Alcoholism is a disease that is a major concern in the United States because alcoholics endanger themselves and society. Alcoholism follows a certain course with known physical, psychological and social symptoms. Once addicted, the alcoholic continues to consume alcohol despite the destructive cost.
The definitions of an alcoholic, alcoholism, and alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are constantly being refined and changing according to the purpose of the definition. An alcoholic can be typed by more than one set of criteria: genetic, habitual, and behavioral. All definitions of alcohol include the knowledge that the individual must have a preoccupation with the substance and use of the drug alcohol. In all cases, alcoholics must continue to use the substance even though they are aware that continued use of alcohol is harming them. The abuse of alcohol causes problems for all members of the family, and can be viewed as a public health problem as well. When the genetic component is present, the alcoholic individual exhibits other abnormal behavior and mental traits. These individuals find it difficult to abstain from the use of alcohol and even when sober exhibit difficulty with some mental tasks. On the other hand, alcoholics who have developed a dependence on alcohol through habitual usage, have less trouble becoming and remaining sober. Alcoholism
Alcoholism has been classified as a disease by the Joint Committee. Historically, the term alcoholism has been used for a multitude of symptoms and behaviors in an imprecise manner. It has been a term which is poorly understood, and often used with moral overtones (Morse & Flavin, 1994). However, although alcoholism is a disease, it does not follow that the alcoholic, having a disease, should be excused from his or her behavior, including the consequences of reckless actions. For the alcoholic, drinking alcoholic beverages is still a decision he or she may be able to control with professional help.
Early identification of alcohol-related problems is essential because these problems are prevalent and pose serious health risks to alcoholics and their families, and are open to intervention. Intervention is important to society as well because alcohol abuse contributes too many serious health and social problems, and as such is a public health issue as well as a private concern.
In the United States alone there are an estimated ten million active alcoholics (Dulfano, 1992). It is extremely difficult to estimate the number of non-alcoholics affected by the disease. This number includes the abused spouses and children of alcoholics, the victims of drunk driving, and the employers whose alcoholic employees perform their work tasks with diminished capability.
For most individuals, the regular consumption of large amounts of alcohol is undesirable from the standpoint of a healthy living style. Heavy and chronic drinking is associated with numerous diseases including liver disease, pancreatitis, cardiovascular diseases, a predisposition to infectious diseases, and alcohol-related birth defects. Alcohol-related deaths are another health gauge used by public health officials. Nationally, alcohol contributed to 100,000 deaths in 1992 (McGinnis & Foege, 1993).
A combination of biological, psychological and cultural factors contribute to the development of alcoholism in any individual. Although there is no conclusive indication of how the alcoholism of family members is associated, the majority of alcoholics have had a close relative who is an alcoholic. Some researchers suggest, therefore, that certain alcoholics have an inherited physical predisposition to alcohol addiction (Fitzgerald, 1991).
Research has demonstrated that alcoholism is a disease in and of itself. The addiction is not caused by any other hidden disease. As a disease, alcoholism is involuntary; although a person’s behavior may contribute to the disease, the person does not try to become an alcoholic. Alcoholism, if undetected and uncontrolled, is progressive and can be fatal. The disease, over time, causes physical, emotional and social changes in a person which compound each other and are cumulative. If the disease is not stopped, the organs of the body can become impaired and damaged to the point where the alcoholic dies (Morse & Flavin, 1994). The depression and sadness that can accompany an alcoholic’s drinking can lead many alcoholics to attempt suicide. A larger number of alcoholics attempt suicide than in the normal population (Blum & Payne, 1994).
Along with the physiological effects to the body of the alcoholic, there are psychological problems, such as the depression cited above. The definition of alcoholism states that the alcoholic has impaired control over alcohol. Alcoholics are unable to regulate when and where they drink, the length of time spent drinking, the amount of alcohol consumed in a drinking episode, and the behaviors accompanying the drinking of alcoholic beverages (Morse & Flavin, 1994).
The definition of alcoholism also states that the alcoholic continues to drink even in the face of unfavorable consequences. These include health problems, psychological consequences, mood swings and changes in cognition and behavior problems in interpersonal functioning, difficulties at school or work, and legal, financial and spiritual problems (Morse & Flavin, 1994). Alcoholics endanger more than themselves. Their families are also harmed psychologically and sometimes physically. More than 50 percent of all cases handled by child welfare departments have a parent with a substance abuse problem (Sheridan, 1995).
Research also indicates that even brief intervention for alcohol problems is more effective than no intervention, and often as effective as more extensive intervention (Alcohol Alert, 1999). Marital violence has been shown to decrease when alcohol treatment is successful (O-Farrell & Murphy, 1995). If the treatment fails, the level of violence with the family usually resumes.
Alcoholism is an addictive disease with no reliable cure but it is a disease that can be controlled. Alcoholics require medical, psychological, social, and spiritual assistance. This includes the support and encouragement of friends, family, colleagues and recovering alcoholics.
Clearly, alcohol abuse has a negative impact on society. It is a significant health problem and has the potential to shatter the lives of individuals who surrender to alcoholism. The difficulties encountered in helping alcoholics are compounded by their reluctance to seek assistance. Other than at times of crisis (withdrawal symptoms, legal problems, accidents, etc.), they rarely seek treatment simply because they have a serious drinking problem. When they do seek help, it is more often than not with reluctance after pressure from a spouse, family member, friend, or coworker. Alcoholism is a disease which can be controlled and should not be used as an excuse for inappropriate behavior.
As a daughter of an alcoholic, I have seen what it has done to my dad, and how it affected our family. Although there isn’t a cure for Alcoholism there are countless resources available. Five years ago my dad joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This wasn’t the first time in his 40 years of alcohol abuse. This time he had a sponsor and worked the 12 step program. He regularly attends meetings and has his own little support network whenever he needs it. I have seen the changes in my dad and believe that change is possible.
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