Alcoholism: Symptoms, Causes, and Effects

Composition I April 1, 1997


Alcoholism is a disease that affects many people in the United States
today. It not only affects the alcoholic, but also their family, friends, co-
workers, and eventually total strangers. The symptoms are many, as are the
causes and the effects.
Alcoholism is defined as a pattern of drinking in which harmful
consequences result for the drinker, yet, they continue to drink. There are two
types of drinkers. The first type, the casual or social drinker, drinks because
they want to. They drink with a friend or with a group for pleasure and only on
occasion. The other type, the compulsive drinker, drinks because they have to,
despite the adverse effects that drinking has on their lives.
The symptoms of alcoholism vary from person to person, but the most
common symptoms seen are changes in emotional state or stability, behavior, and
personality. "Alcoholics may become angry and argumentive, or quiet and
withdrawn or depressed. They may also feel more anxious, sad, tense, and
confused. They then seek relief by drinking more" (Gitlow 175).
"Because time and amount of drinking are uncontrollable, the
alcoholics is likely to engage in such behaviors as [1] breaking family
commitments, both major and minor; [2] spending more money than planned; [3]
drinking while intoxicated and getting arrested; [4] making inappropriate
remarks to friends, family, and co-workers; [5] arguing, fighting and other
anti-social actions. The alcoholic would probably neither do such things, nor
approve of them in others unless he was drinking" (Johnson 203).
The cause of alcoholism is a combination of biological, psychological,
and cultural factors that may contribute to the development of alcoholism in an
individual. Alcoholism seems to run in families. "Although there is no
conclusive indication of how the alcoholism of families members is associated,
studies show that 50 to 80 percent of all alcoholics have had a close alcoholic
relative" (Caplan 266). Some researchers have suggested that in several cases,
alcoholics have an inherited, predisposition to alcohol addiction. Studies of
animals and human twins have lent support to this theory.
Alcoholism can also be related to emotional instabilities. For example,
alcoholism is often associated with a family history of manic-depressive illness.
Additionally, like many other drug abusers, alcoholics often drink hoping to
"drown\' anxious or depressed feelings. Some alcoholics drink to reduce strong
inhibitions or guilt about expressing negative feelings.
Social and cultural factors play roles in to establishing drinking
patterns and the development of alcoholism. In some cultures, there is conflict
between abstaining and accepting the use of alcohol as a way to change moods or
to be social, thus making it difficult for some people to develop stable
attitudes about and moderate patterns of drinking. Society tends to aid in the
development of alcoholism by making alcohol seem glamorous, showing that by
drinking, you will become more popular, more glamorous and more worthy of
respects from others.
The physical effects of alcoholism are somewhat gruesome. Excessive in
take and prolonged use of alcohol can cause serious disturbances in body
chemistry. "Many alcoholics exhibit swollen and tender livers. The prolonged
use of large amounts of alcoholism without adequate diet may cause serious liver
damage, such as cirrhosis of the liver" (McCarthy 505).
Alcoholism also causes loss of muscular control. The condition,
delirium tremens, known primarily to heavy drinkers, causes hallucinations along
with loss of control of muscular functioning. When this condition develops and
the alcoholic slows their drinking, withdrawal syndrome can and often does occur.
This may include agitation, tremors, seizures, and hallucinations.
Alcoholism also casues damage to the brain. Alcoholics may suffer from
lack of concentration. The alcoholic may also experience "blackouts,"
occasional onsets of memory lapses, and possibly complete memory loss. They may
also suffer from more serious forms of brain damage.
The social effects of alcoholism can be as devastating as the physical
effects. Children of alcoholics may be affected by the parents alcoholism in
several different ways. Having a problem- drinker parent often increases the
risk of becoming a problem drinker oneself. This may happen for reasons such
as identification with or imitation of the alcoholic parent. It may also happen
because of the social and family conditons that are thought to be associated
with the development of alcoholism. These include family conflict, job
insecurity, divorce, and social stigma.
Alcoholism is an outrageous public health problem. "The Institute of
Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that alcoholism and
alcohol abuse in the United States cost society from $40 to $60 billion annually,
due to the lost production, health and medical care, motor vehicle
accidents,violent crime, and social programs that respond to alcohol problems.
One half