Alcohol and its Effects on the Human Body
The Campral website mentions that about 17.6 million drinkers in the U.S.
are considered alcoholics, or at least experience drinking problems to a certain degree. With the country’s current population being listed by the U. S. Census Bureau site at 303,963,066 people, this would amount to a staggering figure of 1 in 20 Americans finding trouble with this type of substance abuse. Drinking alcohol does not automatically qualify an individual as an alcoholic. While many would identify two to four types of drinkers, the Alcohol Treatment Clinics site was able to classify individuals who drink alcohol under six classes.
These are health drinkers, social or responsible drinkers, problem or irresponsible drinkers, under aged drinkers, binge drinkers and alcoholics. The first type of drinker or health drinkers, would typically consume alcohol for health-related reasons. They are moderate drinkers who usually prefer to drink red wine, which is widely- known for its benefits to the cardiovascular system. One example would be the French people whose healths have often been linked to their dietary habits that include wine. Social or responsible drinkers are those individuals who drink alcohol only during particular occasions.
They engage in drinking to be able to interact or socialize with the group. They do not regard alcohol highly, but think of it as just an addition to meals. Their consumption of alcohol is done at a leisurely pace and they would never combine drinking with risky behavior such as driving. Working professionals who drink to have a feeling of belongingness and to facilitate conversations with coworkers in corporate parties or events easily come as an example for this category. On the other hand, problem drinkers would be the polar opposite of social drinkers. They can become very obnoxious and angry once they are drunk.
Sometimes, they experience a loss of memory with regards to the events that transpired during their drinking session. This type of drinker does not have a definitive stereotype, and most probably could be described as an individual who “transforms” or “morphs” drastically when drunk. Their behavior when drunk might stand in stark contrast to their normal sober behavior. A specific type of problem drinker would be under aged drinkers. This classification was created due to the differences in the physical and psychological states of these individuals as compared to older people.
Legal action may also arise for those individuals under this classification. The legal age for drinking is generally pegged at 21 in the United States, with exceptions made for cases covering health and religious reasons. Binge drinkers can go without alcohol for long periods of time. However, they tend to overindulge themselves during the times that they do drink. Some problems that can be caused by binge drinking are alcohol poisoning, uncontrollable mood swings and eventual alcohol dependency or alcoholism. In terms of their behavior, they may act either as problem or social drinkers.
Although aggressive behaviors as well as the usual symptoms of being drunk may or may not be exhibited by this group, a high possibility of causing severe damage to the liver and other health issues remains a great threat for them. Alcoholics have no control over their drinking habits. They often turn to alcohol to be able to deal with problems and drink an excessive amount of strong alcoholic drinks regularly. Because of this, they would often find it hard to function in other aspects of their lives, such as in their jobs. Their relationships with significant people in their lives may also take the backseat in their list of priorities.
People who regularly face problems and turn to alcohol to “drown” them as well as those experiencing regular episodes of depression seeking to find “euphoric” feelings may turn into alcoholics, especially when they become reliant on the substance to derive that desired state. Those people who continuously indulge in alcohol for whatever other reason or at other levels, may also be candidates to becoming alcoholics as well. Some argue that this is due to the genes that a person carries. In its website, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism was also able to identify four major symptoms which characterize alcoholism.
The first sign would be the presence of strong cravings or urges to drink within an individual. Next would be a person’s inability to halt drinking once he or she has engaged in this activity. Upon stopping drinking, an individual may also suffer several withdrawal symptoms such as nausea and shakiness, collectively termed as “physical dependence”. Lastly, an increase in tolerance for these substances often results to alcohol dependents drinking greater amounts of alcohol to induce euphoric or “high” feelings. Reactions to alcohol may vary from one afflicted individual to the next.
Alcoholics may become angry and argumentative, depressed, quiet or withdrawn. They may also feel tense, sad, anxious or confused. Alcoholism, like any other illness, may strike at any age. These individuals may be aware of the consequences of alcoholism, but the compulsion to drink within them often overpowers them, so they just can’t stop drinking. Alcohol becomes the most important part of their lives. It totally consumes them so that all their thoughts and actions somehow become associated with alcohol. Alcohol has direct toxic as well as sedative effects on the body.
