The Causes and Effects of Alcoholism
Alcohol dependence is when a person has an addiction to alcohol and cannot control how much they drink. The person simply cannot just have one drink of alcohol without feeling the need to become intoxicated. The highest prevalence of alcohol dependence and abuse is among ages 18-24. Over 80 percent of college presidents in the U. S. identify alcohol abuse as the biggest problem on campus (nd. edu et al, 2003). College students are in the ideal environment to develop a drinking disorder. Students are away from their families and are caring for themselves for often the first time in their lives.
With the increase in responsibility in their lives students can find themselves stressed and confused. These factors only lead to students drinking amongst other students in efforts to fit in or as an escape from their studies or other social problems. However, drinking too much and regularly only leads to even more social and physical problems in the future and possibly for the rest of their lives. Alcoholism is something that should not just be seen as a socially devastating disease. The life of a person with alcoholism is controlled by their alcohol addiction.
The many short term effects of alcohol are minor compared to the long term health concerns from excessively abusing alcohol. Public health organizations are utilizing new methods of prevention and research to combat the further rise in this disease. Demographics Though there are risk factors for developing alcoholism there is no definite cause of the disease. A history of alcoholism in a person’s family definitely increases their risks of developing the disorder. This theory has been validated throughout the years utilizing twins in adoption cases growing up in different families.
Current research concludes that certain genes may increase the risk of alcoholism, but the identity and function of which genes are still unknown (NCBI et al, 2011). Ethnic and religious background can also play a role in the development of alcoholism, in relation to the culture’s lifestyles and acceptance of alcohol. Cultural, religious values and expectations towards alcohol vary and can either promote or disapprove drinking. Members of different ethnic and cultural groups generally show preferences for different types of alcoholic beverages, which can affect their access and alcohol exposure.
Other factors such as a race’s reaction to alcohol can affect the prevalence of drinking. For example, blacks are 3 times more likely to develop an alcohol related disease than white (NIAA et al, 2005). The SAMHSA National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reported that 3. 5% of people in their entire sample could be classified as alcohol dependent. Caucasian and black surveyors had a similar rate of 3. 4 percent of alcohol dependence (NIAA et al, 2005). Alcoholism rates for Native American and Hispanic-Mexican Americans are higher compared to other ethnicities at 5. percent (NIAA et al, 2005). It was found that these groups tend to start drinking at an earlier age and drank more heavily compared to other ethnic groups in the United States. The rates of alcohol dependence were lower among other groups, Caribbean, 1. 9%, Central American, 2. 8%, Cuban, 0. 9%, Puerto Rican, 3. 0% and South American, 2. 1% and Asian/Pacific Islander, 1. 8% (NIAA et al, 2005). The survey also reported that Asian Americans had higher rates of abstention and lower rates of heavy alcohol consumption compared to Whites, African Americans, and Hispanics.
Diversity in drinking patterns is very distinguished between subgroups of the same racial or ethnic group. Mexican Americans born in the U. S. report drinking more often, but consuming less alcohol, and have three times higher rates of alcohol dependence (NIAA et al, 2005). This emphasizes that the lifestyle and genetics of a person play a greater role in alcoholism then race or culture. This is also relevant when looking at gender discrepancies. Women and men have the same chances of becoming alcoholics.
However, women have a much stronger reaction to the effects of alcohol; therefore there are many more cases of alcoholism in men though there is no research to support gender susceptibility (NIAA et al, 2005). Women’s stronger reaction to alcohol also means that women are more susceptible to alcohol related illnesses after fewer years of heavy drinking. While research has provided many factors that increase the risk of alcoholism the highest risk factor for developing a drinking problem is a person’s lifestyle. This is why college students with their young, eager, and immature demographic are ideal for the development of alcoholism.
Effects of Alcoholism on the Brain Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and unlike other drugs alcohol does not activate a specific receptor in the brain. This attributes to the wide range of side effects of intoxication. Some of the side effects from drinking heavily include slurred speech, loss of inhibitions, slowed reaction times, loss of balance and memory loss. Cleary alcohol affects the brain negatively when causing these reactions. A definite sign that someone had consumed far too much alcohol is a “black out”. This is when a person has no recollection of events while they were intoxicated.
