Excessive Alcohol Consumption—
Its Effects and Social Acceptance
Rumors and old wives’ tales such as stress makes women heavier drinkers, divorce prompts heavy alcohol use, people drive better when they are drinking, and teenagers are the main group of drunk drivers, are being thrown at today’s society left and right in an effort to blame the other guy. With all the talk about alcohol use and abuse these days, people are lost between fact and fiction. All of this tossed in with the truth leads to confusion where most of society is torn between tradition and personal beliefs. Alcohol is a destructive drug that can lead to addiction, arrest, illness, and even death; all of these consequences, however, have not caused much of a dramatic change in alcohol’s social acceptance or usage.
Most people know what alcohol is, but not everyone knows its history, where it comes from, or how it is produced. Alcohol is a word derived from the Arabic al-kohl, which was a term used to describe eyeliner that Middle Eastern women wore. Later, the definition broadened to mean an exotic substance (Monroe 5-6). It was primarily used among ancient people for special ceremonies, magic, and medicine, and “by about 1500 BC, Egyptian doctors included beer or wine in about 15 percent of their medicines”(Monroe 8-9).
Alcoholic beverages are produced through a process called fermentation using plants such as corn, rye, barley, potatoes, and grapes, and are classified by their types and proofs. Some types of alcohol are beer, ale, stout, porter, malt liquor, wine, whiskey, bourbon, gin, rum, brandy, and liqueur. The term proof refers to the percentage of pure alcohol contained in a drink. While there is no international standard, in the United States, each degree of proof is equal to 0.5 percent alcohol (Fettner 275). Beer, wine, and whiskey tend to be the three major categories used when comparing alcohol. Most beers contain about two to eight percent alcohol, which is one to four proof. Wine, depending on whether it is natural or fortified, can have anywhere from eight to twenty-one percent alcohol—eight to fourteen percent for natural and eighteen to twenty-one percent for fortified. Whiskeys usually range from about twenty to twenty-five proof, or forty to fifty percent alcohol. The strongest type of alcohol, however, is brandy used to fortify dessert wines, which can be up to ninety-five percent alcohol (Fettner 275-276).
Although studies show that alcohol consumed in small amounts can actually help the body remain healthy by stimulating cell functions, heavy or chronic use produces an opposite, suppressive effect on cell production (Wolfgan 3-4). Excessive usage can cause damage to many areas of the body, including the liver, the heart, and the brain. The liver is the primary target because it deals directly with the metabolism of alcohol. And even though light use of alcohol has been shown to help prevent coronary artery disease, prolonged use causes many problems for the heart and brain, which are the next two hardest hit organs. Heart disease, heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, and neuropsychological disorders are among the worst consequences (Wolfgan 5). Also, taking depressants or tranquilizers while drinking can cause death (Fettner 276).
Alcohol does not only affect its immediate users, either; it may also affect the offspring of chronic users. Exposure in prenatal and early postnatal development shows an increased risk of disrupt in development or damage to the immune system. The most severe defect resulting from prenatal alcohol consumption, however, is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), characterized by many behavioral problems (Wolfgan 7).
Several types of violence, including homicides, suicides, and spousal abuse, suggest a strong relationship with alcohol. In more than sixty percent of homicides, violators were drinking at the time of the offense, and...
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