When the words “substance abuse” are heard, most frequently the thought of using marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or some other illegal drug pops into mind. Alcohol, however, can be abused in the same manner as the above mentioned illegal drugs. Abnormal craving for alcohol can be averted using many techniques, even including drug therapy. Alcoholism is defined as “a disorder characterized by the excessive consumption of and dependence on alcoholic beverages, leading to physical and psychological harm and impaired social and vocational functioning” (www. ctionary. com).
Alcoholism has no prejudice; it can affect anyone, of any age. Though it is thought to arise from a combination of physiological, psychological, social, and genetic factors, no hard proof is yet available to back up this theory. An unmistakable fact, however, is that in 1998 the number of driving and driving related deaths was 41,501 in the United States alone. Also in 1998 in the United States 397,607 potential years of life were lost due to drunken driving (http://www. niaaa. nih. gov/databases).
The projected number of alcohol abusers and dependents aged 18 or older for the United States in the year 2000 is 15,416, with the highest percentage of these people being between the ages of 18-29 (http://www. niaaa. nih. gov/databases). Although the loss of life due to alcohol related incidents is a pressing issue, there are also many other risks that are related to alcohol abuse and dependency. One of the most frequently known risks is cirrhosis of the liver. The affects of this disease include the hardening of the liver.
Scar tissue often develops, and liver failure is often the end result of this condition. Ulcers in the lining of the stomach or intestines are also common side effects of alcohol abuse. These ulcers are small holes which develop from the level of acidity being too high in the stomach or intestines (Bier). The use of alcohol during pregnancy is also an extremely dangerous situation. When a pregnant mother consumes alcohol regularly during pregnancy, she risks not only her own safety, but the safety of her unborn child.
The reason alcohol effects the unborn child is it hinders the ability of the fetus to receive enough oxygen and nourishment from the mother’s blood. Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) are far ranging, from facial deformities such as poorly formed ears and small openings to the more severe such as missing fingers or toes, low birth weight, mental retardation, learning disabilities, and even death. Prevention of FAS is quite easy, pregnant mothers should always abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages (http://www. well. com/user/woa/fsfas. htm). There are many warning signs to alcoholism that are commonly overlooked.
The signs are: frequent drinking to escape problems, constant promises to drink less, and denial of a drinking problem. Other, more commonly recognized signs are: drinking alone, drinking more than other people, blaming others for causing the drinking problem, and letting alcohol interfere with school or work (http://www. health. org/govpubs/rpo884/). The abuse and dependence of alcohol is viewed as an illness, just like any other. It only gets worse with time, and it has no true cure. Even after the alcoholism is treated it is thought to be impossible for an alcoholic to drink “normally” again.
A few sips of wine will turn into only drinking with meals, and then only drinking with meals will eventually lead back into the habits of heavy drinking that the alcohol had thought to have conquered. Another way that light drinking can lead back into alcohol abuse is when an alcoholic decides to drink only one or two beers. This may be continued for a few weeks, and then slowly the alcoholic begins to think that as long as he or she is drinking, he or she might as well “do a good job”. He or she will then binge drink, or switch to hard liquor to sate the hunger for alcohol (http://www. coholics-anonymous. org/).
If an extreme dependency on alcohol is diagnosed, sometimes the only way to become alcohol free is to use the aid of drug therapy. One of the common medicines used to defer the drinking of alcohol is Antabuse (disulfiram). When this drug is taken, usually via pill form, any consumption of alcohol will lead to extreme nausea and vomiting. This helps to maintain sobriety during the frequent cravings a newly recovering alcoholic may experience. A downfall to this drug is that an alcoholic may stop taking it and resume drinking after a period of time.
It is only a permanent fix if the willpower is maintained. Two other medications, Revia (naltrexone) and acamprosate, can also be used in the battle against alcohol abuse and dependency. These two drugs relieve the cravings and pleasant feelings that an alcoholic receives from alcohol consumption. These drugs, combined with a therapy program such as Alcoholics Anonymous, can help a great deal in dissolving alcohol abuse and dependency (http://bma-wellness. com/). When the use of drug therapy does not seem appealing for a person with an alcohol dependency group therapy is an option.
There are many groups available which will provide support and let the alcoholic know that he or she is not alone in the difficult struggle between sobriety and alcohol use that he or she is now facing. There are now more than 97,000 alcoholics anonymous fellowships, including hundreds in hospitals and prisons (http://www. alcoholics-anonymous. org). Another option for an alcoholic looking for a help is the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. This service is a 1-800 number which can provide assistance to those who need help finding a local group to join for assistance in maintaining or achieving sobriety.
Options are also available for those who are affected by the alcoholism of others. For those who have alcoholic parents Adult Children of Alcoholics, National Association For Children of Alcoholics, and Children of Alcoholics Foundation, Inc are available. For those who know an alcoholic or have lost a friend or relative to alcoholism Ala-non/Alateen, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), and Women For Sobriety are available to help sort through feelings and prevent the situation from reoccurring among others (http://www. alth. org/govpubs/rpo884/).
Though alcoholism is a definite threat to our society, it is not something that is impossible to tackle. Through the help of counselors, group therapy, and even drug therapy, treatment is available. The number of deaths relating to alcohol has started to go down, and with the attention and awareness of the public it may continue to do so. Should the public decide to use the resources available, alcoholism should no longer be a prevalent problem in our society.