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Alcohol Abuse and Economic Downturns

The economy is cascading downward at a rate unheard of since the early thirties. Unemployment is rising at a staggering pace, and many flagship industries are closing their doors or cutting production, adding thousands more workers to the unemployment line. President Obama’s stimulus package is designed to stop the economic hemorrhaging and return the nation to full employment. However, in the meanwhile, many unemployed and stressed individuals will turn to alcohol and other drugs to ease their personal pain and psychological stress.

Several studies have provided robust evidence that the prevalence of binge drinking is strongly connected to the psychological stress of recessions. And, even among those who remain employed, binge drinking increased substantially during economic downturns.

This combination of results suggests that recession-induced increases in the prevalence of binge drinking do not simply reflect the increased availability of leisure time but may instead reflect the influence of economic stress.

Millions of Americans are turning to alcohol and other drugs to relieve the discomfort of their stress-filled lives. However, like stress itself, this method of “self-medicating” is far from being considered a new approach. In the United States alcohol is the most widely used drug today, but certainly not the only one.

As a nation we are materially rich and technologically brilliant, but we are also a nation of drug users. In homes across America you will find medicine cabinets with large quantities of drugs both over the counter and those prescribed by physicians. In fact, one recent study showed that many teenagers use drugs that are easily available in their parents’ medicine cabinets.

The mass media will call into action its vast arsenal of resources to inform the public of the dangers of cocaine, heroin, and other addictive substances. Yet, the same mass media is impotent when it comes to educating the public on the danger of alcohol abuse. It appears that alcohol, the drug that is used more flagrantly than any other drug in man’s history, is relegated to the back burner.

Most studies show that among our youth, especially college students, the switch is from a variety of unfamiliar and esoteric drugs to the drug of alcohol, commonly found in the most respectable and law abiding homes across the nation.

In this society we use alcohol for a variety of reasons: to be sociable, to be accepted, to relax, to gain courage, to improve self-esteem, and yes, to add romance to our lives. And for many of us alcohol is used to escape from depression, fears, anxiety, and other inadequacies real or imagined. It is for these and other reasons the abuse of alcohol is on the rise.

For most users alcohol appears to be a relatively safe drug, but not for everyone. In fact, for those who are unable or unwilling to control their alcohol use, the personal price of alcohol abuse is enormous on all level.

The psychological pain that it may relieve is a high price to pay compared to the pain it causes as they slowly become addicted to the drug of alcohol. Sooner or later alcohol will weaken and destroy those components of one’s self that give life meaning.

How long man has used alcoholic beverages as part of his social activities is unknown. It is known, however, that “booze” or alcohol was in use many thousands of years before the World Health Organization declared alcohol a habit forming and addicting drug.

Neolithic man, for example, discovered and used berry wine since about 6400 BC. And there are those who have suggested that the use of some form of alcoholic beverage goes as far back as 300 or 400 BC. A by product of honey, called mead, is reported to be the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man.

It’s further suggested that mead first appeared during the Paleolithic age. It is well documented that beer drinking by Native-Americans was well on its way when Columbus reached these shores.

Fruits and cereal grain are the most common products that are fermented to produce alcoholic beverages in many cultures, including the Untied States, while other cultures commonly use plants as the base for fermentation of alcoholic beverages. During his expedition to Mexico in 1518, Cortez commented approvingly on the locally distilled beverage called “pulque.”

Pulque is made from the cactus plant and has an alcoholic content of about 6%. Mead, on the other hand, has an alcoholic content of appropriately 10-12% and is believed to be presently available in some cultures. The traditional rice wine of the Far East, called “sake” is well-known to many Americans, especially servicemen of World War II and the Korean conflict. The alcoholic content of rice wine is said to be 12-18%.

A nineteenth century Swedish physician is credited with being the first to use the term “alcoholism.” Ancient Romans were the first to recognize the pattern of alcohol use between those who drank to excess by choice and those who could not control their drinking. Several centuries later the English language distinguished between drunkenness and addition to alcohol.

In 1784 Dr. Benjamin Rush, the founder of American psychiatry and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, described habitual drinking as an involuntary condition – a disease caused by “spirituous liquors.” However, the Puritan belief eclipsed the disease concept in America until the failure of prohibition.

Shortly before the repeal of the 18th Amendment, which outlawed the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages, the first edition of the American Standard Classified Nomenclature of Disease was published. It listed both alcohol additions and alcoholism as an illness. A few years later Alcoholic Anonymous was founded and embraced the disease concept.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the American Society of Addiction Medicine defined alcoholism in this manner: Alcoholism is a chronic disease with genetic, psychological and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.

The disease is often progressive and fatal. It’s characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking and a preoccupation with the drug alcohol and the use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, the most notable of which is denial.

An individual is considered an alcoholic when his/her drinking becomes unmanageable and causes problem in the drinker’s personal, professional, family, and social life. And the individual is considered addicted to alcohol if he is unable to predict when he will stop or how much he will drink, and what the results of his drinking will be.

It is estimated that between 15.5 million Americans exhibit signs of alcoholism or alcohol dependence. And another 7.2 million show persistent patterns of drinking behaviors associated with impaired health and social functioning. A report completed in 2000 showed that alcoholism and alcohol-related problems cost the nation an estimated $276 billion per year in lost productivity, health care expenditures, crime, motor vehicle accidents, and other related costs.

In America, alcohol-related problems strike one family in every three. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is one of the leading causes of birth defects and mental retardation in the United States. Alcohol is closely related to many suicides and attempted suicides. A recent study showed that half of all inmates convicted of violent crimes had used alcohol just prior to the offense.

Alcoholism directly affects those close to the alcoholic, especially family members. Often the affected family members need appropriate help to recovery as well as the alcoholic himself. Most alcoholism treatment programs include a family component with referrals to self-help and support groups. One out of five children lived with an alcoholic while growing up in America.

One in ten adults had been married to or shared a close relationship with an alcoholic. Women are exposed more often to alcoholism in the family than men. Women are more likely to have been in a marriage with an alcoholic than men.

Alcoholism could be overcome with proper treatment amd prevention by educating the public about the disease of alcoholism. The acute awareness and understanding of the early signs of problem drinking is important. Other preventive measures are avoiding high-risk drinking, know your family’s history with alcohol, and know your own history with alcohol use.

source: Op Ed News

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