Alcohol’s importance in our social history is significant. Even more significant is the abuse of alcohol and the how alcoholism has effected modern society. However, before the word “alcoholism” was ever spoken, alcohol was used for many purposes such as settling battles, giving courage in battles, celebrating festivals and wooing lovers. The history of alcohol can be traced all the way back to the Egyptians. In Egyptian burials, it was used to help the dead’s journey to the afterlife. There is also evidence that the Babylonians, around 1600 BC, knew how to brew 20 different types of beer.
It was also around this time that alcohol was tied to abuse. The Babylonians made their laws include punishments against drunkenness. The Greeks and the Romans drank mostly wine, and they loved it so much that they worshipped Dionysus, the god of wine. When they worshipped, the Greeks and Romans would become extremely intoxicated. Their writings are full of warnings against drinking too much. In 55 BC, the Romans introduced beer, right before alcohol become important in religious cultures.
The Old Testament refers to alcohol numerous times, and wine plays an important role in the rituals of many religions. Wine was sanctified by Jesus in the New Testament, and many Roman Catholics still drink wine today as part of their worship. Some religions, like Judaism and Christianity, wanted to keep alcohol sacred, so they made drinking too much alcohol into a sinful act. But alcohol’s popularity grew fast, and by the Middle Ages, many monasteries were making beer to give to the monks and to sell to pilgrims. Soon, home breweries were showing up, and they became taverns and other public places where people could gather to drink.
The making of alcohol, specifically beer, was not modernized until the time of the Renaissance. Science played an important role in forming breweries that could produce high-quality and large amounts of alcohol. The industrial revolution also brought along steam power and refrigeration, and technology soon allowed for much purer and stronger alcohol, likes gin, brandy and rum. Soon, other countries throughout Europe, like Germany and Britain, created their own unique alcohol. Russian vodka, Scottish whiskey, Mexican tequila and Italian sambuca are a few examples. Today there is even a wider selection to choose from.
These new drinks helped to develop trade between Western Europe and the Far East. Also, as colonies developed in America, European nations produced alcoholic drinks to ship over to the new colonies. This became a very lucrative business. From this, we can trace the origins of alcohol and how our culture became familiar with it. People continue to use alcohol in rituals and traditions, just like hundreds of years ago. But it has turned into a disease that punishes those who enjoy it too much.
The development of alcohol from religious rituals to today, where there are a wide variety of alcoholic drinks, shows how alcohol abuse has increased as well. Alcoholism has been a continuous problem for centuries due to its harmful effects. In moderation, alcohol is used by some to relax and considered safe. However, misusing alcohol can cause harm not only to the drinker, but also to anyone close to the drinker, and society in general.
There are three stages of ingestion that happen once a drink is downed. First, it is quickly absorbed into the blood stream through the cell membranes of the digestive tract. As it passes through the digestive tract, some of is absorbed by the mouth and stomach, and most of it is absorbed by the small intestine. The amount of food in the stomach affects the rate of absorption. If a drinker has a pint of beer without having dinner first, the absorption rate of the beer will be much faster. The drinker will get drunk much faster, and maybe even vomit. Most of the alcohol is absorbed by the bloodstream within an hour of ingestion.
The second stage is distribution. Once the circulatory system absorbs the alcohol, it is sent out to all parts of the body. Some parts, like the brain, liver and kidney receive larger amounts of alcohol than other parts of the body because they receive more blood. And the third stage is metabolism. As the alcohol travels throughout the body, enzymes released by the liver metabolize the alcohol. This breaks down the alcohol and turns it into a food source for the body. Most of the alcohol ingested is released through the liver.
The effects of alcohol on the liver can be deadly. In large amounts, alcohol can damage major organs, particularly the liver. There are three different alcohol-related liver diseases: fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Fatty liver disease is one of the first signs that alcohol is being abused. Fat builds up due to alcohol metabolism. This hurts the liver’s ability to work at full strength. Fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.
When the liver is too damaged from alcohol abuse, scar tissue forms, causing cirrhosis, and eventually causing the liver to shut down. Symptoms include loss of energy, loss of appetite, upset stomach, weight loss and weakness. Cirrhosis is one of the ten leading causes of death by disease in the United States. The third liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, is the inflammation of the liver, the stage right before cirrhosis. Jaundice, mental confusion and swelling of the abdomen are common symptoms.
Alcohol is known as a depressant, and its effects on the brain and central nervous system are serious. When intoxicated, drinkers experience a mild euphoria, or temporary “happiness”, and loss of inhibition. Alcohol impairs regions of the brain controlling behavior, judgment, memory, concentration and coordination. On the central nervous system, alcohol acts as a sedative. Large amounts of alcohol can cause respiratory failure, coma and death. Impaired vision, hearing, and motor skills also occur. The drinker may also experience numbness and tingling in the arms and legs caused by nerve damage. This results in the staggering walk often seen coming out of bars. Long-term drinking can cause brain damage (Korsakoff’s Syndrome) and drinking while pregnant is known to produce sick babies (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome).
