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Alcoholism is a disease of epidemic proportions, affecting 9.3 to 10 million

Americans and many professionals believe the figures are closer to 20 million (Weddle

and Wishon). Alcoholism is a “physiological or physiological dependence on alcohol

characterized by the alcoholic s inability to control the start or termination of his

drinking”(Encyclopedia Britannica 210). It consists of frequent and recurring

consumption of alcohol to an extent that causes continued harm to the drinker and leads

to medical and social problems. Alcoholism, however, does not merely cause harm to the

alcoholic, but to the entire family as well, affecting an estimated 28 million children in

this country (Weddle and Wishon). These children grow up in the unhealthy and

abnormal family systems harmed by alcoholism, carrying the negative effects of this

environment with them into adulthood. Consequently, adult children of alcoholics are the

innocent victims of a disease which has shaped their personalities and behavior as

children and will, if not treated, promote their personal disintegration as adults. Most

alcoholics don t fit the stereotype of the lying in the gutter drunk. Alcoholics are likely to

be persons of intense, if sometimes brief, enthusiasms. They often try to do too much too

fast. They tend to demand perfection in themselves and in others. Frustrated, they may

become painfully depressed or overly aggressive. There is a lack of inner stability with

which to face life s problems in a realistic manner (AL-Anon). As the disease of

alcoholism sets in, the family is forced to make an unspoken decision-to leave the

alcoholic or to stay and adapt to his illness. Because they do not want to disrupt there own

lives or leave a love one, they deny the problem and try to adapt to the pressures and

problems that alcoholism brings. Typically, as alcoholism takes over, the alcoholic

becomes increasingly preoccupied with drinking. This can lead to spending less time at

home, and neglecting their responsibility to the family. The following are symptoms of

alcoholism (Alateen 5): Loss of control. The loss of control is usually progressive. At first

the alcoholic can control his drinking most of the time. But he sometimes gets drunk

when he doesn t wants to. Eventually, he loses control more and more. Progression. The

alcoholic may not drink more, but he gets drunk more often. He becomes less dependable.

He becomes more and more obsessed with drinking and less and less concerned about his

responsibilities. Withdrawal symptoms. When the alcoholic stops drinking he may suffer

nausea and vomiting, headaches and the “shakes.” He is usually is very irritable. He may

even hallucinate. This is known as the DT s (delirium tremens). Personality change. The

alcoholic seems to have a Jekyll and Hyde personality. When he drinks, he is very

different from the way he is when he is not drinking. Blackouts are a form of

amnesia. The alcoholic really does not remember what has happened. Blackouts can even

occur when the alcoholic isn t drunk, lasting a few minutes or entire days. At first, we

may think alcoholism is called a family disease because it seems to run in families. Most

Al-Anon members are spouses of alcoholics. But they are often the children of alcoholics

as well. They may have brothers or sisters who have the disease or are married to

alcoholics. Doctors have observed that there are often more than one alcoholic in a

family; for this reason they have said that there is a family tendency to develop

alcoholism, just as there is a family tendency to develop diabetes ( Alateen 6). According

to a recent study, if you are raised in an alcoholic home you have one chance in four of

growing up to marry an alcoholic (Porterfield 120). The reasons are simple. Children of

alcoholics learned to tolerate behavior that other people consider abnormal or bizarre;

they have memorized how to live with an alcoholic. Most kids of alcoholic parents do

drink, even if just socially. According to Coping with an Alcoholic Parent: Ninety-three

percent of high school seniors have tried alcohol. Seventy percent use it once a month.

One out every five high school seniors drinks daily. Some researchers think that as many

as one third of the teenagers can be classified as problem drinkers. Studies indicate that

teenagers are doing more binge drinking (getting drunk) than before. Kids in their teens

often take drugs and alcohol in combination. Sometimes those drug/alcohol mixtures can

be killers (Porterfield 121) Not only is alcohol disrupting your entire family it presents a

severe health risk as well. The most common disorder associated with alcoholism is

cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the most severe form of liver disease and although it can develop in

nonalcoholic individuals, it is highly correlated with alcohol abuse. Cirrhosis of the liver

together with its complications, is one of the leading causes of death among adult males

in the United States. The liver is especially vulnerable to toxic effects of alcohol because

it is the primary site for the breakdown of alcohol in the body. The most common alcohol

related causes of death outside of cirrhosis are alcohol poisoning, motor vehicle crashes,

suicides, and homicides (NCADD). There are many treatment programs for the alcoholic

and support groups for the family and friends of the alcoholic. The most well known

treatment program is Alcoholics Anonymous. The only requirement for this 12-step

program is a desire to stop drinking. The purpose of AA is to stay sober and help other

alcoholics achieve sobriety. This program has helped many alcoholics stop drinking and

start living a healthier and more productive life (U.S. Healthcare 4).


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