For generations, alcohol has held an important place in the spiritual, emotional and social experience of people. For this reason, people drink as a form of relaxation, to mark important cultural events, and as a way of celebrating with friends (Heron 7). Taken in moderation, alcohol does not have any drastic effects on the drinker.
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Problems only arise when alcohol is consumed in excess. Each year, nearly 80,000 lives are lost in the United States due to excessive use of alcohol (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention n.p.). It is estimated that in 2006, some $ 223.5 billion was lost due to excessive consumption of alcohol.
Causes of alcohol consumption
There are a number of reasons why people consume alcohol. People drink alcohol as a way of reducing associations in their minds. Alcohol weakens molecules separating neurons in the brains, thereby impairing communication. Consequently, an individual finds it hard to associate ideas. Psychologists also say that we drink as a way of escaping the self. Most people say that they drink alcohol in order to drown their sorrows. Since alcohol impairs communication, people momentarily forget their troubles.
Like other things in life, there are other underlying reasons that shape our drinking habits. For example, some people drink because they feel sad, angry, or lonely.
Others drink as a way of bonding with their friends and loved ones (Heron 8). Therefore, our drinking habits, whether in excess or in moderation, are shaped by hidden motivations. In the case of heavy drinkers, this behavior could be due to the need to address underlying problems, such as difficulty in dealing with low self-esteem, inability to handle strong emotions, and problems with relationships.
Peer pressure is yet another reason why people may start drinking alcohol (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention n.p.). For example, a teenager may start experimenting with alcohol while in college because his friends are also doing it. In this case, he feels compelled to experiment with alcohol so that he can belong with his peers. We also drink since alcohol has become culturally normalized.
The media aggressively promote alcohol consumption to an extent that it has now become culturally normalized. Alcohol is also readily available in supermarkets, bars, and discount stores. In fact, children under the age of 18 years can buy alcohol without some seller requesting to see their IDs first. For these reasons, consumption of alcohol has become normal and socially acceptable.
Effects of alcohol use
The effects of alcohol on the drinker are dependent on a number of factors. First, it depends on the body chemistry. This means that some people can get tipsy quite easily while others need larger quantities of alcohol to get drunk.
The effects of alcohol are also dependent on one’s weight, gender, and age (Masters 21). For example, women tend to get drunk by smaller quantities of alcohol compared with men. Effects of alcohol also depend on one’s weight. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the level of alcohol in the blood that causes one to get intoxicated, and is weight-dependent.
Thus, a man who weighs say, 200 pounds, may be less intoxicated than one who weighs 150 pounds even after both men have consumed the same quantity of alcohol. Among the elderly, the rate at which the liver metabolizes alcohol is slower in comparison with younger people. Other important factors to consider include quantity and type of alcohol consumed, drinking experience, and whether one had eaten or not, before taking alcohol.
The effects of alcohol use on one’s behavior also vary, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed. As one gets drunk, they are talkative, and more confident. As they become more intoxicated with alcohol, their speech is slurred, while their balance and coordination gets impaired. Their reflexes also slows down, and their exhibit unstable emotions.
Excessive consumption of alcohol is associated with immediate health risk that if not addressed, can lead to long-term health risks.
Immediate health risks
Excessive consumption of alcohol is linked violent behavior. Masters (23) reports that nearly 35% of the violent crimes are caused by individuals under the influence of alcohol. Moreover, excessive alcohol use also leads to cases of child neglect and maltreatment (The National Center on Addition and Substance Abuse 4).
Excessive use of alcohol also causes unintentional injuries such as falls, burns, traffic injuries, and drawings (Rehm et al. 41). Risky sexual behaviors such as sexual assault and engaging in unprotected sex are also some of the other immediate health risks of excessive alcohol use (Naimi et al. 1139).
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Long-term health risks
If the immediate health risks of excessive alcohol use are not addressed, the victim could suffer neurological impairments, in addition to suffering from various social problems. They are also likely to develop chronic illnesses. Some of the neurological problems attributed to long-term excessive alcohol use include stroke, dementia, and neuropathy (Corrao et al. 615).
Over time, too much of alcohol can also cause psychiatric problems like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts (Booth and Feng 162). Excessive alcohol use is also linked to liver diseases such as cirrhosis, which is today one of the leading causes of lifestyle-related deaths in the United States (Heron (8).
There are various reasons why people consume alcohol, including peer pressure, to drown sorrows, and to bond with families and friends, among others. Excessive consumption of alcohol causes both immediate and long-term health effects, including violence, involvement in risky sexual behaviors, and neurological and psychiatric problems.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI), Atlanta, GA: CDC, 2012. Print.
Corrao, Giovanni, Vincenzo, Bagnardi and Antonella, Zambon. “A meta-analysis of alcohol consumption and the risk of 15 diseases.” Prev Med, 38(2004):613-619.
Heron, Melonie. “Deaths: Leading causes for 2004.” National vital statistics reports, 56.5(2007):1-96.
Masters, Ruth. Counseling Criminal Justice Offenders, London: Sage, 2003. Print.
Naimi, Timothy, Leslie Lipscomb, Robert Brewer and Brenda Gilbert. “Binge drinking in
the preconception period and the risk of unintended pregnancy: Implications for women and their children.” Pediatrics, 11.5(2003):1136-1141.
Rehm, Jurgen, Gerhard Gmel, Christopher Sempos and Maurizio Trevisan. Alcohol related morbidity and mortality. Alcohol Research and Health, 27.1(2003):39-51.