Alcoholism in the 21st Century
The dictionary describes alcoholism as continued excessive or compulsive use of alcoholic drinks. However, this disease is much more complex. Alcohol abuse is a growing problem in the United States today, causing more and more deaths each year. It affects nearly everyone in the U.S. today, either directly or indirectly. Over half of Americans have at least one close relative that has a drinking problem. About 20 million people in the United States abuse alcohol. It is the third leading cause of preventable deaths, and about 100,000 people die each year from alcohol related incidents (Peacock 11).
Alcohol is not a new invention of modern societies. It has been around through many different ancient cultures, wine being the most prominent substance. Some cultures viewed alcohol consumption as good, while others perceived it good only in moderation. For example, the Greek god Bacchus was known for his excessive drinking while the Roman god Dionysus was known for teaching moderation in drinking (Peacock 20-21).
Alcoholism was also learned to have existed in history. Interpreted writings on the tomb of an Egyptian king who lived over 5,000 years ago read, “His earthly abode was rent and shattered by wine and beer. And the spirit escaped before it was called for.” This shows that he died from alcohol related causes. However, most cultures began to limit alcohol use when they learned how to efficiently produce the beverage. Babylonian king Hammurabi and Chinese emperor Chung K’iang executed violators of their laws concerning alcohol (Peacock 20). Even in the Bible, refrain from alcohol is stressed. “Nor drunkards will inherit the kingdom of God” (Alcohol and the Bible). The United States was not immune to strict laws opposing alcohol. In 1919, the 18th Amendment was passed, limiting alcohol use. This period lasted for 14 years and became known as the Prohibition (Peacock 28).
Ancient and modern literatures show that alcohol has been around longer than most people think. For example, in the ancient epic of Giglamesh, written 4,000 years ago, one character was the goddess of wine and brewing, Siduri (World literature 136, 139). The Chinese poet Tu Fu wrote about celebrating an old friend’s retirement with wine in his poem, “For Wei Pa, in Retirement” (World Literature 528). Prominent figures in more recent literature have died to alcohol related causes. Edgar Allen Poe, author of popular poems such as “The Raven” and “The Bells”, died of alcoholism at the age of 40 (Selected Poetry).
There is both physical and psychological dependence with alcohol addiction. Physical dependence reveals itself in withdrawal symptoms when alcohol intake is interrupted. Symptoms from withdrawal can vary from muscles cramps, convulsions, or nausea. Sometimes, the severity of these symptoms may be so distressing that a person will keep drinking to keep them away. Psychological dependence includes effects on the central nervous system as a depressant. Results of this can include irritability, depression, or hallucinations (Peacock 39).
As well as changing his or her own life, the lifestyle of an alcoholic usually affects the life of his or her friends and family. Domestic abuse is higher in cases where one spouse abuses alcohol. In 95% of these cases, the men are responsible for abusing their wife or girlfriend. Usually, the violence gets more severe as time goes on. Sometimes the violence will reach out to children, intentionally or unintentionally, and results in child abuse (Peacock 54).
Child abuse in families where at least one parent is an alcoholic is an overwhelmingly increasing problem today. Everyday, one in four children will come home to a parent who has a drinking problem (Botsford). Children of alcoholics have a higher tendency to abuse alcohol or other drugs, as they get older. These children also frequently suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Even if the children are not physically hit, they may be emotionally scarred from living in an abusive home (Peacock 54).
Along with causing the people around them problems, alcoholics also bring down society. The economy wastes billions of dollars each year on costs of alcoholism. In 1992, about $103.6 billion was in lost productivity of alcohol-related illness or premature death. Another $18.8 billion was used for treatment and medical costs of alcohol abuse. The cost spent on alcohol related automobile crashes was $13.6 billion, and $12.7 billion went towards alcohol related crimes (Peacock 56-57).
Underage drinking is becoming a threatening problem among teens today. The media, especially, is not helping in the process to stop underage drinking. A new joke being told is that a mother was asking her young child what sounds different animals make. The child was answering correctly, until the mother asked, “What does a frog say?” to which the child answered, “Bud.” Though this may seem amusing to some, it shows the reality of what we are exposing the future leaders of our country to. Children in the U.S. will be exposed to alcohol consumption through the media as well as real-life observations about 75,000 times before they reach the legal drinking age (Peacock 66).
