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Alcoholism is the 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 either substance. It is thought to arise from a combination of a whole 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. Alcohol has direct toxic as well as sedative effects on the body. Some damages, for example, are persistent brain damage, nerve and muscle damage, liver damage, cerebovascular disease, gastrointestinal system damage, nutritional problem, heart and circulatory system damage, respiratory system damage and also reproductive system damage. Therefore, alcoholism can have as adverse effects as any other medical disease as AIDS or cancer. The similarity between all three of them is that, the precautions are given from before, but in case of alcoholism the resulting effects are not publicized as much. That is, awareness programs that are being spread in public these days, regarding cancer and AIDS is properly looked after and it is made sure that all the people understand the effects. But as for alcoholism, the adverse effects is not being spread as much. This is where the whole problem lies. The way alcoholism is effecting peoples’ lives is a major issue, which has to be looked at and considered. Therefore, alcoholism is not only a medical problem, but also a social problem, which can be resolved with the proper public awareness.
Alcohol is estimated to be a contributing factor in 20-30% of all accidents.
In fatal car accidents involving young men between 10pm and 4am, it is a contributory factor in 60% of the cases
Some 30% of pedestrians killed in road accidents are above the legal limit for driving and more have drunk some alcohol up to the limit.
An unknown proportion of accidents to children occurs when adults responsible for their welfare have been drinking. Other kinds of accidents may include home accidents, fires, drownings, industrial accidents and so on. It has been suggested that alcohol may be a contributory factor in one third of all domestic accidents.
In Great Britain, among 165 home accidents, 32% of accidents were alcohol related.
A series of studies of the causes of fire deaths conducted by the Department of Forensic Medicine, Glasgow University, found a raised blood alcohol level of 50% of the cases, and that in a high proportion of these the blood/alcohol level was enough to have impaired the escape ability of the victims.
Around 30% of all drownings are estimated to be alcohol related. This proportion may rise to 50% in the 20-30 age group.
Alcohol may again have a dual effect, increasing the risk of entering water (as a result of impaired co ordination or increased bravado) while simultaneously reducing the victim’s ability to survive. The occurrence of workplace accidents by time of day, have suggested a link between accidents and workers drinking immediately before going on duty or drinking during lunchtime.
High proportions of victims of violent crime are drunk or under the influence of alcohol at the time of their assault. Alcohol is associated with a wide range of criminal offences in addition to offences of drink driving and drunkenness, in which drinking or excessive drinking define the offence. The link with alcohol is particularly strong in relation to violent offences.
Research shows that alcohol is a major factor in 60-70% of homicides, 75% of stabbing, 70% of beatings and 50% of fights and domestic assaults.
It has been proved that, young heavy drinkers are more likely than light drinkers to commit minor violent offences and to be the victim of a crime and also that between 20 – 30% of violent offences and of disorderly behavior, falling short of serious violence, occurs in or near licensed premises.
Almost half the incidents of disorderly behavior dealt with by the police occur shortly after pub closing times and are more likely to occur on Friday or Saturday nights.
Alcohol has contributed to a number of crowd disturbances and other problems at sporting events including football, cricket, rugby and boxing. Because of the links between alcohol and disorder, restrictions can be placed on carrying and consuming alcohol on coaches and trains taking supporters to sporting events and at the events themselves.
In the USA it has been estimated that eliminating the glut of alcohol outlets in inner city areas would cut the homicide rates by 10%, saving 2000 lives a year.
Many adverse effects of alcohol are common to men and women, but, in many cases, women may be at greater risk and there are some problems special to women.
The heaviest drinkers among women appear to be those in the 16-24 and 35-44 age groups.
20 %of women in the 16-24 age group are drinking over 14 units per week compared with 11% in the late 1980s and 19% of women aged 35-44 are drinking over the limits compared to 10% previously.
An American study concluded that heavy drinking women are likely to have an advanced level degree, to have never married, to be separated or divorced, to have no children and to be employed in a male dominated occupation.
Women are more likely than men to drink mainly at home with 52 % of women doing so compared to 35% of men.
