Thursday, July 7, 2011

Social effects of Alcoholism

Throughout most of history, society has viewed people who drink to excess as irresponsible, immoral, and of weak character. Punishment of drunkards was considered necessary to protect the community.

By the early 1900s, experts conceded that alcohol dependence may result from tissue changes caused by the action of alcohol. These changes produce a continued need to drink, such that the individual seeks larger amounts of alcohol at more frequent intervals. However, society still regarded taking or rejecting a drink as a matter of personal decision, thus all excessive drinking was considered a voluntary act. The individual, therefore, was held responsible for his or her behavior.
Although a consensus is growing among health professionals that alcohol dependence is a disease, society’s attitudes toward individuals with drinking problems remain ambivalent and confused. Until the mid-20th century, the typical picture of the alcoholic was of someone without steady employment, unable to sustain family relationships and most likely in desperate financial straits. But this stereotype was largely dispelled when highly respected people publicly admitted their alcohol dependence and shared their successful recovery stories. Particularly critical in changing the way Americans view alcohol-use disorders were New York broker William Griffith Wilson (more familiarly known as Bill W.) and Ohio physician Robert Holbrook Smith (Dr. Bob). In 1935 these two recovered alcoholics developed a program to promote their successful philosophy for recovering from alcohol dependence. The program, which became known as Alcoholics Anonymous, has spread around the world, helping millions of members to avoid alcohol use and rebuild their lives. In the late 1970s Betty Ford, the wife of former U.S. president Gerald Ford, disclosed her struggle to recover from alcohol dependence. She helped raise the public’s understanding about alcohol dependence through her open, honest revelations and her creation of a groundbreaking treatment center for substance abusers in Rancho Mirage, California, now known as the Betty Ford Center.
Intoxication threatens not only the individual who drinks but also the surrounding community. Therefore, societies around the world have attempted to control excessive use of alcohol. Temperance societies in the 19th and 20th centuries pushed for laws ranging from arrest and jail sentences for public drunkenness to prohibition of the manufacture, distribution, and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Today experts characterize alcohol-use disorders as a form of illness, and one so widespread that it constitutes a major public health problem. According to WHO, alcohol dependence and other alcohol-use disorders undermine global health, accounting for 3.5 percent of the total cases of disease worldwide. This figure equals the hazards posed by unsafe sex and surpasses two other formidable health foes, tobacco and illicit drugs. In the United States alone, the NIAAA estimates that alcoholism causes losses of more than $185 billion a year in lost productivity, illness, and premature death.

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