November 19, 2000
One out of thirteen adults are considered to be an alcoholic or suffer from a drinking problem. Today, fourteen million Americans suffer from a disease that is caused by a combination of physiological, psychological, social, and genetic factors. Alcoholism is a developmental disease that progresses slowly over a number of years and is based on both the physical and emotional dependency on alcohol. In many cases it leads to brain damage and/or early death.
Early symptoms include putting excessive importance on the availability of alcohol, which influences a person's choice pastimes and friends. Alcoholics use alcohol more as a personality changing drug rather than a beverage served with food or as a social custom. An alcoholic usually has a high tolerance to alcohol, which means being able to drink more and show fewer side effects than others. The person begins to drink even though it may not be in her/his best interest. Alcohol comes to be more important than personal relationships, family, work, or even health. People are unable to predict how much an alcoholic will drink at a certain occasion or if the alcoholic is practicing abstaining from alcohol, when the drinking will resume again. Physical addiction will lead to drinking around the clock to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Ethyl alcohol, the alcohol used in alcoholic beverages, consists of C2H5OH. It is a clear liquid with a burning taste and a pleasant smell. It has toxic and sedative effects on the body. Alcohol can have major effects on major organ systems. For example, it can cause ulcers, inflammation or the pancreas, and cirrohosis of the liver. It can permanently damage the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. Withdrawal from alcohol, in severe cases, can cause shaking limbs, hallucinations, and blackouts: which can be fatal if not properly treated. Even withdrawal from hard drugs such as heroin rarely results in death.
The liver is the largest internal organ in the body. In a healthy adult, it weighs about 3 pounds and holds about thirteen percent of the body's blood supply. Blood flowing from the stomach and intestines goes into the liver where it extracts nutrients and toxins. The blood is then pumped back to the heart. The liver performs over 500 vital functions. It processes all of the nutrients that the body requires, including proteins, glucose, vitamins, cholesterol, and fats. It also makes potentially toxic substances, including alcohol, ammonia, nicotine, drugs, and harmful by-products of digestion non-toxic.
The liver is particularly harmed by alcohol. In the body, alcohol breaks down into various chemicals which are very toxic in the liver. Alcoholic cirrhosis is the most common cause of cirrhosis in the U.S. and is estimated to be responsible for 44% of deaths from cirrhosis in North America. However, one Canadian study found alcohol to be the major contributor to 80% of all cirrhosis deaths. About 10% to 35% of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis. After years of drinking, liver damage can be very severe, leading to cirrhosis in about 10% to 20% of cases. Not eating when drinking and consuming a variety of alcoholic beverages are also factors that increase the risk for liver damage. People with alcoholism are also at higher risk for hepatitis B and C. People with alcoholism should be immunized against hepatitis Band they may need a larger dose of the vaccine for it to be effective.
Recent evidence shows that even moderate drinking in women during pregnancy can result in serious damage to the child. For example, it may cause physical or mental retardation, and in some cases, fetal alcohol syndrome.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by alcohol consumption of pregnant women. The consumption of alcohol greatly increases the risk of abnormalities for the unborn child. Some of these...