Alcohol Abuse: a Social Problem

Introduction

At the beginning of the 21st century, the problem of drinking among people is increasing. There are lots of studies and even more, statistics to prove this statement. About 85% of all US residents have had an alcohol-containing drink at least once in their lives and about 51% of US adults are current users of alcohol (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2008). It is important to understand why people drink, and what people can do about problem drinking. Presently, there is a great deal of ignorance and misinformation about alcohol and drinking. Psychological dependence means that people feel they need a drug to function properly. Common examples of people who are psychologically dependent on drugs are those who cannot start the day without a cup of coffee or tea or those who cannot seem to digest a meal if they do not have a cigarette after it. Psychological dependence on alcohol is evident if a person cannot relax after a day’s work without having at least one drink or cannot enjoy him/herself at a party without drinking.

Thesis Alcohol abuse is a social problem than a problem of a particular individual influenced by cultural values and traditions, advertising and poverty, and leading to increased violence and crimes rates.

Describing the history of alcohol abuse

Alcoholism is not a problem unique to the twentieth century. Nevertheless, it is a serious twentieth-century problem. Of the estimated 100 million people who drink in the United States, approximately one-tenth, or 10 million, are problem drinkers (Death Statistics for Types of Alcohol Abuse 2005). Since critics do not have statistics from earlier centuries with which to compare present statistics on problem drinking, there is no real proof that alcoholism among adults is more serious today than it was in earlier times. Yet, in all likelihood, the problem is more serious today, and the percentage of people who drink excessively is greater than it was in past centuries. The primary reason for this lies in the growth of technology and its effects on human beings (Ammerman, 1999).

The word “alcohol” refers to a whole family of chemical compounds, not all of which are good to drink. There is rubbing alcohol, for example; also, wood alcohol and methyl alcohol. What all types of alcohol have in common are an oxygen atom and a hydrogen atom linked together in a certain way to form what is called a hydroxyl group. Depending on the construction of this group and the other atoms with which it is linked, a very poisonous substance, such as methyl alcohol, can result; or, a generally nonpoisonous type of alcohol, ethyl alcohol, can be produced. The alcoholic beverages people drink contain ethyl alcohol (Chafetz and Demone 1962). Physical dependence occurs after a long period of increasing psychological dependence.

Certain chemical changes take place in the brain cells, making it impossible for the person to function normally unless the drug is available. Drug addiction involves two things. The first is tolerance. Through the daily use of large amounts of a drug, the body adapts to it and requires more to produce the same effect. Heavy drinkers are people who now have to have six drinks to feel the way they used to feel after two drinks. The second characteristic of drug addiction is the reaction of the body when the drug is not available to it. We are familiar, through movies and television, with the withdrawal symptoms of people addicted to narcotics. An alcoholic deprived of drink also goes through withdrawal symptoms, called DT’s, or delirium tremens — convulsions of the body and hallucinations. When a person craves alcohol and has a compulsive need for it after an extended period of heavy use, he or she is just as addicted to alcohol as a heroin addict is addicted to that drug (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2008).

Is alcohol abuse a social problem

Alcohol abuse is a social problem because excessive drinking does not represent coping. A situation that drives one to drunkenness remains unchanged or becomes worse when the drinker sobers up. Nor does excessive drinking represent an escape from anxiety for any length of time (Goodlett et al 1999). When sobriety returns, the anxiety comes back and can be even worse. Half of all the deaths caused by automobile accidents can be traced to alcohol abuse. Half of all the murders and a quarter of all the suicides that occur in the United States directly occur when a parent is drunk. Family fights and divorces often can be traced to excessive drinking related to alcohol. So are a large proportion of accidents inside and outside the home (Chafetz and Demone 1962).

Two agencies in the Chicago area are the Center for Addictive Problems (Chicago, IL 60610) and Rosemoor Assessment Substance Abuse Program Inc (Chicago, IL 60628). These agencies aim to support the population and help alcohol addicts to overcome addiction. These agencies encourage people to take chances. Youth under the influence of alcohol may take on larger and tougher opponents in a fight he would not seriously consider starting when sober. The same change has occurred in laboratory animals. Animals that will not go after food for fear of receiving an electric shock will overcome that fear under the influence of alcohol. The main services proposed by these agencies are social support and counseling, treatment, and consultation. When asked why they drink, most people give simple and direct answers (Goodlett et al 1999).