When coupled with an individual’s failure to take care of his or her nutritional and physical needs during prolonged periods of excessive drinking, matters are further complicated. The effects on major organ systems are cumulative, which also includes several disorders for the digestive system. Blackouts, hallucinations, and extreme tremors may be experienced by the alcoholic. Aside from occasional emotional instability or “mood swings”, permanent damage to other systems such as the cardiovascular and nervous systems may also be induced in alcoholics (Mack, Franklin and Frances 109).
The organ most probably vulnerable to damage would be the liver, since this is where alcohol breakdown takes place.If constantly left to the task of removing alcohol from the blood, the liver may eventually become worn out. This may hinder the liver from properly performing its usual duty of removing other harmful substances in the body. One of the most dangerous diseases of the liver caused by long-term alcohol use is cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis causes the liver to become inflamed and scarred, which leads to the destruction of the liver and eventually the person’s death (Mack, Franklin and Frances 109).
Alcohol also affects a person’s cardiovascular and circulatory systems. It causes an increase in blood pressure, which makes the heart pump harder to be able to circulate blood around the body properly. This may cause an increase in heart rate while at the same time reducing the heart muscle’s pumping capabilities. Abnormal heart rhythms may also be developed due to severe alcohol consumption. In fact, long-term and heavy use of alcohol may cause a condition of the heart called alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
The consumption of alcohol reduces the effectiveness of heart muscles to contract and may eventually lead to heart failure (Snyder 39). Lack of blood flow resulting from this condition may also lead to multiple organ system failure. One’s nervous system is also not spared from the damage. Doctor Salomon Snyder states that “alcohol’s action on the brain is what causes people to feel intoxicated. A sudden intake of large amounts of alcohol may result in death because nerve impulses to the brain are dangerously blocked. Alcohol also has an increasing effect on our brain chemistry, which causes our behavior to change.
This can make people do things that they would not do when they are sober” (37). Over time, heavy drinking may cause permanent damage to the central nervous system. Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can make you sleepy, confused, uncoordinated and unsteady. Heavy drinking can cause or worsen urinary incontinence, problems with walking, depression, sleep disturbances, memory loss, high blood pressure, and bleeding in the digestive tract (Snyder 40). Some other observations on alcohol usage according to the Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs, include its immense effect on our brain.
This results in difficulty walking, poor balance, and slurring of speech. At higher alcohol levels, a person’s breathing and heart rate will also be slowed and vomiting may occur. Alcohol is also known to cause sleep disturbances. Numbness and tingling sensations may also occur in the arms and legs due to the low thiamine levels (38). Most people see alcoholism as a disease closely related to males. It is shown by the figures however, that as many as half of the nation’s alcoholics are actually women.
The reason why most female alcoholics cannot be seen is that they are usually closet drinkers. You rarely see women exhibiting behavior associated with alcoholism in public, while this phenomenon may be more readily observable for men. It is actually easier for a woman alcoholic to damage her body than it is for a man. The physical damage is aggravated since women generally wait longer to seek help since the society places a greater stigma on women than on men with regards to this. The livers of women are not as capable of processing alcohol when compared to those of men.
This makes women alcoholics susceptible to developing liver problems with lower levels of alcohol in their bodies and after shorter periods of drinking (Snyder 62). The presence of large amounts of alcohol in women may interfere with fertility by upsetting the hormones in their body and can increase the chances of a miscarriage. Women alcoholics who become pregnant may cause damage to the fetus in their wombs, which is called fetal alcohol syndrome. It can cause complications such as physical deformities and mental retardation (Labtestsonline).
Elizabeth Somer claims that “women are more susceptible to tissue damage from elevated alcohol levels and have an increased risk for breast cancer, osteoporosis and dementia” (224). She goes on to mention that over 60 health problems can be linked to this addiction, including damage to the digestive, cardiovascular and nervous systems. The mechanism has yet to be determined on why alcohol is considered a carcinogenic or cancer-causing substance, but most theories point to alcohol’s tendency to increase the amount of estrogen present in a woman’s body.
Increased levels of this hormone have been linked to occurrences of cancer. People suffering from alcohol dependency perceive indulging in alcohol consumption as a necessity. Problems of whatever nature in their lives are ignored by these individuals so long as they can persist in their drinking. Thus, people afflicted with the disease often find themselves hindered from achieving their full potential as productive members of the society. By continuing in this sort of behavior, these individuals might go on to create not only problems for themselves, but also for others around them.
