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Alcoholism and the Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol abuse is a major problem in our society. Where did it all start and what is it actually made of? Pharmacologically, ethyl alcohol is a water-soluble liquid that is produced by primarily two methods. Fermentation is the oldest method of producing ethyl alcohol. The fermentation of fruits or grains will produce wines and beers. The highest concentration of ethyl alcohol obtained from this process is about 12% or 24 proof. The second method is distillation. Distillation can produce up to a 95% or 190 proof concentration of ethyl alcohol. This process is used to produce liquors and whiskeys.

Scars for a Lifetime: How Alcohol Affects Families

Alcoholism affects — and infects — every single person it touches. In a family, not only the alcoholic suffers, but spouses, children, parents, and siblings also are hurt and damaged from this chronic, complex disease. But alcoholism as a disease? Yes. According to The Alcoholism Guide, a recent Gallup poll showed that 90 percent of Americans see alcoholism as a chronic disease, a diagnosable and official medical condition. When one member of a family is sick with alcoholism, then relatives and even friends also suffer.

A Family Sickness: How Alcoholism Affects Families

Alcoholism affects family members in various ways, though the harmful effects can deeply injure all and may even last a lifetime, if left untreated. Some of the major facets of alcoholism within the family dynamic include:

  • Parental Alcoholism
  • Spouses of Alcoholics
  • Alcoholism and Codependency
  • Genetic Factors

Parental Alcoholism

Alcoholism can both, directly and indirectly, affect children of drink-dependent parents.

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
  • Stress and Emotional Problems
  • Violence and Crime

about alcoholOne real, direct danger of alcoholism is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). This condition occurs in children whose mothers drink during pregnancy. The amount of alcoholic damage to a fetus is related to how much the mother drinks during pregnancy. In general, babies with FAS are smaller than normal babies, and they have damaged nervous systems. Physical deformities also are common and include small eye openings, long, flat faces, and thin upper lips. Many babies with FAS also have deformed brains and skulls. Children with FAS often have trouble with learning and problem-solving and have poor social skills. They also have poor coordination, short attention spans, and impaired hearing and speech. One thing is certain, though. However FAS manifests in children whose mothers drank during pregnancy, the effects are permanent and irreversible.

Children of alcoholics also often suffer higher stress than children in non-alcoholic homes, stress that can be manifested by crying, bed-wetting, and nightmares. These children also may suffer from fears of abandonment, guilt, loneliness, crushingly low self-esteem, and chronic depression.

A Unites States government survey, “Exposure to Alcoholism in the Family”, concludes that 30 percent of young women who failed to graduate from high school had grown up with alcoholic parents. This survey also shows that only 20 percent of young men with alcoholic parents went on to attend college. Negative behavior patterns can include fighting, lying, truancy, and stealing. Sadly, incest and domestic violence rates are high within alcoholic families. Often, victims of sexual and physical brutality feel guilty, helpless, and ashamed. To quell these negative feelings and dull the pain, they themselves may begin drinking, thus carrying on the cycle. “Children of alcoholics are people who have been robbed of their childhood,” said author H. Silverstein in the book Alcoholism.

Spouses of Alcoholics

The husband or wife of an alcoholic can suffer in many ways, including self-pity, intense feelings of hatred, isolation from avoiding social contacts, exhaustion, and they also may become physically or even mentally ill. Often the non-alcoholic spouse may take on the role of both parents, in effect becoming a single parent, and thus may become demanding, inconsistent, and neglectful with the children. Alcoholism is one of the major factors in divorce, as well.

Alcoholism and Codependency

Relatives of an alcoholic may become codependent. “Codependency is an unconscious addiction to another person’s abnormal behavior,” said author C. Wekesser in the book Alcoholism. Often, codependent family members go to any lengths to put forth the image of a “perfect family” and hide the problem. To do this, the spouse and children of an alcoholic may avoid making friends and inviting people to visit the home. Codependent relatives often forget or put aside their own needs and spend their lives trying to cure or at least to control the alcoholic. Finally, codependent relatives may become enablers, lying and making excuses for the alcoholic, thus allowing the alcoholic to continue drinking.

Genetic Factors

Alcoholics are born with a genetic tendency for the disease. Genetic factors are attributed to the largest responsibility in whether or not a person is born alcoholic, existing in 50 to 60 percent of alcoholism cases. Statistics support the view that genetics plays an integral role in the development of alcoholism.