A survey of 772 college undergraduates found that 51 percent of the students reported to having a blackout multiple times in their lives’ (nd. edu et al, 2003). What they do not recall is the altered state that their brains were in at the time. An estimated one-third to one-half of all unintentional and intentional injured Americans in accidents, crimes, and suicides were intoxicated (BSCS et al, 2003). Alcohol’s affect on the outer layer of the frontal cortex region of the brain interferes with the conscious thought process (BSCS et al, 2003).
This contributes to the loss of inhibitions and sometimes careless behavior when someone is intoxicated. However, research has shown that these short term effects of alcohol abuse can be immensely more severe than just a hangover. People who drink heavily and regularly greatly increase their risk of developing changes in the brain. Up to 80 percent of alcoholics have thiamine deficiency (BSCS et al, 2003). This is a common occurrence in alcoholics and results from poor overall nutrition. This can eventually develop into serious brain disorders such as Wernicke or Korsakoff syndrome.
Korsakoff’s psychosis is a chronic and debilitating syndrome, resulting in persistent learning and memory problems (BSCS et al, 2003). There are also cases where people have had difficulty walking and with hand eye coordination. People with Wernicke’s encephalopathy have mental confusion, paralysis of the nerves that move the eyes and difficulty with muscle coordination (BSCS et al, 2003). Drinking during pregnancy can lead to a range of physical, learning, and behavioral effects in the developing brain of the fetus (BSCS et al, 2003). This is known as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
FAS infant’s brains may have less volume and fewer brain cells as well as being smaller than average. Therefore, drinking during pregnancy ensures the child a high risk of developing serious health problems early on in their lives. Effects of Alcoholism on the Body The dangers of alcohol are commonly associated with the altered states of mind people can find themselves in; while the negative physical reactions to alcohol can be much more severe. Alcohol offers very little nutritional value and is high calories. The body treats alcohol as fat, converting alcohol sugars into fatty acids (BSCS et al, 2003).
This results in a lack of energy and endurance. When alcohol is consumed 20% is absorbed by the stomach and 80% by the small intestine. When alcohol enters the blood stream it can affect nearly every tissue in the body. This is because cell membranes are highly permeable to alcohol (BSCS et al, 2003). This absorption can be affected by the amount of food or liquid in a person’s stomach. Other factors such as how quickly the alcohol is consumed or how much a person weighs also affect absorption which leads to intoxication. Women absorb alcohol faster due to their metabolism.
The absorption of alcohol is referred to as the BAC, blood alcohol content. (Graph pg. 10) When our society thinks of alcohol related deaths alcohol poisoning is first to come to mind. Not only can a person die from drinking too much alcohol at one sitting but research has shown that consuming alcohol can result in vast amount of different alcohol related disease. One study determined that 3. 6% of all cancer cases worldwide are related to alcohol drinking, resulting in 3. 5% of all cancer death (NASAIC, 2011). Research has also concluded that drinking alcohol heavily can damage brain tissue, heart, liver and reproductive organs.
Problem drinking can also cause pancreatitis, nutritional deficiencies, malignancies, and cirrhosis (NASAIC, 2011). The liver is the most vulnerable organ to alcohol abuse because it breaks down the alcohol into harmless by products and years of this can destroy the liver. Therefore, the negative effects on the body substantially outweigh the possible positive social aspects from drinking. Factors causing the problem In our society drinking alcohol has become widely accepted and is associated with a celebratory or ceremonial atmosphere.
This is a key component in the current increase in alcoholism. With the current acceptance, stigmas and speculations about alcohol in our country people are unaware of the severity of the drug. The increase in alcoholism is due to the fact that a majority of people in our nation drinks alcohol rather than profane. The public receives their information about alcohol through family, peers, media, and personal experimentation. The information people and especially college students or children living in homes with alcoholism are receiving often glamorizes alcohol.
Therefore, the public knows very little about effects of alcohol and the consequential harm they can inflict on themselves and others. Other factors such as the quantity and frequency a person tends to drink plays a role in the chances of developing a drinking disorder. People with addictive personalities, depression and other social disorders are also at a very high risk of becoming alcoholics (NASAIC, 2011). These people with stressful lifestyles, depression or anxiety problems often use alcohol as a release. Drinking “numbs” their pain and is an escape from their social issues.
