The Alcohol Problem
What don't you know?
Background in the U.S.
Alcohol has been a part of human society for thousands of years. We don't know for sure when alcohol was first used, but it is believed to be about 10,000 B.C. This is because Stone Age beer jugs used to ferment beverages existed around that time. (1) Alcohol is widely accepted as an American activity and has been a part of its society since the beginning. (2) American legends such as John Chapman and Johnny Appleseed brought apples to the U.S. so they could grow them and make hard cider. (3) Throughout its history, alcohol has caused some issues. The United States has had several conflicts with banning and taxing alcohol. Up until 1919, there wasn't a national drinking age. Individual states made their own drinking ages, but they were widely varied and rarely enforced. (4) One of the first major conflicts involving alcohol in the U.S was in 1791 when the U.S. made an excise tax on whiskey which farmers in the west protested. This was known as the whiskey rebellion and was one of the first major tests of the U.S. government. (5)
Prohibition was a period in the U.S. when Alcohol was restricted from being manufactured, transported, or sold in the U.S. (6) The Temperance movement was the driving force in passing this legislation. The movement began in the 1830s and blamed alcohol for social problems such as poverty, violence and insanity. (7) In 1919 the 18th amendment was ratified into the constitution, which prohibited the manufacturing, sale, and transportation of alcohol. Prohibition is also commonly revered to as the “noble experiment”, a term first coined by Herbert Hoover. (7) Prohibition was very difficult to enforce; it was strict in rural areas but much less so in urban areas. Bootlegging or the illegal sale of liquor became very popular and nightclubs that illegally sold liquor, known as speakeasies, also boomed. (6) Prohibition had a large impact on the economy in unexpected ways. It caused many problems for the nation. Closing breweries and saloons led to thousands of lost jobs. Restaurants were unable to make a profit because they couldn't legally sell alcoholic beverages. The entertainment industry also suffered despite people not being able to entertain themselves with alcohol. (8) Prohibition cost the government 11 billion dollars in lost tax revenue and over 300 million dollars to enforce. (8) Additionally, alcohol on the black market declined in quality and became dangerous. It is estimated that 1000 people died every year from tainted liquor during prohibition. Prohibition ended in February 1933 with the 21st amendment.
Raising the Drinking Age
After prohibition, it was up to the states to decide when people were allowed to drink. In the 1960s-70s many states chose to set the drinking age to 18 years old. This resulted in an increase of car accidents. Two thirds of all car accidents involving 16-20 year olds and 60 percent of all traffic fatalities were alcohol related. (4) These numbers were so frightening the government took action. Ronald Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act that required states to raise the drinking age to 21 or have 10% of their highway funding cut. (4) This was an efficient method of protecting people; it is estimated that 900 lives are saved annually. (9)
How does Alcohol Affect People?
Do we really know how alcohol affects our bodies? Decreasing alcohol use would positively benefit all age groups and the longevity of our individual health. From the moment you put your lips to an alcoholic beverage, it negatively affects your body. Virtually every organ is affected.
Alcohol's Effect on the Body
Beginning with the first sip and as alcohol travels down your mouth and throat, it increases your risk for mouth and esophagus cancer. (10) Within a short period of time, a user will also be subject to slurred speech and loss of motor coordination. Next, your heart begins to feel the sensation of alcohol. Repeatedly and regularly having several drinks puts unnecessary stress on one’s heart. Drinking problems associated with your heart, stemming from moderate use over long periods of time include stroke, an irregular heart beat or even high blood pressure. One might wish the effects stopped there, but next is your stomach. When your stomach absorbs massive or even moderate amounts of alcohol, it can lead to bloating, gas and stomach ulcers. But, one of the most serious and well know effects of alcohol use is the destruction of your liver. Alcohol literally destroys your liver with inflammations and reduces your body’s ability to cleanse your blood. Complications of liver failure include fatty liver, fibrosis and cirrhosis. (11) Fibrosis of the liver is excessive accumulation of scar tissue that results from ongoing inflammation and liver cell death that occurs in most types of chronic liver diseases (12), specifically including the use of alcohol. Whereas cirrhosis of the liver is the final phase of chronic liver disease and involves complete liver failure. As mentioned before, drinking too much can cause an increase in your chances of mouth and esophagus cancer, but also liver and breast cancer. Alcohol can also weaken your immune system which increases your likelihood for chronic diseases including pneumonia and tuberculosis. Another major concern is the way alcohol affects the brain’s communication pathways which can sway your mood or behavior. Alcohol will temporarily or even permanently make it harder to think clearly and coordinate simple movements. Although alcohol’s effects on your physical body are serious, they aren't the only effects.
