Examining the effects of alcohol abuse

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Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that has a depressant effect. "A depressant is the substance that reduces the functions of the central nervous system, as result it relaxes the body and the mind. However, many people fail to understand logistics and consider alcohol to be an antidepressant and believe that it treats their depression, and anxiety disorders. "It affects the brain very much like the other depressants such as, barbiturates, tranquilizers and benzodiazepines. In small doses, alcohol can help to relax the body and the mind. But, in large doses, it can bring about a significant change in the brain activities. It can basically, inhibit the transmission of massages to the brain, which can result in impaired cognitive abilities and altered perception." [1] 

Due to certain stereotypes of drugs, people do not talk about alcohol or consider it in the category of other illegal drugs. It is the main reason for the high rate of drug use in industrial societies because it is decriminalized and socially accepted despite its fetal side effects. The initial focus is to demonstrate that alcohol is bigger problem than drugs in America. In this paper I will concentrate on how alcohol gradually made its way in our society and achieved wide acceptance. I will concentrate on the reasons for which people drink, harmful effects alcohol, healthcare cost of alcohol and its use and abuse both on individual and its impact on society.

Alcohol dependence can be traced back to the bible and followed into more recent times as the "perception has evolved according to social trends and research." In the article "Strong Drink," Sullum describes alcohol as a "toxin that causes dizziness, headache, vomiting, and blackouts. Alcohol uses suffer from liver failure, high blood pressure, and stroke." [2] He continues with a long list of side effects of alcohol and the assumed hazard damages that many alcoholics fail to acknowledge and continue to drink for pleasure.

During the "prohibition" era it was illegal to buy, sell and drink alcohol in United States. At time of national alcohol prohibition, the opponents of prohibition favored a more balanced view of alcohol referring back to Judeo-Christian tradition and religion. In bible wine is described as symbol of plenty and also cause of corruption, dissipation and ignominious death. They referred to bible to claim their point that scripture do not forbid Christians from drinking beer, wine, or any other drink containing alcohol. It is described as a blessing but one with dangers, which can be avoided if used in moderation.

In the colonial era, alcohol was being used both as beverage and medicine therefore very much part of the social life. At most part drunkenness was tolerated as long as it did not have a major impact on the individual's life. During colonial era individuals that used alcohol were seen as problem but not alcohol itself.

Later in the mid nineteenth century, as the economy was shifting from agrarian to industrial the "attempts to respond to alcohol problems shifted from trying to control the individual to trying to control the substance." In social reform movement anti-alcohol groups, such as the American Temperance Society, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, attempt to eliminate the social problem by eliminating the substance. They "helped change Americans' perceptions of alcohol problems and caused them, in response, to consider them, eliminating the substance." Shortly after which the temperance movement lingered in and after World War II many became alcoholics and heavy metal drinking came in light without much concern about any stigma.

According to Gallup survey, "when Gallup first asked Americans about drinking, in the waning days of the Great Depression in 1939, 58% of adults said they were drinkers." Gallop survey is taken every year since 1939, and we can see that two-third adults of age 18 and older drink. 67% of U.S. adults claim to drink alcohol, that is slight increase over last year and the highest reading recorded since 1985 by one percentage point. Beer remains the favorite beverage among drinkers, followed by wine and then liquor." [3] Based on their findings we can see that despite some yearly fluctuations, the percentage of Americans that claim to drink alcohol has been remarkably stable over Gallup's 71 years of tracking it the highest point being in 1976-1978, when 71% claimed they drank alcohol.

As Weil described in his work "Why People Take Drugs," children try to experiment, rebel against authorities, imitate elders and out of curiosity turn to alcohol and other drugs. Children practice techniques to induce change in mental state. They whirl around, squeeze chest, and choke each other to produce loss of consciousness. Children learn to keep these plays out of sight of elders why would try to stop them. In matter of time they learn that such feelings can be achieved by the use of chemical agents. In school they realize that the access to alcohol and other illicit drugs is relatively easy. One step in development of adult attitudes toward conscious alteration that they learn social support exist for one method of altering consciousness, that is alcohol and they if they remain patient they would be allowed to try it eventually. Today use of illegal drugs and alcohol is just continuation of development al sequence of childhood for youth.

