Alcohol generally refers to ethyl alcohol or ethanol. It is produced by the fermentation of carbohydrates found in foods like grains, fruits, potatoes, molasses, etc. The products of fermentation are further distilled to produce pure alcohol. Alcohol consumption is very common throughout the world and it is the number one substance of abuse.
Alcoholism is the consumption of alcoholic beverages to a point at which it interferes with physical health, mental health, and social, family, or occupational responsibilities of an individual.
It is a chronic, often progressive disease which may be fatal if left untreated.
Alcoholism includes alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.
Alcoholism is a major social, economic, and public health problem. Alcohol is involved in more than 50% of all accidental deaths, 67% of murders, 70- 80% of fire related deaths and almost 50% of all traffic deaths.
Alcoholism effects are as follows.
A. Effects on an individual
a) Effects on nervous system
• Decrease in the ability to think clearly. Concentration and judgement become impaired. Emotional control is lost.
• Speech is slurred. Movements are slowed and muscle coordination is lost.
• There is blurring of vision, double vision and impaired judgment of distance resulting in accident.
• In excessive amounts, intoxication may result. This leads to depression of the vital centers of the brain, sedation, coma and even death. Alcohol also shows some anesthetic effects.
• Long term use of alcohol cause neuritis (inflammation of nerve fibres) leading to numbness of hands and feet; memory loss; depression, insomnia, suicide, Wernicke- Korsakoff syndrome etc.
b) Effects on digestive system
• Alcohol can cause irritation of the gastrointestinal tract with erosion of the lining of the oesophagus and stomach (gastritis) leading to nausea, vomiting, and possibly bleeding.
• There may be inflammation of pancreas (pancreatitis).
• Excessive intake of alcohol may cause liver cirrhosis.
c) Effects on nutrition
• Alcohol provides 7 Kcal/g of energy. It does not provide any other useful nutrients.
• With long term use of alcohol, vitamins (especially thiamine and folic acid) are not absorbed properly, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies, anaemia, and weight loss.
• There may be deficiency of potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
d) Effects on heart and blood vessels
• Alcohol dilates capillary blood vessels and cause feeling of warmth. But ultimately people lose heat and may go to hypothermia.
• Long term use of excessive alcohol can lead to high blood pressure and cardiomyopathy (damage to heart muscle). These conditions increase the risk of heart failure.
e) Effects on reproductive system
• Sexual dysfunction may occur, causing problems with erections (erectile dysfunction) in men and cessation of menstruation in women.
• Alcohol use during pregnancy may cause severe birth defects. The most serious is fetal alcohol syndrome. The condition results in mental retardation, behavioral problems and birth defects including a small head, heart defects, etc.
f) Effects on kidney
• Increased amount and frequency of urination is noticed after drinking. This is due to water ingested during drinking and alcohol induced. Alcohol does not impair renal function.
g) Other factors
• Diabetes complications: Alcohol prevents release of glucose from the liver and increases the risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This is especially dangerous in diabetic patients taking insulin.
• Bone loss: Alcohol may interfere with the production of new bone. This can lead to thinning of bones and can increase the risk of fractures.
• Increase risk of cancer: Chronic alcohol intake increases the risk of cancer of the oesophagus, larynx, liver, and colon.
• Fatigue and weakness of eye muscles.
• Withdrawal symptoms include elevated temperature, increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, nausea, sweating, restlessness, anxiety, psychosis, tremors, seizures, and rarely even death.
B. Effects on the family
• The behaviour of an alcoholic can profoundly impact family members, possibly leading to marital conflict, divorce, domestic violence (spouse and child abuse) and child neglect.
• This can contribute to emotional problems, frustration, and feeling of insecurity to the alcoholic’s children.
• Children are at high risk for alcohol abuse, drug abuse, conduct problems, mood disorders and anxiety disorders.
• Alcoholism can lead to financial crisis to the family due to loss of employment, money spend on alcohol and medical cost.
C. Effects on the society
• The alcoholics could suffer from loss of respect from others. Their relations with others may not be good.
• They may have poor performance at work or school.
• Increase in the chance of accident because of drunken driving. About 50% of all traffic deaths cause due to alcohol use.
• There is higher incidence of suicide, murder, and rape.
Effects of drunk driving
Drunk driving is a common problem everywhere. There are many motor vehicle accidents and legal problems due to drunk driving. The increased risk of accidents is due to the effects of alcohol on:
• Judgment: there is impaired judgment of distance.
• Vision: vision may be blurred and there may be double vision (driver may see two roads).
• Coordination: coordination and movements of limbs is impaired.
• Alertness: alertness is impaired and driver becomes less responsive.
• Reaction time: reaction time is increased i.e. driver takes more time to apply brake after he thinks to do so.
There are certain behaviours and symptoms that indicate someone may have a problem with alcohol. Some of the sign of alcoholism are as follows:
• Drinking alone or in secret and making excuses to drink.
• Need or compulsion for daily or frequent drinking.
• Lack of control over drinking (inability to discontinue or reduce alcohol intake).
• Episodes of violence and having legal problems or problems with relationships, employment, and finances.
• Hostility when confronted about drinking.
• Neglect of food intake, self care, and past hobbies.
• Nausea and vomiting; abdominal pain; numbness and tingling; confusion.
• Shaking in the morning.
• “Black out” (not remembering conversations or commitments).
• “Alcoholic rituals” (making a ritual of having drinks before, with or after dinner).
• Building a tolerance to alcohol and experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Cause of alcoholism
• To obtain pleasure, fun, and excitement.
• To satisfy one’s curiosity and to get firsthand experience.
• Genetic: Genetic factors may increase a person’s risk of taking alcohol. Children of alcoholic parents have high risk of becoming alcoholics.
• Emotional state: Excess level of stress, anxiety or emotional pain and frustrations can lead some people to drink alcohol to get relief from the situation.
• Psychological factors: Having low-salt esteem, conflict within relationships, or depression may make you more likely to abuse alcohol.
• Social and cultural factors: The glamorous way of advertising alcoholic drinks attracts the teenagers to drink. Social factors include availability and social acceptance of the use of alcohol, peer pressure, and social and religious traditions of alcohol use.
Control of alcoholism
Control of Aacoholism is very important. There are various methods to control alcoholism. They are:
• Medical treatment: Early detection and medical treatment of alcoholism are important. The medical treatment involves detoxification and long term rehabilitation.
• Rehabilitation: Long term rehabilitation programs should be instituted that support the affected person after detoxification to maintain abstinence from alcohol.
• Family intervention: Counselling of family members is often required.
• Prevention: The government should conduct various programs about alcoholism and its adverse effects. You must encourage people to make alcohol free environment. You must discourage drinking in public places, parties and family celebrations.
• Enforcement of laws: Government should enforce effective laws, rules and regulations to control production of alcohol.
• Safe limit of alcohol: People who cannot stop drinking should stick to the recommended safe limit of alcohol. Safe limit is defined as, “no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drink per day for men”. One drink defined as a 12 -ounce bottle of beer, a 5 -ounce glass of wine, or 1.1/2 -ounce shot of liquor.
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