  • The Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism states that the child of an alcoholic is four to nine times more likely to have the same problem.
  • A study shows that 95 percent of alcoholics had or have a close family member who also is an alcoholic.
  • About a quarter, or 20 to 25 percent, of children of alcoholics, become drink-dependent themselves.

Alcoholism not only burdens children of alcoholics with an unnatural home environment, one where alcohol freely flows and irrational behavior and beliefs become the norm, but alcohol also makes it much more likely that they, too, will develop the disease of alcoholism. In other words, children of alcoholics directly inherit both the heartache that alcoholism causes as well as the genetic tendency toward alcoholism.

The negative effects of alcohol dependency run deep throughout families. Alcoholism involves environmental, genetic, and psychosocial factors, and no member of a family that includes an alcoholic is left untouched. Whether a family’s negative experiences involve physical deformities, emotional wounds, or abuse, alcoholism damages all who it touches.

Physiological Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol starts affecting the body immediately upon consumption with the severity being determined by body size and sex, the type and proof of alcohol, how quickly it is consumed, and what other drugs have been taken with it. Physically, Alcohol affects nearly every organ of the body with the only exception being the ear. Mentally, these effects include delusion, denial, loss of memory, loss of control, inability to predict the outcome, euphoria, impaired judgment, feeling of decreased inhibition, decreased fear, increased risk-taking behavior, and aggressive humor.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

  • Alteration of sensation and perception
  • Lowered inhibitions, feeling of no fear
  • Sleepiness
  • Increased urine output
  • Elevated heartbeat
  • Lowered motor coordination

Long-Term Effects of Alcoholism

  • Mouth–oral lesions run the risk of becoming cancerous
  • Bronchi (windpipes)–alcoholics who also smoke run a 15 times greater chance of contracting cancer than non- smokers and non-drinkers.
  • Stomach–excessive overflow of hydrochloric acid deteriorates the stomach lining and can cause hemorrhage and ulcerations (Alcoholic Gastritis can be fatal)
  • Duodenum (small intestine)–2/3 of alcohol is absorbed here; ulcers here can damage nerves so badly that pain is no longer felt; therefore, more alcohol is consumed and damage to intestine intensifies.
  • Kidneys–inflammation and possibility of waste accumulating in the body when the urinary tract is blocked.
  • Liver–alcoholism takes its greatest toll on the liver which, when healthy, is responsible for several essential body functions. Liver disease is the number one cause of death in alcoholics. Alcohol causes excessive fat in the liver which prohibits the liver from functioning properly. Inflammation of the liver, Cirrhosis of the liver (swollen, scarred, or dead tissue), Jaundice–bile enters the bloodstream when the liver doesn’t work.
  • Alcoholic diabetes–pancreas’ ability to produce insulin is affected.
  • Circulatory System–alcoholics have an increased risk of high blood pressure, strokes, and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) which may eventually weaken the heart muscle walls. The heart won’t pump enough blood, and this causes breathing difficulties and irregular rhythm of the heart which can eventually be fatal. It is estimated that 30% of all high blood pressure is a result of alcohol consumption.
  • Nervous System: alcohol alters brain cells which cause blackouts, memory loss, loss of control, slowed reflexes, poor vision, and slurred speech.
  • Skeletal System: calcium depletion causes brittle bones, fractures, and back pain. Alcoholism also destroys the white blood cells found in the bones which leaves the body more receptive to anemia, diseases, and slow-healing wounds.
  • Muscular System: muscles lose tone, which results in less energy and flabby appearance.
  • Reproductive Systems: Male–testicles may shrink; impotence. Female–the ovary may atrophy.
  • Alcoholism and Pregnancy–alcoholic mothers run the risk of having more difficult labor, spontaneous abortions, and having babies with birth defects (Fetal Alcohol Effects, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) including underweight and size, small eyes and heads, upturned noses, and mental retardation. Alcoholic mothers who nurse pass alcohol to their babies through their milk.

More Information about Alcohol

In addition to the previous information, we have provided the following pages to be of help to you about alcoholism:

  • Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal
  • Searching for the “Magic Pill” to stop drinking
  • Am I an Alcoholic

Intervention Services can guide, educate or be a resource to you, the one who is reaching out. Essentially, Intervention Services is on hand 24 hours a day to help you to help your loved one who may be abusing drugs or alcohol. If you have questions or need to speak with someone, understand that most of our employees are recovering professionals who can speak with you as someone who once abused drugs themselves.

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