Heavy Drinking: Social and Psychological Harm

Over 15 million Americans are dependent on Alcohol. Sadly, 500, 000 are between the ages of 9 and 12. Each year Americans spend over $90 billion dollars total on alcohol. Consuming alcohol on a regular basis causes extreme social and psychological harm.

The number one social problem is interpersonal relationships. This includes domestic violence, child neglect and child abuse. Domestic violence is common among those who misuse alcohol. Also common is child neglect and child abuse that includes sexual abuse. In 48 % of all violent crimes the offender is believed to be under the influence of alcohol.

Other alcohol-related social harm includes problems at work, criminal behavior and social disintegration. Problems at work include impaired work performance, inefficiency, accidents and absenteeism. Criminal behavior involves driving while intoxicated, criminal damage, theft, burglary, robbery, sexual and violent offenses. Forty-one percent of all traffic accidents are alcohol-related. Loss of social and financial support causing vagrancy and homelessness are all a part of social disintegration.

Alcohol-related harm becomes more complex when it begins to involve psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, psychotic illness, amnesia, alcohol hallucinosis and morbid jealousy.

There is a close link between depression and alcohol. Biological changes induced in the brain by drinking mimic many of the changes evident in depressive mood disorders. The life of a problem drinker in combination of anxieties about behavior and possible poor work performance all cause feelings of depression. Alcohol misuse (in some individuals) is a symptom of an underlying depressive illness. These patients often have a family history of affective disorders. The link is most common in women. Depression makes suicide a very significant risk in those with a serious alcohol problem.

Anxiety symptoms begin to appear when individuals use alcohol as a means of coping with social and other anxieties. This may lead to harmful drinking. Those who have phobic anxiety states are most at risk for developing alcohol problems. In addition the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may mimic those of an anxiety state. Dependent drinkers may complain of feeling anxious and restless in the morning and these feelings are often relieved by drinking. The majority of anxiety symptoms associated with problem drinking disappear when alcohol is stopped.

Alcohol problems may be associated with psychotic illness such as schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental illness in which the person suffers from distorted thinking, hallucinations and a reduced ability to feel normal emotions. It may be associated with dopamine imbalances in the brain and defects of the frontal lobe and is caused by genetic, other biological and psychosocial factors.

Episodes of amnesia for periods of hours or even days are a feature of alcohol misuse. Amnesia often follows periods of heavy drinking during which the blood alcohol level rises steeply. Alcoholic amnesia are experience by a quarter of young men and 10% of young women during heavy drinking bouts. during these periods activities can be carried out in a purposeful way and the individual may not appear drunk.

Alcohol hallucinosis is a relatively uncommon condition. It is characterized by the presence of hallucinations, usually auditory, occurring in clear consciousness. Hallucinations appear during a period of heavy drinking or following withdrawal or a sudden reduction in alcohol intake. Sometimes they are non-specific noises or voices. They are often derogatory in nature, which can be described as coming from inside or outside of the head. Sometimes hallucinations resemble those in schizophrenia. The course of illness usually finds resolution in one or two months.

Morbid jealousy refers to a state where a person (usually male) develops a delusional belief that their partner is being unfaithful. The victim is accused of infidelity. A search is frequently made for incriminating evidence and they partner may be followed or attempts are made to catch them “in the act”. Victims may be in real physical danger and tragic fatal attacks have occurred.

Alcohol is the number one drug problem in America. An average American may consume over 25 gallons of beer, 2 gallons of wine and 1.5 gallons of distilled spirits each year. Alcohol and alcohol related problems is costing the American economy at least $100 million in health care and loss of productivity every year. Alcohol is legal but it’s not harmless. The effects last a lifetime.

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