Running Head: ALCOHOLISM

Alcoholism: Causes, Effects, and Treatment Possibilities

Alcoholism is a wide-ranging and complex disease that heavily plagues society, especially in the United States, today. The symptoms are many, as are the causes and the effects. Alcoholism may be defined as a pattern of drinking in which harmful consequences result for the drinker, though observers have not agreed upon one specific definition of the term. There are two types of drinkers. The first type, the casual or social drinker, drinks because they want to. They drink with a friend or with a group for pleasure and only on occasion. The other type, the compulsive or problem drinker, drinks because they have to, despite the adverse effects that drinking has on their lives. The symptoms of alcoholism vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms seen are changes in emotional state or stability, behavior, and personality. Alcohol is by far the most popular mood-altering drug consumed in the United States today, even more so than all tobacco products combined (Clinard 2001). Alcoholism not only affects the alcoholic, but also their family, friends, co-workers, and eventually total strangers. From the early days when alcoholism was discovered to be a problem there has been a long-standing debate as to how one becomes an alcoholic. There are two sides of the story…that being that people inherit the trait and the other that it is learned. I will discuss the social aspect of the disease and then move to the genetic factors that may attribute to the problem.

Alcohol is considered to be one of the most widely used drugs as it attacks the central nervous system. Two-thirds of all adults drink alcohol; one-third of those are under the age of eighteen. 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 (LeClair 2). Every year alcohol is responsible for 1/2 of all murders, accidental deaths, and suicides; 1/3 of all drowning, boating, and aviation deaths; 1/2 of all crimes; and almost 1/2 of all fatal automobile accidents (Overview 1998). Every man, woman and child in America pays nearly $1,000 a year to cover the costs of unnecessary health care, auto accidents, crime and lost of productivity resulting from alcohol abuse. Not everyone who has a problem with alcohol is an alcoholic. If this is true then what differentiates the social drinker from the alcoholic? A novice explanation would be that social drinkers do not experience problems when they drink, however alcoholics develop a physical dependence on alcohol and lack control over how much they drink and what happens when they drink, resulting in social problems. Can it be this simple? Why does a person not just stop drinking when they notice that their lives are in a downward spiral? It has taken society and the medical community a long time to consider alcoholism as a disease. This may be in part because alcohol is used primarily for recreational or social purposes and is not viewed as something that cannot be controlled.

Styles of drinking and attitudes toward alcohol vary across cultures. In many European countries, children are introduced to alcohol at an early age, but alcohol is not associated with masculinity or social power. The abuse of alcohol is looked upon with strong disapproval. It seems that the American experience is just the opposite. During the early 1800s drinking moved into the male dominated saloons and alcohol became a symbol of masculine independence and violence. At this point, the rates of alcoholism began to increase dramatically. This was the first sign of what was to become 19th century America's view that habitual drinkers were unable to control their drinking. These early warnings would eventually lead to alcoholism being recognized as a disease.

Where do we draw the line between abuse and addiction? Several studies today have confirmed that some chronic drinkers can still maintain control even while intoxicated, but they soon lose the ability to distinguish social drinking from drinking as a social crutch. As a result these chronic drinkers eventually break promises and commitments to their families and employers. "Because time and amount of drinking are uncontrollable, the alcoholic is likely to engage in such behaviors as