Alcohol causes a change in brain chemistry which results in changes in behavior such as increased aggression and reduced fear which may lead us to take needless risks. Alcohol can cause people to be rude, verbally abusive, and physically threatening. This is because some people turn to alcohol to express hostile feelings that they wouldn’t be able to express when they are sober. These factors almost always lead to trouble or confrontations with people around the alcohol dependent, including complete strangers. Perhaps no other scenario presents this more clearly than when people drive while under the influence of alcohol.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, an individual was killed in alcohol-related car crashes about every half-hour, while injuries occurred every two minutes during 2005. Half of roughly 400 children riding with the drunk driver dying during that span died. Overall, alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths amounted for about 40% of the total traffic-related deaths for 2005. These crashes amount to about 51 billion dollars lost each year. Alcohol alone does not cause alcoholism, because if it did, everyone who drank would be an alcoholic.
There are a number of factors that lead to alcoholism. Some scientists support the argument that becoming an alcoholic is purely the result of an individual’s genetics. Because of genetics, people tend to inherit an inability to handle alcohol, just like other people inherit other diseases from their parents (Niaaa. nih. gov). This may explain why alcoholism seems to run in families from generation to generation, and why some people become alcoholics from the first time they drink. Aside from one’s genetics, one also cannot discount the role of one’s environment as well as the lifestyle one engages in.
If children were exposed to drinking with drinkers who were careful and moderate for example, they would be more likely to become responsible drinkers. However, if they grew up seeing heavy alcohol use they would be more likely to also engage in that act also. Children that are exposed to a large amount of peer pressure from the kids around them also increase their likelihood of drinking. Some may start out as social drinkers who are able to control their drinking, but they may lose this control and be carried away, eventually becoming alcoholics themselves (Alcoholtreatmentclinics.
com). Alcoholism seems to run in families. Although there is nothing conclusive, some studies have shown that all alcoholics have had a close alcoholic relative (Snyder 100). Like many drug abusers, alcoholics often drink hoping to “drown” feelings of anxiousness or depression. Some drink to reduce strong inhibitions or guilt about expressing negative feelings. The first, and probably one of the most difficult things that an alcoholic must do, is come to an admission that they have a problem.
It is unlikely that they will be first to admit it, and they may usually deny that they are being controlled by their addiction. With their inability to discern things for themselves, other individuals such as close friends or relatives may sometimes have to take the initiative in reporting potential alcoholics. The difficulty with this lies in the fact that people cannot be forced to seek help against their will, unless special circumstances are present like being ordered by the court to do so. The NIAAA website offers eight steps for people who want to aid alcoholics who are unwilling to seek help.
The first step, stopping “cover ups”, calls for those closely related to the alcoholic to finally make him or her accountable for the consequences arising from the addiction, instead of presenting excuses for the afflicted individual to others. This may be quite a difficult process, since our initial reaction would be to “protect” family or friends. When putting things in perspective however, we may eventually come to the conclusion that allowing alcoholics to be accountable to the products of their actions would be a much better option than continuing to risk his or her life because of our consent in their addiction.
By taking this step, we are actually starting to really offer protection to them. An attempt must then be made to talk to the drinker. It was recommended that this be done immediately after any conflict or problem developed due to alcohol abuse. This must be done in a private setting where both parties involved must be calm and sober. One can choose places where relaxed feelings are being evoked like the bedroom, or any other location where your conversation is not likely to be disturbed.
By accomplishing this step, the alcoholic individual is shown that their rights are still being respected, while at the same time emphasizing the seriousness of your intentions. The third step calls for the concerned individual to voice out his or her growing anxiety regarding the alcoholic’s substance abuse, and how this has developed problems, including the most recent conflict. If the alcoholic has a tendency of being verbally or physically abusive towards people when drunk, this would be the appropriate time to mention it.
Choose words which would be most effective in finally making the afflicted individual aware of just how grave the situation really is. Consequences of the drinker’s refusal to get help must then be stated next. These may include things such as moving out of the house. The site mentions that this is not a form of punishment for the drinker, but is performed to protect people close to the individual from harm. One should always be prepared to perform the statements that were mentioned at this stage and not simply bank on making empty threats.
