). The annual number of deaths related to excessive drinking exceed 97,000 in the United States alone. About thirty-five million people are injured in over 800,000 alcohol related car crashes each year. On an average weekend night one out of every ten drivers is drunk, and one out of every two Americans will be involved in an alcohol related crash in his/her lifetime.
Economic costs related to alcoholism are at least 100 billion a year (Taylor 6). Many factors may contribute to a persons dependence on alcohol. Whether the addiction to alcohol is a disease or not is debatable. However, the devastating effects of alcoholism are well documented. Louis Ridenour, in discussing the role of science said: There cannot be such a thing as a valid or eternal controversy in science because the very foundation of scientific work is o agree on an experimental frame which permits questions of interest to the scientists to be answered.
Cultural patterns have sanctioned both drinking and abstinence in the United States. In the past the alcohol question has been viewed as a moral issue. As scientific knowledge of the physiological, psychological, and sociological effects of drinking has increased the taboo on discussion of alcoholism and related problems has decreased. It is no longer arguable that if the alcoholic would just exert enough will power, he/she could control his/her drinking. Research has proven that unaided, he/she cannot.