Heavy drinking also has damaging effects on the stomach and intestinal system. Irritation of the stomach lining can cause peptic ulcers, bleeding lesions and cancer. Blood loss causes loss of iron, which can cause irritability, lack of energy, headaches and dizziness. Risk of pancreatitis is also increased. Other effects of alcohol abuse include irritation of the intestinal tract lining and the colon; nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating and loss of appetite; and increase in blood pressure, risk of heart attack and stroke.
These symptoms develop over time. Alcoholism, however, can begin to develop after the first drink. There are many reasons why people start drinking, such as to increase self-confidence, relieve stress, escape from personal problems, overcome shyness, or to overcome a poor self-image. Abuse of alcohol is defined as the use of alcohol interfering with physical, social, academic, or economic functioning. The first stage of alcoholism involves the use of alcoholism as a way to deal with other problems. The abuser will drink more than the average amount and is usually preoccupied with partying or going out socially to drink. The abuser will also drink to cope with personal problems, have trouble stopping after one drink, and they’ll feel guilty about drinking so much. The drinker will usually deny that a problem exists.
The second stage of alcohol abuse begins to interfere with daily activities like work. The drinker finds it typically hard to get through the day without a drink. It also becomes difficult to get the same good feelings from drinking, so more alcohol is consumed. The drinker will start drinking alone and in secret. Ambition and drive are lost and interest in family and friends goes away. This leads to the third stage where the alcoholism takes over. The drinker lives for alcohol and nothing else. They experience loneliness and continue to drink even with disastrous results, including financial and personal problems. The alcoholic will experience physical symptoms in this stage, including difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, malnutrition, the “shakes”, and sometimes blackouts and serious memory loss. Alcoholism is the most serious form of alcohol abuse. Once the drinker reaches this stage, serious treatment should be considered.
By tracing the steps leading to alcoholism, it is natural to ask what causes the alcoholic to pick up a drink in the first place. Of course, it is the own personal responsibility of each individual who chooses to ingest alcohol. There are however, outside influences that can effect that decision. The power of the media and the messages it sends out can influence any impressionable person, especially teenagers, to consume alcohol.
Characters in film and TV are seen smoking and drinking all the time. Signs and advertisements for alcohol use fun animals to pitch the drink, or they show a drinker looking sexy and cool. If everyone is doing it and having fun, then everyone else should do it too. That is the message advertisers want the teenager to pick up. Advertisers leave out the negative information on alcohol on purpose. As a result, teenagers often do not know what the health risks are when they use alcohol.
A study done by Washington drug and alcohol officials in 1998 showed that the media has major influences in all outlets. Some of their findings show that almost all, or 98% of movies depict some form of alcohol intake. They also show that nearly 30% of all songs contained messages about drinking. On the other hand, negative effects of drinking were only shown in half of the movies and only one-fifth of the songs. American consumers are heavy consumers of movies, music and TV. So the government is targeting the entertainment and advertising industries in order to change the positive image of alcohol being put out.
Anti-alcohol propaganda has proven to be not very effective. Advertisements promoting alcohol usually make you want to try the product. The ads convince the drinker to buy alcohol so they can feel glamorous, powerful and successful. The ads also use status symbols like cars, jewelries and mansions so that everyone will believe they can have the same lifestyle as long as they buy their products. Visual propaganda is very powerful. Unfortunately, people fall for it many times.
When you see advertisements against alcohol, they’re usually trying to scare the drinker away from alcohol. Often times bloody pictures of drunk-driving car accidents are shown. Images of badly torn up bodies can persuade someone to stop drinking for the moment. However, an alcoholic’s disease is more powerful than a picture. While the bloody pictures may make the drinker think twice, the effects are not huge in preventing alcoholism.
A lot of the anti-alcohol propaganda is about driving drunk. Drinking and driving is a combination that leads to horrible accidents. Driving while under the influence is a serious concern that has gained more and more attention. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds is drunk driving. Whether it’s New Year’s Eve, the prom, or a weekend pizza party, there is a good chance that alcohol will be served. Getting behind the wheel puts in danger not only the driver who is drunk, but any passengers and non-drinking bystanders as well.
The government and police force have come up with several ways to prevent drinking and driving. One of the methods is through a blood test. This is the most difficult one to carry out because it usually requires the person to go to a hospital after being pulled over by the police. Another test police administer is a breathalyzer test. The policeman will make the driver breath into a tube that is able to read the level of alcohol in the blood. This is a valuable test because the police are able to do it as soon as they pull over the drunk driver.
The third test is less scientific. The police have the drunk driver attempt to walk a straight line and then cross their legs in the format of a number four. If they have been drinking, then they will be unable to stand up straight, their eyes will be redder, and they will lose their balance. Even though there should be more tests and more instructive propaganda on the subject of drinking and driving, the steps policemen take now do help to save lives.
