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Alcohol is a psychoactive substance contained in intoxicating beverages such as beers, spirits and wine. Chronic use of alcohol leads to alcohol dependency or alcoholism, a condition characterized by continued use of alcohol despite evident adverse psychological and physical effects to the user.
The alcoholic individual exhibits compulsive behavior patterns and sometimes tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, which are indications of a psychological dependence on alcohol. Numerous factors contribute to the development of alcoholism, including hereditary and environmental factors.
The connection between alcohol dependency and genetics is significant; however, the heredity and environmental factors work hand in hand to influence an individual’s vulnerability to alcoholism. Alcohol abuse especially in young people is strongly influenced by environmental factors. Many complications arise from alcohol dependency, including mental impairment, psychological effects such as withdrawal symptoms and severe health complications like liver cirrhosis.
Environmental and Genetic Influences to Alcoholism
Alcohol products readily available in local establishments like schools and homes greatly influence adolescent alcohol abuse. Gruenewald, Remer, and Lipton observe that alcohol is readily available at low prices in community stores and retail shops near (2007). This influences the purchase and consumption of alcohol by adolescents. In addition, alcohol is readily available in local establishments at low prices, which encourages irresponsible drinking and intoxication.
Adolescent alcohol abuse is also influenced by parental behaviors and the extended family’s attitude toward alcohol use. Parental and the immediate family members’ behaviors and attitudes influence early child learning and development; therefore, exposing children to alcohol early in life increases their likelihood of abusing alcohol later in life. Furthermore, alcohol abuse by parents stresses the children and leads to poor parent-child relationships, which in turn increase the likelihood of the children engaging in alcohol abuse.
The media and societal perceptions strongly influence alcohol abuse. In most cases, alcohol consumption is portrayed as fashionable and morally acceptable by the mass media through television shows and videos. This influences problematic alcohol use particularly amongst the youth who are ready to experiment with everything that comes their way.
Alcohol abuse among music artistes and film stars further influences alcoholism amongst the youth; they associate alcoholism and substance abuse with celebrity status, oblivious of the adverse effects of alcoholism. Additionally, peer attitudes and society acceptance of alcohol use also influence alcohol abuse amongst the youth. This phenomenon is aggravated by lack of implementation of alcohol policies to punish drunken behaviors like drunk driving.
On the other hand, studies show that, alcohol-related disorders such as alcohol dependency are genetic, controlled by multiple genes. Hereditary factors strongly influence alcohol abuse, as observed in children of parents with problematic drinking.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2011) assures that there is a strong correlation between alcoholic parents and the likelihood of their children engaging in substance abuse later in life. In addition, children of alcoholic parents develop risk-taking personality that involves alcohol abuse. It is believed that the heredity factor of alcoholism is linked with personality traits such as antisocial behaviors.
Alcohol Dependency Complications
Individuals who suffer from Alcohol dependency disorder show various symptoms caused by harmful effects of continued alcohol abuse. According to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (2006), alcoholic individuals exhibit “compulsive alcohol use, a disorder whereby individuals have a strong craving for alcoholic beverages.”
People with this disorder continue to abuse alcohol despite experiencing physical and mental effects of chronic alcohol use. Complications such as depression, cardiovascular disorders and liver cirrhosis affect these individuals. In addition, individuals with compulsive behaviors engage in high-risk behaviors such as drunken driving, suicide attempts and murder, among other ‘unreasoned’ behaviors.
Compulsive behaviors are also associated with anger outbursts and feelings of sadness that contribute to suicidal thoughts. Individuals with Alcohol dependence disorder experience severe withdrawal and psychological symptoms on sudden termination of alcohol use. Individuals with alcohol dependency disorder experience nervousness or mild tremors, anxiety, depression and fatigue when they suddenly stop drinking. They also experience emotional instability and become easily irritated or excited.
Other individuals experience nightmares, insomnia, chronic migraines and vomiting. Physical withdrawal symptoms such as paleness of the skin, increased heartbeat and dilated eye pupils also occur. Severe withdrawal symptoms include a condition called delirium tremens, whereby an individual experiences frequent hallucinations, convulsions and fever.
Some individuals experience tolerance to the effects of alcohol after chronic alcohol consumption. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol tolerance develops when only increased consumption of alcohol brings about intoxication. Alcohol tolerance, therefore, increases alcohol consumption resulting to alcoholism that has severe health complications. Alcohol tolerance also affects the efficacy of medicines in the body increasing vulnerability to infections.
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Individuals experience alcohol tolerance in different ways. Acute tolerance develops to a feeling of intoxication during a drinking session encouraging more alcohol consumption, which causes harmful health effects. Some individuals develop environment-dependent tolerance whereby, the alcohol-induced effects decrease in response to alcohol-associated environment.
Functional tolerance develops heavy drinkers who do not show significant effects of intoxication even after increased consumption. This encourages more alcohol consumption leading to alcohol dependency and adverse health effects. Moreover, chronic abuse of alcohol causes severe health effects, including effects to the organ systems of the body (Inaba, & Cohen, 2007, p.146).
The effects to the gastrointestinal system result to conditions such as gastritis; that is, the effect to stomach glands and ulceration of the stomach wall. Heavy use of alcohol leads to pancreatitis and liver cirrhosis whereby the functioning of the pancreas and liver are impaired by toxins contained in the alcohol. Chronic alcohol use also leads to development of many types of cancers, including cancer of the food pipe and stomach.
Alcohol dependency leads to development of medical conditions such as hypertension and cardiovascular disorders that increase the likelihood of heart attacks. The effects of alcohol to the central nervous system include severe brain impairment leading to memory loss. Inaba and Cohen warn that “continued alcohol use affects the central nervous system leading to a condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a condition characterized by affected short-term memory” (2007, p.146).
Chronic alcohol use also affects the cognitive ability of the brain resulting to poor functioning of the sensory organs. Effects of alcohol to the cerebellum part of the brain leads to poor coordination and loss of body balance. However, despite these health effects, individuals suffering from alcohol dependency continue with alcohol use.
Environmental factors significantly influence the tendency of individuals to abuse alcohol, especially young people who tend to learn from peers and parents. Genetic predisposition to alcoholism is influenced by environmental factors, including exposure to alcohol.
Chronic consumption of alcohol leads to alcohol dependency that has profound psychological and health effects to an individual. Alcoholic individual displays compulsive alcohol behaviors and later on withdrawal symptoms upon discontinued alcohol use. However, other individuals show tolerance behaviors, which encourage more consumption of alcohol that causes adverse health effects.
Gruenewald, P., Remer, L., & Lipton, R. (2007). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Evaluating the Alcohol Environment: Community Geography and Alcohol Problems. Web.
Inaba, D., & Cohen, W. (2007). Uppers, Downers, All Arounders: Physical and Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. Oregon: CNS Publishers Inc.
NIDA. (2006). The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction to Alcohol. Web.
SAMHSA. National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI): Environmental Management. Web.