With minor variations here and there, they are the same reasons why adults drink. The fact that they do not mention the atomic bomb or the effects of television violence does not mean these factors do not affect them profoundly. It is simply that the conditions of their own lives affect them more directly. Four answers are given most frequently by young people who are questioned as to why they drink. In order of importance, they are: because of parental and societal influences, because it makes them feel good. After all, their friends drink because they have serious emotional problems. Alcohol is all around us. It is intricately connected with our society’s attitudes about sociability. Advertising equates drinking with “the good life,” with romance, with virile men. Since the so-called pop fruit wines have been introduced, the marketers of those wines have aimed their advertising campaigns at young adults (Hanson, 1990). According to the ads, these wines are the “in” beverage for young people, and the ads have been very successful in selling their product to the target audience. Sales of strawberry, apple, and other fruit wines have increased ten times in the past four years, and it is young people who are drinking them. Most adults prefer beer, mixed drinks, highballs, or more traditional wines (Greenblatt, 2000).

Thus, societal attitudes and customs and the type of advertising society accepts are important influences on young people and their drinking habits. More important, however, are parental attitudes and drinking habits. It is not surprising that parents offer their teenagers a taste of their alcohol, especially beer. Many parents expect their children to be drinking in a few years, anyway (Kelly and Edwards 1998). It seems nearly as acceptable to introduce children to drinking at a much younger age. Many restaurants have fruit drinks called Shirley Temples to serve to children while their parents are having a before-dinner cocktail. Part of the fun of many a New Year’s Eve party held in the home is allowing a very young child to stay up until midnight and to taste grown-up drinks. Some young drinkers trace their experience with alcohol back to age seven, or younger (Hanson, 1990).

Advantage in drinking

One undeniable advantage in drinking is that in moderate quantities it has a very relaxing effect. And, because alcohol removes some of the inhibitions, it can cause a person to become more talkative, less tense in social situations, and generally to feel good. This effect is important to anyone who drinks, no matter what age he or she is, but young people who drink often place a particularly strong emphasis on it. The adolescent and teenage years are a time of awakening individuality. While home and family remain the center of most teenagers’ lives, they are increasingly conscious of the outside world and the possibilities available to them (Hanson, 1990).

They begin to see themselves as separate entities and, in fact, go through a period of wishing not to be seen with their parents and feeling acutely uncomfortable with adult acquaintances when not in structured situations such as school. At the same time, the awareness of individuality is not so strong that the adolescent or teenager does not need a great deal of support and reinforcement. This is where the peer group comes in. More than anything else, young persons want to be part of a group, to be like others of the same age. They want to wear the same clothes, engage in the same activities, experience the same things. It is very important to be assured their friends are feeling what they are feeling, for the adolescent and teenage years can be frightening and lonely (Wilke, 1994).

Physical alterations are occurring in the body. New emotions are experienced, such as the first romantic interest in the opposite sex, and the first real depression. Emotional ups and downs are drastic and seemingly uncontrollable. During these years, young people become acutely aware of themselves. They spend a great deal of time being concerned about their physical appearance. They are growing, but their various body parts do not develop at the same rate. His ears may suddenly seem much too big in proportion to his head. Her legs seem to lengthen a foot while her torso does not grow at all (National Institute on Alcohol 2008).

Low-class location and unemployment result in alcohol abuse. Many people drink to hide their insecurities and their social awkwardness. The fellow who is shy around girls suddenly finds that he can talk to them easily after he’s had a couple of drinks. The girl who feels unattractive ceases to worry about her appearance when she is high and finds she can join in the activities of her group wholeheartedly (Chafetz and Demone 1962). Alcohol indeed acts to inhibit certain brain impulses and thus causes the drinker to have fewer inhibitions. In these cases, the effects of alcohol are more psychological than physical. The alcohol itself does not put the drinker on top of a situation; the drinker expects the alcohol to do so and thus feels that it has. Social awkwardness can be overcome without any help from alcohol, but many young people take a shortcut, substituting alcohol for thought and inner personality development (Ammerman, 1999).