Studies have shown that the probability of medical and psychosocial harm rises with the level of drinking. The consequences of drinking may include effect on relationships, family, friendships, health, work and finances. Low to moderate alcohol consumption has an apparent protective effect against coronary heart disease (CHD) in middle aged and elderly women. One of the most important findings was that women drinking more than 3 glasses of wine per day had a three-fold increase in the risk of breast cancer. Women have a proportionally higher ratio of fat to water and therefore less able to dilute alcohol within the body. Because of this, women will have a higher concentration of alcohol in their blood than men after drinking equivalent amounts of alcohol. Women appear to be more prone to liver damage from alcohol as they develop alcohol related liver disease such as cirrhosis and hepatitis after a comparatively shorter period of heavy drinking. Some women find that they are more affected by alcohol while ovulating or when they are premenstrual – this is because it takes alcohol longer to be metabolized and the blood alcohol concentration is therefore higher and more prolonged and a higher BAC will therefore be attained. Heavy drinking is known to be a cause of infertility, but a recent American study found that even moderate drinking might contribute to the risk of specific types of infertility. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can, in some circumstances, result in damage to the unborn child. This can include low attention span, distractibility and slow reaction times. Heavy drinking in women has been linked to the ‘role strain’ hypothesis whereby women who have multiple roles such as being a wife, mother and work outside of the home were thought to be under more pressure and more likely to drink heavily and develop problems.
There is evidence that today’s population of elderly people may be relatively heavier drinkers than previous generations. This could be the result of an effect whereby a generation, which has had its formative years at a time of high social availability and acceptability of alcohol, may be more likely to retain the habit of drinking. Disruption of lifestyle such as retirement and decreased social activity, are thought to be some of the main contributory factors among people who develop a problem with drinking later in life. Isolation and loneliness in old age can lead to increased drinking. Coming to terms with illness and pain which might accompany old age can mean that people use or start to use alcohol as an anaesthetic – this may also be seen as a way of justifying the drinking. People may use alcohol to help them sleep, especially if they are experiencing some sort of physical or emotional distress. However, although alcohol in small quantities may aid sleep, in larger quantities it can itself cause disturbed sleep patterns and wakefulness during the night. Alcohol depresses the brain function to a greater extent in older people, impairing co-ordination and memory, which can lead to falls and general confusion. It can also heighten emotions leading to moodiness, irritability or even violence. Alcohol in excess effects digestion, making it more difficult to absorb vitamins and minerals. Although alcohol is a brain sedative and promotes sleep, it actually reduces the amount of quality rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which we need to be fully rested and increases slow wave sleep. Like other people, the elderly may have recourse to alcohol and prescribed drugs to help them cope with stress, anxiety and depression.
There are still some ways in which some of these problems can be resolved. But, one fact is that reducing alcohol is equal to reducing total consumption of alcohol. however, total consumption is not the only factor to be taken into account: patterns of consumption and social attitudes to drinking an drunkenness are also important. For example, specific measures can be taken to bring about a separation of drinking from driving. The supply or availability of alcohol can be reduced by: Controls of production and trade, controls on distribution and sales (e.g. regulating the number of licensed outlets and their hours of opening; drinking age laws) and by increasing the price of alcoholic drink by taxation. Measures to reducing the demand for alcohol include: health education, promotion of alternatives to alcoholic drinks, provision of alternative meeting places to alcohol outlets, provision of alternatives to drinking as a leisure-time occupation and reducing incentives to drinking by controls on advertising and promotion of alcohol. Individuals who are already experiencing alcohol problems or who are in danger of doing so can of course eliminate the risk by stopping drinking, or reduce it by cutting down. Depending on the severity of the problems, this could involve getting help from a treatment agency or a process of self-help. People who are alcohol dependent are advised to seek specialist help. Either way, the individual will need to make a firm decision to give up or cut down and then look for ways of maintaining his or her resolve over time. This is likely to involve recognizing and understanding the harm that he or she was experiencing as a result of drinking, understanding the functions alcohol was performing in his or her life (psychological, social), so as to be able to find alternatives, and identifying high risk times and situations, so as to be able to learn to cope with them in another way, or to avoid them.
Therefore, it can be seen to what an extent alcohol is already attacking peoples’ lives. People do have some knowledge about the harm that it causes but this knowledge is equivalent to the amount of knowledge people have regarding the consequences of smoking. It is very important at this stage to publicize this matter as much as possible. Alcohol is no longer only a medical problem, but pretty much, a social problem too. Special campaigns should be set out to teach the people about the consequences. Media can also be a very big help. Alcohol may support a person mentally during his hard time but as a matter of fact, it slow poisons the person. Governments should also be very concerned with this issue because alcohol is taking over the younger generation and therefore taking over the future.
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