According to economic costs of substance abuse, alcohol is the drug most frequently used by 12 to 17 year-olds. More than 4 million adolescents under the legal drinking age consume alcohol in any given month. After prohibition was abolished, alcohol once again became legal substance while other illicit drugs such as marijuana were continued to be perceived as harmful. In the college culture and environment, binge drinking and drinking to excess is considered to be an inherent part of college years. "Because of the attention that drinking on the campus receives, it is an important example of a broader subject: communication, health, and substance abuse." [4] By the time these kids graduate from high school they are already binge drinking. In those years, they adopt alcohol and over use it throughout their college life. They experiment and taste different types of alcohol with friends and develop personal preferences. Gradually they learn about alcohol through their own experience.

College campus environment itself encourages heavy drinking because the alcohol use is present at most social functions, and many students view college as a place to drink excessively. They learn from other students and from the exposure to drinking and the higher level of consumption. Friends circle is another reason of underage drinking because people tend to give into the peer pressure. They compete, experiment and learn how to drink appropriate amount of dose to get desired effects. They form drinking habits with the friends that encourage their alcohol use. As the result they develop positive attitude toward alcohol since the environment they use alcohol in is tolerant. Although drinking concerns college health educators and administrators most students consider drinking to be an integral part of college life. Thus many of them tend to drink more because of their misconception about the norms of drinking. The fact that the authorities are trying to push of the drinking off of the campuses also result in high rate of alcohol use because then students seek other places and also tend to increase their use. While some students articulate negative effects of alcohol such as hangovers, vomiting they ignore these factors considering drinking to be a rite of passage into adulthood. For these students, excessive drinking that leads to vomiting is not alcohol abuse but as "having good time with friends."

Alcohol use is also associated with depression, suicide, unemployment, divorce, domestic violence, assault, homicide and vehicular accidents. Intoxicant use tends to vary with time. Those who start heavy intoxicant intake as adolescents tend to slow down as they grow up. On the other hand majority of the people as they become more successful increase their use and also turn to other illicit drugs. Drugs like alcohol are generally accepted and therefore judged leniently by law in many cases. As the result, in conflict that makes the moderate use of illicit drugs more complex and difficult to achieve than controlled use of licit drugs. An example is Portugal, that has illegalized all psychoactive drugs but those who use it are not seen criminals. Both individual level and social factors facilitate the drift in the deviant career.

The perception of cultural norm of excessive drinking is reinforced on daily basis by the media, advertisement and interpersonal experiences. Alcohol has been used in abundance in the entertainment industry since many decades now. Portrayal of alcohol use in entertainment programs and commercial advertisement indicate it as a "problem-free activity." It is portrayed more frequently than any other food or drink. Alcohol use is normalized and associated with "cool" and normal tags. Wallack and his colleagues (1990) categorized portrayals of alcohol use as attractive, unattractive, or neutral. "Under this categorization, 60 percent of all alcohol-related activities were neutral and more than 25 percent were considered attractive." [5]  Alcohol use is rarely represented in a negative manner rather those who use alcohol are depicted as more mature, optimistic and reasonable than those who do not. Characters that are associated with drinking are mostly wealthy and professional such as doctors, lawyers, and executives. This highlights the fact the people in high socioeconomic category are much more likely to drink than those in low socioeconomic category.

In entertainment industry some of the major themes associated with advertisement for alcohol are sociability, physical attractiveness, adventure, success and romance. Magazines are highly dominated by these themes and model that represent them are between twenty-three and thirty-four. Media exposure plays a bigger role in formulating the perception and attitudes of young people regarding alcohol consumption. This shows that social causation of alcohol use patterns in which social structures and process effect the likelihood that individual will use alcohol. The more awareness the alcohol advertisement spread, the more positive beliefs about drinking are formed. The social acceptance of alcohol came through television by having sport figures, celebrities, models and actors endorse it.

One of the concerns of Patricia Madden and Grube's study was related to the content of advertisement. "Cars and other vehicles were present in more than 15 percent of the advertisements and water activities were present in 25 percent of the advertisements." [6] Underage drinking also costs the United States $62 billion each year that "comes from various sources, with expenses linked to traffic accidents alone totaling roughly $13.7 billion per year." [7] Alcohol related car crashes are the number one killer of teens. Although alcohol use is not permitted while operating vehicles it is interesting how these and other activities are endorsed with the use of alcohol. The annual health care expenditures for alcohol-related problems are an estimate of $22.5 billion. The total cost of alcohol problems is $175.9 billion a year compared to $114.2 billion for other drug problems and $137 billion for smoking. [8] 

Apart from the influence of the media, alcohol is also brought into to culture both directly and indirectly by family practices. Wine drinking societies have a glass of wine often in their lunch or dinner. Children are also given wine mixed with water so it can be accepted by their system. This kind of manipulation is a way of intergrading something in society in lighter way and making it more.