The reasons of drinking in modern time

Today, people are still drinking for those very same reasons. There is a great deal of alcohol abuse among poor people. The effects of poverty can be so overwhelming that people lose all hope, and the only thing they can look forward to is a brief period of escape from their misery now and then. In addition, there is evidence that prolonged chronic drinking makes people unable to try to improve their circumstances. On the other hand, within the past few decades, alcohol abuse has increased substantially among the higher economic classes; poverty is not the only cause of depression and hopelessness. First of all, it must be pointed out that consciousness is directly controlled by the brain; therefore the changes caused by alcohol are physiological changes and ideally belong in the previous section about alcohol and the body. However, as many of the ways alcohol acts on the brain are unknown, it is easier to discuss the resulting changes separately (Hanson, 1990).

But if people who feel socially inadequate, particularly shy or painfully self-conscious persons, think alcohol will make them as energetic or as talkative or as funny as their normally more extroverted friends under the influence of alcohol, they will be disappointed (Ammerman,1999). Studies have shown that alcohol affects outgoing people more than quiet people. Both can have the same blood alcohol level and still act very differently. Most of us probably know a normally outgoing person who becomes obnoxious after a few drinks. The person who is normally quiet and introverted will be more relaxed and perhaps more talkative, but not as conspicuously high (Kelly and Edwards 1998).

A girl who has had a few drinks may forget her fears of pregnancy or her usual ideas of morality, especially when her partner has acquired from alcohol the courage to be more insistent and has an inflated idea of his sexual prowess. This is not true only of adolescents and teenagers; it can be true of adults as well. It should be pointed out here that drinking may very well lower sexual inhibitions, but it does not improve sexual performance. It decreases it, since alcohol affects the central nervous system, causing nerve impulses to slow down. It also decreases muscle coordination. Both these factors are important in sexual activity (Wilke, 1994). Also, the more people drink, the more accidents they are likely to have in the home; and the more people who drink, the more suicide attempts there are. It is bad for our society socially, because alcohol-related crimes like assault and murder are on the increase. Society needs intelligent, energetic young people, not young people whose bodies and minds are destroyed.

For most people, it is very disquieting not to be able to remember their actions during the drunken state. They suspect their behavior to have been shameful or embarrassing, but unless they ask what happened, or someone reports it to them, they can only worry about it. One thing the drinker can often know exactly is just what great creative production occurred during the drinking experience (Hanson, 1990). Frequently, drinkers will write down such ideas when they come to them. Students have been known to write entire papers while under the influence of alcohol, just as they have while high on marijuana or LSD. But the masterpiece of the night before generally seems pretty mundane the next morning. And if it is not mundane, then it is likely to be impossible to accomplish. The drinker who conceives a great idea for a business realizes when sober that he or she hasn’t either the background or the experience or the money for something that seemed entirely possible the night before (Kelly and Edwards 1998).

Summary

In sum, alcohol abuse is a serious problem caused by poverty, unemployment, and cultural values and traditions. This problem is serious, no matter how a person looks at it. Alcoholics are accounting for an increasing percentage of admissions to mental hospitals, and consider the victims of automobile accidents. Alcohol addiction is bad for society, but it is disastrous for the individual. The average adult alcoholic can expect to live about twelve years less than the nonalcoholic or nondrinker. There are no comparable studies on the life expectancy of teenage alcoholics, but it is likely that the younger the alcoholic the shorter his or her life span. Nor does the young alcoholic have the same opportunities and potential that nondrinking teenagers have.

References

Ammerman, R.T. (1999). Prevention and Societal Impact of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Mahwah, New Jersey London.

Chafetz, M. E., Demone J. W. Jr. (1962). Alcoholism and Society, Harold W. Oxford University Press.

Death Statistics for Types of Alcohol Abuse. (2005). Web.

Goodlett, Ch. R., Hannigan, J. H., Spear, L. P. (1999). Alcohol and Alcoholism: Effects on Brain and Development, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Greenblatt, J.C. (2000). Patterns of Alcohol Use Among Adolescents and Associations with Emotional and Behavioral Problems. Web.

Hanson, D.J. (19900). Alcohol Education What We Must Do. Praeger Publishers.

Kelly, K. J. Edwards, R.W. (1998). Image Advertisements for Alcohol Products: Is Their Appeal Associated with Adolescents’ Intention to Consume Alcohol? Adolescence, 33 (1), p.47-51.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2008). Web.

Wilke, D. 1994, Women and Alcoholism: How a Male-as-Norm Bias Affects Research, Assessment, and Treatment. Health and Social Work, 19, p. 29.