Effects on Relationships
Alcohol also significantly affects your interpersonal relationships through addiction. “Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S. 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.” (13) Alcohol can distort your priorities and distract an alcohol abuser from the things in life that matter most such as family, friends, and work. (14) Substance abuse, such as alcoholism may begin as a trivial part of your life, but eventually alcohol could take root and cause several problems. But why is alcohol addicting? What is it about alcohol that causes euphoria and your brain’s opiate receptors to light up? If you would like to learn more about the way your brain reacts to alcohol, watch the video below.
(15) Although alcohol may begin as a drink to have fun, it could morph into an outlet to reduce tension and stress, and eventually become the most important priority in your life.
Drinking excessively is far too common in the United States. “In 2012, 24.6 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month.” (16) Binge drinking is a dangerous form of drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time. The NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) defines binge drinking as “as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.” (17) This and other types of excessive drinking costs thousands of lives each year. “Excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010.” (18) That’s more than 400,000 deaths in the five year span. What’s more astounding is most of those deaths are completely preventable.
To learn more about binge drinking and it's effects: www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
Jenna Foellmi had just finished her semester exams and decided to celebrate. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well. “The morning after [a] house party, Foellmi and several other[s] lay sprawled on beds and couches. When a friend reached out to wake her, Foellmi was cold to the touch.” (19) She was twenty years old. For more on Jenna's story and alcohol poisoning statistics follow the link below.
Leslie Baltz was a smart, twenty-one year old senior at the University of Virginia. One day before a football game she decided to drink heavily. She drank so much her friends wouldn't let her go to the game. Instead, they left her on a couch in one of their apartments. When they came back that night, they found her unconscious on their stairway. (20) She was pronounced dead in the hospital. For more on Leslie's story and others click the link below.
Drunk driving is a huge problem. Just in Texas during last year’s back-to-school season, there were 196 alcohol-related crashes with drivers between 16 and 20. They resulted in 103 injuries and 9 deaths. (21) This doesn’t just happen in Texas though. It’s all over the country. “In 2012, 10,322 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.” (22) These crashes don’t just impact the people involved in the accident. They affect the family, friends, and other loved ones of both the victims and those responsible.
Sean Carter was twenty-two years old when his life changed forever. One night, he was having fun drinking with his friends. He was smart enough to know he shouldn't drive home, but didn't know his friend who took the wheel also shouldn't have tried to drive. The resulting crash severely injured Carter. He was confined to a wheelchair and lost the ability to speak. (23) It took him seven years to learn how to walk again. He now travels the country sharing his story through a computer that talks for him.
Laura and Jessica's Story
Jessica Rasdall (right) and Laura Gorman (left) were both fun-loving people. They had been best friends since kindergarten. In 2006, while they were both college freshman, this would all change. It was a normal night; they went to a club and had some drinks. When it came time to drive home, Rasdall decided to take the wheel. They got in an accident shortly after, and Gorman died. Rasdall was later charged with killing her. (24) She has since spoken about that tragic night to persuade others to not make her same mistakes. If you wish to learn more, click the link below:
Alcohol and Violence
Alcohol can lead to aggressive situations, with undesired consequences abounding. Please view the video above to better grasp how some of these can damage the well-being of others. As Dr. Will Corbin pointed out in this National Geographic video, alcohol increases the likelihood of “aggression under provocation” because those who have consumed cannot “inhibit a response” of that sort. This leads to a high number of injuries reported in the ER, as evidenced by the health professionals in the video. However, this irrationality with regard to aggressive behavior carries broader implications in the realm of family development. Not only are those who fight in bars affected by alcoholic violence, but young children and spouses, too.
Question: I drink heavily and it is hurting my family. How can I stop?