Apart from the media, the other social factors that underlie harmful alcohol use are preliminary thoughts real pressures from home, work, society neighborhood and influence of entertainment industry. As Samuel R. Friedman stated in his work of "Sociopharmacology of Drug Use," that for wealthy these pressures are episodic and for majority of population that is working class they are chronic. These pressures include physical abuse, sexual and mental torturing, degrading, risky employment issues, living with spouse or any other relation that is fraught with violence. Small percent of intoxicant use is present in any society even in form of particular social or cultural event that cause some people to become addictive and lead some to use it in harmful ways.

The impact of alcohol abuse on American society is very severe. Some in depth interviews, research and stats highlight this harsh reality. According to Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, there are 105,000 alcohol related deaths annually due to related harms, injuries and drunk drivers. One half of all traffic accidents are alcohol related. Of all reported murder and suicide, alcohol was involved in at least 34% and 36%, respectively. In rape cases, more than half of the rapists had been drunk. Heavy drinking is involved in 60% of violent crimes, and 80% of fire and drowning accidents.

One of the major health problems is "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome," that is an irreversible condition associated with excessive consumption of alcohol by pregnant women and is, therefore, completely preventable. Yet each and every case is a needless tragedy. Victims suffer serious physical deformities and often mental deficiencies for their entire lives. While most cases occur among alcoholics who consume alcohol heavily throughout their pregnancies, no one knows for certain what level of alcohol consumption is safe for a pregnant woman. [9] 2.9% of 1,000 live births have fetal alcohol syndrome and one baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome will cost $405,000 in direct special services from birth to 65 years.

Another one is Cirrhosis that is most widely recognized medical complication of chronic alcoholism. It is a grave and irreversible condition characterized by a progressive replacement of healthy liver tissue with scars, which can lead to liver failure and death. [10] 

Alcohol abuse results in four times more than deaths due to all illegal drug use combined. Despite these numbers, policymakers remain focused on the impact and prevention of drug use in minors, rather than alcohol. "Alcohol-related traffic crashes, violence, teen pregnancies, STDs, burns, drowning, alcohol poisoning, property damage and other risks take a human and economic toll that's much greater than illegal drugs. Yet, we spend so much more on youth drug abuse," study author Ted Miller, director of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. As Miller said poor legal enforcement is "a major factor in the underage drinking, strict regulations and inspections of institutions where alcohol is sold would cut the amount of alcohol getting into minors' hands."

Many recent studies claim that alcohol abuse does much more harm to the individual and society on whole than rendered by illegal drugs like ecstasy, heroin, and crack cocaine. Alcohol is three times more addictive than cocaine and tobacco and legalized alcohol does more harm than illegal drugs since. David Nutt conducted a study in which his colleagues stated that "it is intriguing to note that the two legal drugs assessed: alcohol and tobacco score in the upper segment of the ranking scale, indicating that legal drugs cause at least as much harm as do illegal substances." It is not about the policy that makes difference in increase or decrease in the use of intoxicants because that is independent of social and economical factors. The argument is that having a harmful substance decriminalized enforces the open trade and market that as result is readily available to all.

More people see drug muse as serious problem than alcohol abuse despite the fact that twice as many people are dependent on alcohol than all other prescription and illicit drugs. Although drinking is a major problem, it is ingrained and too firmly accepted by our societies as a legal drug. Alcohol abuse needs to be presented in a legible manner to help explain the harm it is causing both to the individual and society. Authorities and policies tend to focus more on cure and treatment rather than eliminating the problem. There is no better solution for intoxicants abuse other than the initial step of changing adolescents' "harm-free" perception of alcohol. It needs to be presented and repositioned as an irresponsible and harmful drug like all other drugs. All drugs are harmful depending on the way they are used. It needs to be reiterated that use of anything in excess is harmful even alcohol. Improvement in identification and spreading awareness of harms of alcohol, age verification, driving curfews, zero-tolerance laws and regulations needs to be placed at home in order to help control the problem.