Another problem with underage drinking is that many teens do not know the true facts about what they are drinking. Students in grades 7-12 consume 1.1 billion cans of beer and 35% of all wine coolers sold in one year. However, one out of three of students doesn’t know that all wine coolers contain alcohol. A shocking 80% of students in grades 7-12 don’t know that a can of beer contains the same amount of alcohol as a shot of whiskey (Williams 105).
A really big issue with alcohol today is drunk driving. It seems as if every time you turn around there is another person injured or killed by a drunk driver. Speaking from personal experience, one of the worst things a family could go through is to have an innocent family member killed by a drunk driver. The rising statistics show that many families are experiencing what it is like to lose a loved one to drunk driving. Three out of every ten Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related car crash at some time in their lives (Williams 105). In 1999 alone, 15,786 traffic deaths were cause by drunken driving (Clinton Signs).
With statistics as high as they are, one would think the government would be doing all they could to help stop people from drinking and driving. However, until recently, not much was being done. The large problem our country is having is in part because of too many repeat offenders. If there were stricter laws and harsher penalties for breaking these laws, the number of alcohol-related crashes may decline. In most states, a person must have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.10 to be legally charged for drunk driving. Last year, Clinton signed a bill that requires states to make the legal BAC standard for drunken driving 0.08 by the year 2004. States who wish not to participate in changing the legal BAC level will lose millions of dollars in federal highway funds (Clinton Signs).
Alcoholism is a very serious problem that usually takes years of counseling and support to overcome. The physical and mental symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol make it extremely difficult for one to quit. At one time, doctors believed that alcoholics deserved this “punishment” for indulging in alcohol. However, today we know that a person who goes through several periods of withdrawal symptoms can end up with permanent brain damage (Peacock 84).
Today, there are many ways available to help those who abuse alcohol. One of the most widely used and effective ways to overcome alcoholism is joining a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Alcoholics Anonymous now has about 2 million members worldwide, and in the United States over 50,000 of these groups meet regularly. Being around others who are going through the same hardships that you are is both comforting and encouraging for those who want to stop abusing alcohol (Peacock 81).
Psychotherapy is also a method used to help alcoholics recover. In this method, psychologists try to determine the origin of their problem, concentrating on how the person became an alcoholic. The theory behind this is that a person can change their behavior if they change their thoughts. Once they know what makes them drink, they will learn how to avoid tempting situations or how to act differently in the situations.
Once a person becomes sober from being an alcoholic, it is very hard for that person to stay sober. Relapses are common and should not come as a surprise to doctors, patients, or families. The relapses should be dealt with immediately before a serious problem develops again. About 90% of recovering alcoholics will experience at least one relapse in their first four years of sobriety (Peacock 88). Even if a person goes through a couple of relapses, they may still be able to get back on the right track with help and support.
Though there is no cure for alcoholism yet, hope should not be lost. Researchers are working on finding a cure, while also finding the best ways to treat a person suffering from alcoholism. The statistics for people affected by alcohol abuse are overwhelming. Even in spite of all these alarming statistics and warnings about alcohol, it still remains the most widely used psychoactive drug in the United States (Peacock 9). However, there is great hope for the future. In the past 25 years, research on causes and treatment has increased substantially. There are many new and traditional treatment methods being tested to treat alcoholism. Looking toward the future, there is hope for a successful treatment of alcoholism, and prevention in generations to come.
Alcohol and the Bible: New Expanded Version. 29 April 2001.
Botsford, Christy. National Children of Alcoholics Week. 29
April 2001. <http://www.health.org/newsroom/rep/157.htm>
Clinton Signs Bill to Lower Drunken Driving Standards. Dallas Morning News. SIRS. 23
Peacock, Nancy. Drowning our Sorrows, Psychological Effects of
Alcohol Abuse. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001.
Selected Poetry of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849). 29 April 2001.
Williams, Steven. “America’s Drinking Problem.” Teen People. March 2000: 100-105.
World Literature Third Edition. United States: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 2001.