Answer: Even in just asking this question, an alcoholic is taking critical steps in addressing an issue that likely has ruined their life and the lives of those around them. There are plenty of avenues for recovery; finding the correct one can be a matter of open communication with those who want to help you. The following two articles center on the issues and solutions of alcohol use. The first will lend perspective to your situation while providing hope to the alcoholic. The second offers practical resources to start the climb away from the bottle.
Alcohol and College
Collegiate Alcohol Use
The graph above highlights the reality of heavy and binge drinking in college. Binge drinking refers to high use of alcohol on single, sporadic occasions, whereas heavy drinking involves high use of alcohol regularly. Of all age categories, college-age students consume the most alcohol in these two dangerous ways. This leads to a number of personal issues, including mental impairment, alcohol poisoning, and higher risk of sexually promiscuous behavior. (27) The link below leads to an article that concisely discusses the devastating effects alcohol has on student academic performance, too.
Students need to realize there are many healthy alternatives to drinking. A good example is becoming more physically active. Instead of utilizing time on party nights to drink until you can’t think, shift your schedule to allow for more exercise. It is a much better way to help you feel good and your future self will thank you for it.
Question: Which universities have serious alcohol problems?
Alcohol and the Workplace
Your Job and Alcohol
Though the following video does violate conservation of energy, it asserts its point clearly in a clever, comedic way by highlighting the ill effects of alcohol on those in the workplace. In the video, the main character, a panda, drinks heavily one night before going into work the next morning. While on his construction work-site, he operates a wrecking ball, presumably to destroy a dilapidated building later in the video. Due to his drinking, though, he dozes off while behind the wheel, causing damage and ultimately losing his job. This is sadly a reality. Almost 15 million workers in the US are “heavy drinkers of alcohol,” endangering their own jobs and the safety of others. (30) Safely consuming alcohol keeps your job and coworkers safer.
Effects of Lowering Alcohol Consumption
Health Cost Benefit
One benefit of lowering alcohol consumption is a decrease in health care costs due to alcohol. Estimates of the annual health care expenditure, collected by Alcohol Policy, amount to twenty-two billion dollars while the total annual cost for alcohol related problems is one hundred seventy-five billion dollars. (31) A decrease in the total cost for alcohol-related problems could help improve the situation by putting fewer burdens on the limited amount of funding for health care. Helping the public realize a solution could raise awareness for alcohol-related accidents as well as decrease the number of drinkers. In turn, the decline for alcohol-related accidents could lead to lower insurance rates for everyone.
Question: How would lowering the consumption of alcohol improve public health?
Question: In what ways can stricter law reduce alcohol-related accidents?
Question: What are drinking laws like in other countries?
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- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). "Alcohol Facts and Statistics." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). N.p., 2012. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “NIAAA Council Approves Definition of Binge Drinking.” NIAAA Newsletter Number 3. Winter, 2004. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Alcohol and Public Health." CDC. N.p., 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- "Alcohol Poisoning-Related Deaths on the Rise for Coeds." Fox News. FOX News Network, 07 July 2008. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- Winerip, Michael. "Binge Nights: The Emergency On Campus." The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Jan. 1998. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- TxDOT. "Parents: Send a Clear “No Alcohol” Message to Your Teens." MADD. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, June 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014. <http://www.madd.org/local-offices/tx/>.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Alcohol-Impaired Driving."NHTSA. U.S. Department of Transportation, Dec. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811870.pdf>.
- TxDOT. "Sean's Story." Faces of Drunk Driving. Texas Department of Transportation, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
- Goldberg, Alan B. "Drunken Driving Crash Shattered Teen's Life." ABC News. ABC News Network, 02 June 2009. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
"How My Dad's Drinking Problem Almost Destroyed My Family." Reach Out. Inspire USA Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.
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"High-Risk Drinking in College: What We Know and What We Need to Learn." College Drinking. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 23 Sept. 2005. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.
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"International Guide to Minimum Legal Drinking Ages (MLDAs) in 138 Countries - Minimum Legal Drinking Age - ProCon.org." ProConorg Headlines. ProConorg, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2014.
Links for Images and Videos (in order of appearance)
Pie Chart by Todd Flanagan (made from data in source 22)