Alcoholism: Symptoms, Causes, and Effects

Alcoholism is a disease that affects many people in the United States today. It not only affects the alcoholic, but also their family, friends, co-workers, and eventually total strangers. The symptoms are many, as are the causes and the effects.

Alcoholism is defined as a pattern of drinking in which harmful consequences result for the drinker, yet, they continue to drink. There are two types of drinkers. The first type, the casual or social drinker, drinks because they want to. They drink with a friend or with a group for pleasure and only on occasion. The other type, the compulsive drinker, drinks because they have to, despite the adverse effects that drinking has on their lives.

The symptoms of alcoholism vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms seen are changes in emotional state or stability, behavior, and personality. «Alcoholics may become angry and argumentive, or quiet and withdrawn or depressed. They may also feel more anxious, sad, tense, and confused. They then seek relief by drinking more» (Gitlow 175).

«Because time and amount of drinking are uncontrollable, the alcoholics is likely to engage in such behaviors as [1] breaking family commitments, both major and minor; [2] spending more money than planned; [3] drinking while intoxicated and getting arrested; [4] making inappropriate remarks to friends, family, and co-workers; [5] arguing, fighting and other anti-social actions. The alcoholic would probably neither do such things, nor approve of them in others unless he was drinking» (Johnson 203).

The cause of alcoholism is a combination of biological, psychological, and cultural factors that may contribute to the development of alcoholism in an individual. Alcoholism seems to run in families. «Although there is no conclusive indication of how the alcoholism of families members is associated, studies show that 50 to 80 percent of all alcoholics have had a close alcoholic relative» (Caplan 266). Some researchers have suggested that in several cases, alcoholics have an inherited, predisposition to alcohol addiction. Studies of animals and human twins have lent support to this theory.

Alcoholism can also be related to emotional instabilities. For example, alcoholism is often associated with a family history of manic-depressive illness. Additionally, like many other drug abusers, alcoholics often drink hoping to «drown' anxious or depressed feelings. Some alcoholics drink to reduce strong inhibitions or guilt about expressing negative feelings.

Social and cultural factors play roles in to establishing drinking patterns and the development of alcoholism. In some cultures, there is conflict between abstaining and accepting the use of alcohol as a way to change moods or to be social, thus making it difficult for some people to develop stable attitudes about and moderate patterns of drinking. Society tends to aid in the development of alcoholism by making alcohol seem glamorous, showing that by drinking, you will become more popular, more glamorous and more worthy of respects from others.

The physical effects of alcoholism are somewhat gruesome. Excessive in take and prolonged use of alcohol can cause serious disturbances in body chemistry. «Many alcoholics exhibit swollen and tender livers. The prolonged use of large amounts of alcoholism without adequate diet may cause serious liver damage, such as cirrhosis of the liver» (McCarthy 505).

Alcoholism also causes loss of muscular control. The condition, delirium tremens, known primarily to heavy drinkers, causes hallucinations along with loss of control of muscular functioning. When this condition develops and the alcoholic slows their drinking, withdrawal syndrome can and often does occur. This may include agitation, tremors, seizures, and hallucinations.

Alcoholism also casues damage to the brain. Alcoholics may suffer from lack of concentration. The alcoholic may also experience «blackouts,» occasional onsets of memory lapses, and possibly complete memory loss. They may also suffer from more serious forms of brain damage.

The social effects of alcoholism can be as devastating as the physical effects. Children of alcoholics may be affected by the parents alcoholism in several different ways. Having a problem - drinker parent often increases the risk of becoming a problem drinker oneself. This may happen for reasons such as identification with or imitation of the alcoholic parent. It may also happen because of the social and family conditons that are thought to be associated with the development of alcoholism. These include family conflict, job insecurity, divorce, and social stigma.

Alcoholism is an outrageous public health problem. «The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that alcoholism and alcohol abuse in the United States cost society from $40 to $60 billion annually, due to the lost production, health and medical care, motor vehicle accidents, violent crime, and social programs that respond to alcohol problems. One half of all traffic fatalities and one-third of all traffic injuries are related to to the abuse of alcohol» (Caplan 266).

Accidents and suicides that are associated with alcohol problems are especially prominent in the teen years. It is estimated that over 3 million teens between the ages of 14 and 17 in the United States today are problem drinkers.

Alcoholism is a serious problem in today's society. It is extremely important that the public, including the large groups of users and abusers of alcohol, gain as much knowledge as possible about the symptoms and effects of alcoholism if we ever want to see the reduction of statics involving fatalities, injuries, diseases caused from the use and abuse of alcohol. Education and realization of the effects alcoholism can have on the different aspects of a person's life are the best ways that we can help control the number of alcoholics in the United States.





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