The degree of just how radical your threats would be, should of course, depend largely on the offenses made by the alcoholic mentioned in the third step. In the fourth step, a schedule may then be made for the local counselor or organization within the area, after gathering data on possible options for treatment and the alcoholic gives his or her consent. With regards to this, one can locate the best possible sources of help via the internet or by consulting the local directory. When the scenario arises that the alcoholic would refuse to cooperate, a friend may be called upon to perform the first four steps.
Choose a friend who the alcoholic has great trust in, or perhaps someone who has already undergone rehabilitation themselves. Individuals with past experiences dealing with alcohol problems may be very effective at this point, since they may provide deeper insight on how the rehabilitation process works. They may also provide the needed moral support when the alcoholic finally relents to seek professional help. Another option might be to confront the alcoholic as a group. With a group, one would essentially obtain several inputs regarding the situation.
One of these ideas could prove to be the critical element in the alcoholic’s decision-making process. Coming face-to-face with several people may also heighten the situation’s level of gravity as perceived by the alcoholic. This step however, must always be performed under the supervision of a trained health care professional familiar with such matters to ensure. A briefing may be done prior to the confrontation to ensure that no actions detrimental to the goal of making the patient seek help will be committed. Lastly, individuals who live or know alcoholics might want to join groups such as Alateen, which caters to children of alcoholics.
Organizations such as these provide the needed information and support for people who are closely connected to alcoholics to watch out for themselves, whether the alcoholic chooses to get help or not. If the alcoholic was physically abusive during the drunken state, it would of course be wise to know the options that one has in the situation. By getting adequate information, misery and regrets might be avoided by a lot of people, like averting situations when an alcoholic would inflict lifelong physical deformities on people close to him.
Alcoholism is a disease that cannot be totally cured but people can at least recover from it and return to a normal way of life. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website mentions how an effective program of medication and counseling may aid individuals in their struggle towards stopping alcohol abuse. Although the effects may vary from one person to the other, just like in other illnesses, the Institute firmly believes in the effectiveness of alcohol treatment. Family, friends, counselors and organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous may offer the needed help and support towards the recovery of the afflicted individual.
Sometimes, entering a detox center may even be necessary since this recovery process can be extremely difficult. In fact, some withdrawal reactions may include high fever, loss of appetite, nausea, uncontrollable shaking, hallucinations and even possible coma or death (Snyder 40). Limiting an individual’s intake of alcohol is deemed an ineffective strategy for alcoholics. Stopping the substance abuse may call for the outright absence of alcohol in one’s life. Some medications have been recommended to help alcoholics with regards to this. These include disulfiram (Antabuse®), naltrexone (Depade®, ReVia®) and acamprosate (Campral®).
They may aid an alcoholic in alcohol reduction if not abstinence. Each type of medicine works in a different way. One’s craving for alcohol may be reduced, deter symptoms from alcohol abstinence from manifesting or make a person feel sick after alcohol consumption. No one medication however is deemed totally effective. Each case must still be assessed carefully before choosing which type of medicine to take. Just as much as alcoholics should not be feared, they should also not be loathed by our society. As mentioned in the earlier part of the essay, some people develop the drinking habit out of their perceived inability to handle problems.
At the onset, this “habit” may actually be curbed through adequate attention and moral support being given to the individual by friends and family. Parents who try to educate their children on proper or social drinking might be doing their children a big favor, instead of letting young kids have their first drinking experience with peers. They can include ideas on just how much “too much” to drink is, as well as place specific rules on what activities to avoid upon consuming alcohol (driving, swimming, and other risky activities).
Valuable insights may also be gleaned by parents from the experience of drinking with their children regarding their child’s behavior when engaging in the activity, and if the situation should arise, when their kids are drunk. If a person does get afflicted with the disease, there would still be many options available to counter the disease as mentioned before. Although it could prove to be a lifelong struggle, there are individuals who have been able to master the affliction and become successful people in society, with famed writer Stephen King being one of them.
The issue of alcoholism is clearly not an easy one to confront not only for those mired in this addiction, but also for the people around them. Although the fight to recovery may not be easy, the right attitude from all the people involved combined with proper education on the topic, could mean the difference for the health and safety of many people within our country. With the right approach, we can finally see the handling of alcoholism as an issue of giving second opportunities and success, instead of resigning ourselves to its usual tragic outcome. Works Cited “Alcoholism.
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