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Alcoholism Essay Research Paper AlcoholismAlcoholism chronic and

Alcoholism Essay, Research Paper


Alcoholism, chronic and usually progressive illness involving the excessive

inappropriate ingestion of ethyl alcohol, whether in the form of familiar

alcoholic beverages or as a constituent of other substances. Alcoholism is

thought to arise from a combination of a wide range of physiological,

psychological, social, and genetic factors. It is characterized by an emotional

and often physical dependence on alcohol, and it frequently leads to brain

damage or early death. Some 10 percent of the adult drinkers in the United

States are considered alcoholics or at least they experience drinking problems

to some degree. More males than females are affected, but drinking among the

young and among women is increasing. Consumption of alcohol is apparently on the

rise in the United States, countries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist

Republics, and many European nations. This is paralleled by growing evidence of

increasing numbers of alcohol-related problems in other nations, including the

Third World.


Alcoholism, as opposed to merely excessive or irresponsible drinking, has been

variously thought of as a symptom of psychological or social stress or as a

learned, maladaptive coping behavior. More recently, and probably more

accurately, it has come to be viewed as a complex disease entity in its own

right. Alcoholism usually develops over a period of years. Early and subtle

symptoms include placing excessive importance on the availability of alcohol.

Ensuring this availability strongly influences the person’s choice of associates

or activities. Alcohol comes to be used more as a mood-changing drug than as a

foodstuff or beverage served as a part of social custom or religious ritual.

Initially, the alcoholic may demonstrate a high tolerance to alcohol, consuming

more and showing less adverse effects than others. Subsequently, however, the

person begins to drink against his or her own best interests, as alcohol comes

to assume more importance than personal relationships, work, reputation, or even

physical health. The person commonly loses control over drinking and is

increasingly unable to predict how much alcohol will be consumed on a given

occasion or, if the person is currently abstaining, when the drinking will

resume again. Physical addiction to the drug may occur, sometimes eventually

leading to drinking around the clock to avoid withdrawal symptoms.


Alcohol has direct toxic as well as sedative effects on the body, and failure to

take care of nutritional and other physical needs during prolonged periods of

excessive drinking may further complicate matters. Advanced cases often require

hospitalization. The effects on major organ systems are cumulative and include a

wide range of digestive-system disorders such as ulcers, inflammation of the

pancreas, and cirrhosis of the liver. The central and peripheral nervous systems

can be permanently damaged. Blackouts, hallucinations, and extreme tremors may

occur. The latter symptoms are involved in the most serious alcohol withdrawal

syndrome, delirium tremens, which can prove fatal despite prompt treatment. This

is in contrast to withdrawal from narcotic drugs such as heroin, which, although

distressful, rarely results in death. Recent evidence has shown that heavy?and

even moderate?drinking during pregnancy can cause serious damage to the unborn

child: physical or mental retardation or both; a rare but severeexpression of

this damage is known as fetal alcohol syndrome.


Treatment of the illness increasingly recognizes alcoholism itself as the

primary problem needing attention, rather than regarding it as always secondary

to another, underlying problem. Specialized residential treatment facilities and

separate units within general or psychiatric hospitals are rapidly increasing in

number. As the public becomes more aware of the nature of alcoholism, the social

stigma attached to it decreases, alcoholics and their families tend to conceal

it less, and diagnosis is not delayed as long. Earlier and better treatment has

led to encouragingly high recovery rates. In addition to managing physical

complications and withdrawal states, treatment involves individual counseling

and group therapy techniques aimed at complete and comfortable abstinence from

alcohol and other mood-changing drugs of addiction. Such abstinence, according

to the best current evidence, is the desired goal, despite some highly

controversial suggestions that a safe return to social drinking is possible.

Addiction to other drugs, particularly to other tranquilizers and sedatives,

poses a major hazard to alcoholics. Antabuse, a drug that produces a violent

intolerance for alcohol as long as the substance remains in the body, is

sometimes used after withdrawal. Alcoholics Anonymous, a support group commonly

used for those undergoing other treatment, in many cases helps alcoholics to

recover without recourse to formal treatment. Despite these encouraging signs,

estimates of the annual number of deaths related to excessive drinking exceed

97,000 in the United States alone. Economic costs related to alcoholism are at

least $100 billion a year. Additional data are needed on various societal costs

of alcoholism as well as on the costs of various modes of treatment compared

with their actual results.