Unfortunately, innocent people can be hurt by drunk drivers. But there are ways to prevent unnecessary accidents yourself. Some ways include volunteering to be a designated driver, trying to avoid driving on rural roads, using four lane highways, avoiding going on the road after midnight, and always wearing a seat belt. It is also helpful to recognize when friends may be in danger of drinking and driving. A good thing to do is to take away the car keys or simply call a cab.
Preventing drunk driving is only one way of fighting alcoholism. To really treat it well requires long-term care in almost every case. There are several treatments today for alcoholics to choose from. Three of the major forms of treatment are Alcoholics Anonymous, psychological treatment, and substance abuse clinics. Through treatment, alcoholics can lead normal, productive and happy lives. The ultimate goal of alcoholism treatment is to enable the patient to achieve lasting abstinence. Immediate goals, however, are to reduce the drinking in steps. It is very difficult to quit drinking ”cold turkey.”
If an alcoholic chooses a treatment program, there are several options out there. A short-term treatment that is popular is the 28-day in-patient treatment. This involves the patient going to a treatment facility for about a month to detox their bodies. This method can be helpful as sort of a crash course in alcoholism treatment, but care must continue following the month-long treatment. Other methods last longer, some for 6 months. These treatments include residential therapy, where the patient is living at a treatment facility for an extended amount of time. Many severe alcoholics need this kind of structure to succeed. The Betty Ford Clinic is an example of a treatment facility that allows patients to live there until they overcome their addiction to alcohol.
Another method to treating alcoholism is outpatient therapy. Outpatient therapy offers a wide variety of programs for patients who visit on a consistent basis. Almost all of the programs will offer psychological therapy of some sort, in the form of individual or group counseling. Often it is easier to talk about the addiction in a group of people with the same problems rather than alone. Out-patient therapy often is not effective by itself for the serious alcoholic. Usually this therapy is combined with another method.
The third method is the most popular one. Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as AA, was founded in 1935. It is based on the premise of the 12 steps to recovery. AA thinks of itself as a community of recovering alcoholics. They share their common problems with drinking and help each other recover from the addiction of alcohol. The main purpose of AA is to help people stay sober.
Alcoholics Anonymous consists of more than two million people all over the world. They meet in local groups that can be big or small, some having a handful of drinkers and others having hundreds attend a meeting. All of the meetings are free. Most Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are open to the public. However, some places have closed meetings in case members want to talk only about their alcohol problems and not be distracted by anyone there who may not be an alcoholic.
The 12-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous is a world-renown treatment method that’s used for all kinds of addiction, not just alcohol. Alcoholics are encouraged to work the 12 steps. The first step involves admitting the powerlessness over alcohol, how it takes over the alcoholic’s life. The second step has the alcoholic believe that there is a greater power working that will help the alcoholic stay sober. This step is an example of the religious influence on the 12-step recovery process.
The steps continue to involve the healing process. One of them asks the drinker to go to any friends or family that have been hurt by alcoholism and apologize. Another step asks the drinker to take a sponsor. A sponsor is also an alcoholic who has been sober for a longer amount of time. The sponsor helps the recovering alcoholic make it through the steps. Throughout their recovery, alcoholics will also get chips. The chips are usually different colors, depending on how long the alcoholic has been sober.
The final two steps of AA involve “taking inventory” of your life and understanding why you did what you did when drunk. These are called the drinker’s motivations. Step 12 talks about three major parts the alcoholic should have accomplished. They are having had a spiritual awakening, practicing the lessons learned in AA, and carrying the message of recovery to other alcoholics. The final step seems like a lifetime step. It is practiced by the drinker, along with the other steps for the rest of their life. It stresses the amount of work they must put in for the program to work for them.
Once completed, the alcoholic has a lifetime of recovery. Alcoholism is a disease that most alcoholics will admit never goes away. Alcoholics need ongoing treatment and support. There is always a chance to fall off the wagon. Ideally, alcoholics should enter a long-term treatment facility, go through detox, and join Alcoholics Anonymous and attend meetings regularly. The longer an alcoholic receives treatment, the better the chances for becoming sober.
The best way to stay sober, though, is simply through abstinence. It is the only true cure of alcoholism. Drinking is classified as a disease by doctors and psychologists. It is a disease because once the drinker is addicted, they cannot stop drinking. It is beyond their control. They cause physical harm to themselves and others. Their health declines and death by alcoholism is not uncommon. That is why it is better if someone who is more likely to drink and enjoy it to abstain all together. Drinking in moderation works for some people, but for alcoholics, there really is no other choice. For the sake of their own lives, for their family and friends, and for society as a whole, alcoholics should pursue the most effective treatment and help everyone fight the terrible disease of alcoholism.