Alcohol is a large part of American culture. All over the United States drinking is not only acceptable but a social norm from teenagers to adults. This is not only the case in the U.S., but all over the world, where some drinking ages are 18 and 19 years of age. In America specifically, alcohol has been around for centuries and is a large part of many social gatherings. Although this is the case now, in the early 1900s during the prohibition period, all alcohol was banned and deemed illegal to possess. Even though illegal, the task was just too heavy and alcohol was too much a common practice for most Americans. As time went on the prohibition period ended and the laws were revoked, making it legal again to possess alcohol. The drinking related problems that were around during prohibition pale in comparison to the problems alcohol has caused since then.
Many people wonder if kids are drinking earlier and earlier and they feel the drinking age should be raised. On the other hand many people are against raising the drinking age, mainly those whom would be affected by this decision, Americas youth. From its affect on society, including its appeal towards young adults, to the diseases it causes, the problems of alcohol abuse are widespread and in many forms.
It is a known fact that many Americans drink alcohol on a weekly basis. Depending on the rate and volume of consumption, alcohol has many different effects on the human body. Light drinking has been proven not to be a problem, and is even considered to be healthy. A glass of Red wine once a day is known to be beneficial to the heart. It helps prevent coronary heart disease by reducing plaque deposits in the arteries surrounding the heart, preventing blood clotting, while also helping to dissolve clots that already exist (Rehm 1210). Moderate and heavy drinking is a different story though. When drinking to the point of moderate to heavy consumption, there is a greater risk for personal injury. Car accidents are not the only causes of injury when under the influence of alcohol. Many incidents of injury are directly related to alcohol consumption including violence, and accidental personal injury. This being said, drunk driving is the main cause of death associated with alcohol consumption (Rehm 1220). Researchers have found that with increased volumes of alcohol consumption one is more susceptible to many types of diseases, including mouth, throat, liver, and breast cancer, while also showing signs of liver cirrhosis and coronary heart disease (Rehm 1211-1216). With all these diseases related to alcohol, there are many mental health problems associated with drinking as well. These problems include unipolar depression, epilepsy and other neuropsychological disorders (Rehm 1216-1217). Though drinking itself seems harmless and fun, many of the diseases and problems linked to alcohol are very detrimental and long term.
Along with the negative health effects, teenagers are beginning to drink earlier and it is affecting them in big ways. The perception of alcohol is greatly blurred when it comes to teenagers. Commercials and the media glorify alcohol, almost putting it on a pedestal. Teenagers are exposed to it on an almost daily basis and they in turn are starting to drink during their early teen years. With many developmental changes occurring in adolescence, the thought of alcohol abuse can be alarming. Despite the possible negative affects, there is very little study done on the subject (Arna 1). Adolescent health and alcohol use is not thoroughly researched, despite being a large problem. The reason for lack of evidence on the subject is that the problem is so widespread and there are not many adolescents that will admit to drinking, or even ask their doctor what affects alcohol has on them. With that being said, the little experimental evidence of the effects of adolescent alcohol use gives an idea of the problem at hand. Kids who drink in their early teen years are more likely to be an abuser in their late teen years, while also being more susceptible to alcohol related health problems early in life (Arna 2). Many teens that begin drinking earlier are more likely to become polydrug abusers later in life, meaning they use many different illegal substances, making alcohol in a category with marijuana as a gateway substance to other types of abuse (Arna 2). During adolescence it is important for a growing young person to get proper nutrients and more importantly maintain a balanced nutrition. Most kids do not eat right anyway, and alcohol use just compounds the problem. Alcohol reduces ones metabolism, while impairing the uptake storage and utilization of micronutrients (Arna 4). Alcohol also suppresses growth hormones which may result in a lower ultimate height and overall body hardiness (Arna 4). With both a teenage diet and alcohol consumption combined, one can see how adolescent growth could be a problem area. No matter how the problem is looked at, from adolescents to adults, alcohol is proven to be bad for the heart, liver, and many other organs; starting in adolescence is only making the abuser more at risk (Arna 6).
Alcohol related diseases are becoming more and more prevalent with the problem continually getting worse, even to the point of being mentioned with smoking, as a major source of disease in the world. Over the past 25 years there have been many anti-smoking campaigns and a lot of general attention towards the adverse effects of smoking. In a recent study, W.H.O. found that there is one disease clearly associated with tobacco, namely lung disease (Mackay 1778). Alcohol, on the other hand, is related to more than 60 different diseases, but with most of these diseases, alcohol is to blame for a smaller percentage (Mackay 1778), making it harder to deal with than tobacco. Nonetheless alcohol is becoming a major detrimental health factor in the world and is rivaling tobacco as the leading cause of negative health effects (Mackay 1778). Along with the negative health affects of alcohol, society suffers as well. There are many impoverished and homeless people whose main problem is alcoholism and they continue to be poor due to the fact that their funds, if they even have any, go towards their alcohol habits. In large cities across America, there is evidence of this. It is hard to walk down a busy street without seeing a beggar somewhere, and not to say they are all that way because of alcohol but it is well known that when most of them do get money it is put towards booze. Alcohol makes the overall quality of life lower and serves as a major problem with many of the poverty stricken people around today.
Over the past few centuries alcohols prominence in our culture has grown to a social norm, and almost a necessity to some. Alcohol contributes to many diseases and deaths, starting in the adolescent years and continuing later in life. Alcohol abuse not only causes health problems but societal problems as well, not only in America but all over the world. For most cultures alcohol is too engrained in society to just get rid of it, prohibition did not work and if history repeats itself alcohol will most likely always be a major problem in many cultures.
Ann A. Abbolt, Health Care Challenges Created by Substance Abuse: The
Whole is Definitely Bigger than the Sum of Its Parts, Health and Social Work, August 2002, 162.
This article gives information on health care challenges created by substance abuse. It covers the effect on people and society of substance abuse. The article gives staggering numbers towards the estimated cost of substance abuse on the economy and presents many figures on alcohol.
Amelia M. Arna, The Effects of Alcohol Abuse on the Health of Adolescents, Alcohol
Health and Research World, 1991, 52.
This article speaks of adolescent alcohol use and abuse. It examines the lack of research done on adolescent health issues and the current knowledge of the consequences of adolescent alcohol consumption. The article also presents strategies on how to inform and clarify the issues of adolescent alcohol abuse.
Brad Mackay, Alcohol Rivals Tobacco for Health Impact: WHO, Canadian Medical
Association, June 8, 2004, 1778.
This article was short but provides a good comparison of alcohol and tobacco. The article presents good facts while giving good suggestions for solutions to the rising problems with alcohol.
Jurgen Rehm, The Relationship of Average Volume of Alcohol Consumption and
Patterns of Drinking to Burden of Disease: An Overview, Addiction Research Institute, May 8, 2003, 1209-1228.
This article is aimed towards a large study to estimate the global burden of disease attributable to alcohol. The article tries to identify the relationships between average volume consumption, patterns of drinking, disease, and injury outcomes. The article also gives many numbers to back up its points.