It is very common for people to feel the negative after-effects of drinking alcohol but is unaware that they have a drinking problem. In time, what starts out as an innocent social activity becomes a habit and then gradually crosses over into a physiological and psychological addiction causing havoc in their life. Many signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse are easy to see, but others are more difficult to recognize. Over time, heavy consumption of alcohol does extensive damage to almost every system in the human body. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism has a major impact on society causing thousands of innocent deaths each year and exacerbating situations involving violent crimes and domestic violence.
Alcohol is a drug, the most commonly used and widely abused psychoactive drug in the world. One idea that many people find hard to accept is that alcoholism is a disease. Research has shown that alcohol interacts with the body’s systems in predictable ways to lead to physiological addiction. Alcoholism is a disease, a chronic, progressive, fatal disease if not treated. Even at low doses, alcohol significantly impairs the judgment and coordination required to drive a car or operate machinery safely. Low to moderate doses of alcohol can also increase the incidence of a variety of aggressive acts, including domestic violence and child abuse.
The effects of alcohol on an alcoholic include and can lead to permanent damage to vital organs, several different types of cancer, gastrointestinal irritations, such as nausea, diarrhea, and ulcers, malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies, sexual dysfunctions, high blood pressure, and lowered resistance to disease. Prolonged use of alcohol will lead to alcoholism and suddenly stopping alcohol intake is likely to produce withdrawal symptoms, including severe anxiety, tremors, hallucinations, and convulsions.
Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol syndrome. These infants may suffer from mental retardation and other irreversible physical abnormalities. In addition, children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk than other children of becoming alcoholics. Despite the tireless efforts of thousands of advocates, impaired drivers continue to kill someone every 30 minutes, nearly 50 people a day, and almost 18,000 citizens a year (Alcohol Health & Research World, 2006).
Alcohol affects individuals differently. Your blood alcohol level is affected by your age, weight, gender, time of day, physical condition, prior amount of food consumed, other drugs or medication taken, and a multitude of other factors. In addition, different drinks may contain different amounts of alcohol. The body metabolizes alcohol at the rate of about one drink per hour. Some interesting statistics on alcohol indicate that more than 100,000 U.S. deaths are caused by excessive alcohol consumption each year. Direct and indirect causes of death include drunken driving, cirrhosis of the liver, falls, cancer, and stroke (Substance Abuse: The Nation’s Number One Health Problem, Feb. 2001). Traffic crashes are the greatest single cause of death for persons aged 6–33. About 45% of these fatalities are in alcohol-related crashes (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).