A striking 20% of all suicide victims in the United States had a form of alcoholism prior to their suicide attempt (NCBI et al, 2011). Adolescents that live in a culture where alcohol use is common are often pressured by their peers to partake. All of these risk factors are directly correlated to scenarios most college students find themselves in. In result, this age group is at the greatest risk of developing a drinking disorder. College students are at an impressionable age and are looking to meet and befriend new people. They are peer pressured into going out with their riends to restaurants, bars and clubs. With easy access to alcohol they are often drinking more frequently than any other time in their lives. Research has shown that immaturity of neurotransmitter system and hormonal changes during puberty lead to more pleasure in drinking alcohol (NASAIC, 2011). This means that developing brains introduced to alcohol may trigger long term biological changes developing into an alcohol addiction. The overall public neglect and unawareness of the severity of alcoholism only leads to increasing rates of alcoholism in our society.
Providing the public with a better understanding of the ease in developing this disorder is an immediate necessity in our nation. Public Health Response In most cases a person suffering due to alcoholism does not accept that they have a problem. This makes it very difficult or sometimes impossible to cure. The support from loved ones and friends is essential to help find the person a form of treatment that suits them. Alcoholism is treated with counseling and support groups like any social disorder. There is very large number of national and local help services for people looking for help dealing with their addictions.
Impatient treatment centers are closed communities where patients are able to live focused on controlling their addiction. Alcoholism is common to most drug addictions, whereas after being dependent on the drug sobriety triggers withdrawal symptoms and often results in relapses. In these cases having the close support of an impatient rehab center is the most effective. Tragically most alcoholics do not have the chance of obtaining impatient sobriety because of lack of money. Outpatient programs are less expensive and are an effective method of treating an addiction.
SMART, LifeRing, and Alcoholics Anonymous are all support groups that attempt to resolve the behavioral effects that led the person to become an alcoholic (NCBI et al, 2011). Participants meet in groups or class a number of times a week and share their own personal alcoholism experiences. As a whole group working towards a sober lifestyle the patients have the counselor or the other participant to turn to when they need help dealing with a possible relapse. In most cases a person will never completely resolve their alcohol addiction.
Refraining from drinking entirely after achieving sobriety is recommended to limit the chances of relapsing. Alcoholics struggling with staying sober can be prescribed medications. Acamprosate and Naltrexone are some drugs that have been shown to lower relapse rates in those who are alcohol dependent by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms (NASAIC, 2011). Prevention methods are currently being utilized to give people a better understanding of the risks and affects of alcohol. Programs such as D. A. R. E and other anti drug and alcohol programs are used to build awareness.
Colleges have recognized the vulnerability of college students and have increased student awareness substantially over the past years. Online alcohol education programs are now mandatory for college freshmen to complete prior to admission to most universities. Though these classes are sometimes tedious and time consuming there is no doubt that they give adolescents a better awareness of alcoholisms social and physical effects. Other forms of prevention include warnings on alcoholic packaging and labels. These inform drinkers the percentage of alcohol in the drink and pregnancy warnings are always evident (NASAIC, 2011).
Health organizations are working together to help find out more on the treatment and prevention of alcoholism to combat the prevalence of the disease in the future. Conclusion Alcoholism is not a disorder that only affects the one suffering from the disease. An addiction to alcohol controls the life of the patient, as well as their families. 56 million of Americans say that alcohol abuse has brought trouble to his or her family (NCBI et al, 2011). Getting a person to recognize the harm they are causing to themselves and others from their drinking is the first step of resolving the problem.
The immense amount of organizations and support groups in America today provides people the best possible treatment. Studies continue to discover new illnesses that are in result of alcohol abuse. There is still no definite cause of the disease yet the factors attributing to developing alcoholism are definite. With a better understanding of the disease and a raised public awareness alcoholism is something that can be preventable for future generation. The chances of developing an alcohol addiction are higher than ever; which only leads to a new age of alcohol related diseases if the neglect of the negative effects of alcohol continues.