People and Alcohol

Guest writer, Allison Gamble, wrote and interesting article for me to post regarding the who, what, when, where, why, and how of alcohol.  Thanks Allison.

People and Alcohol

Humans’ love of alcohol is millennia old despite the obvious downsides of alcohol abuse. Even with the traffic fatalities, health problems, and ruined relationships attributable to alcohol consumption, the industry still prospers. Alcohol sales increased by 10 percent from May 2010 through May 2011 during a period of 9.3 percent unemployment. It appears that people always find the money for a drink, even in hard times. Even the high cost of alcohol rehabs has not deterred people from drinking. Given the many negative repercussions of drinking, the question on many people’s lips is why drink?

Why People Drink

In a world where special occasions are celebrated with a toast of champagne and glamorous TV sophisticates sip martinis out of first-rate crystal, it’s doesn’t take a mastery of forensic psychology to recognize the images glorifying alcohol. Social pressure, escapism, and stress offer understandable excuses for a drink. The allure of alcohol is often tied into smoothing social interaction and relaxing to have a good time. As a social lubricant, alcohol is hard to resist.

Drinking games and alcohol abuse are a right of passage for many. Teenagers and college kids have a hard time saying ‘no’ to alcohol for fear of being regarded as uptight or too serious. Peer pressure is a real problem for many young people: whether at the fraternity house keg party or an invitation for a drink after work, ordering a soda instead of something hard can make a person feel like an outsider or party-pooper.

Drunk Driving

Once that third or fourth drink is polished off and a drinker isn’t thinking clearly, it’s way too easy to forgo common sense and get behind the wheel of a car. About 30 people die daily at the hands of alcohol-impaired drivers. Estimated annual damages for drunk driving crashes total in the tens of billions of dollars. Given all the measures to deter drunk drivers, the problem remains a significant one.

Addicted to the Feel-Good Feeling of Alcohol

To fully understand the allure of alcohol it’s helpful to recognize the reason a drink is so irresistible. A sip of alcohol is almost immediately absorbed by the small intestine directly into the bloodstream. When people jokingly say alcohol goes straight to their heads, they aren’t joking. Traveling through the bloodstream, alcohol effectively expands blood vessels, causing the flushed, warm feeling associated with alcohol intoxication.

Once inside the brain, alcohol stimulates the nucleus accumbens, which is otherwise known as the ‘pleasure center’ of the brain. Dopamine is secreted from this pleasure center and rewards a drinker with the light-headed and euphoric feeling a person enjoys when slightly inebriated. This same chemical causes people to feel good after eating or having sex. Beyond small amounts, alcohol distorts vision, upsets equilibrium, and impairs thinking. When a drinker feels tipsy or drunk, it’s because brain function really has been compromised.

Public Health

Several public health issues arise from alcohol consumption. Along with the substantial drunk driving menace, alcohol poisoning is a threat to binge drinkers. Symptoms of possible alcohol poisoning include confusion, slow or irregular breathing, blue skin, and loss of consciouness. An intoxicated person doesn’t have to exhibit all of these symptoms to be suffering from alcohol poisoning.

Excessive drinking over time increases the probability of associated health problems. An estimated 79,000 US deaths annually are blamed on alcohol. This figure makes alcohol the third largest cause of death in the US due to lifestyle choices. Cardiovascular conditions such as myocardial infarction, hypertension, and atrial fibrillation can be aggravated by alcohol abuse. Other alcohol-related health complications are dementia, neuropathy, stroke, depression, anxiety, cancer, and liver diseases.

Prohibition

With so many problems associated with alcohol, it’s no surprise that a movement fueled by a religious revival in the US aimed to ban the sale of alcohol in the early 1900s. After the broad circulation of anti-drinking propaganda in the form of scientific and religious pamphlets, posters, children’s pamphlets, and songs, Prohibition officially began on January 16, 1920. A new constitutional amendment made it illegal to manufacture, transport, or sell alcohol, but wasn’t taken seriously by many prominent citizens.

Nevertheless, it remained fairly easy to get an illegal drink. Many people kept private stashes of alcohol and were happy to share with friends and guests. Speakeasies and other establishments freely served booze, undermining the law and flouting the Prohibition movement. By 1933, it was apparent Prohibition was doing little to solve the social problems it was meant to address (in fact, it led to increased crime, and the illegal sale of alcohol fueled gang activity), and Prohibition was finally repealed.

Societal threats are typically met with a public outcry for elimination of the offending element or a cooperative effort to manage possible negative consequences. If Prohibition taught Americans anything, it was that simply forbidding substance abuse doesn’t put a stop to it or solve associated problems. Managing the risks associated with alcohol by educating people about the health dangers of abuse and drunk driving and encouraging greater personal responsibility is the proper path to address the problem.

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