A Problem That Rivals Drug Addiction
WHAT is it that enslaves many millions more persons than heroin addiction?
What causes persons to be seven times as susceptible to accidental death as the rest of the population?
What ranks next to heart disease and cancer as a major health problem in the United States and many countries of Europe?
The answer: chronic alcohol abuse.
The use of alcoholic beverages goes back to the earliest times of man’s history. The abuse of these beverages is just about as old. Millions of people today enjoy wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages without any damage to their health, or to their mental effectiveness or personal safety. Yet, today, in the United States, about one out of every ten persons who drink is either a full-blown alcoholic or a “problem drinker,” that is, one whose drinking causes trouble for himself (or herself) and for those around him.
In France, where there is a café or bar for about every 250 persons, a poll indicated that nearly one out of every four men and one out of every twelve women has a problem with alcohol abuse. The toll of persons dying from alcohol-caused disease is estimated at 30,000 a year. Last year French Health Minister Michel Poniatowski said: “Let’s not beat about the bush—alcoholism is a national scourge.”
One of the saddest aspects of the rise of alcoholism is its invasion of the ranks of young people. A London Times report shows drunkenness rising sharply among British teen-agers, particularly among girls. A survey revealed some children slipping drinks from the family cabinet before heading for school; others were missing the school lunch to step out for a drink at a nearby pub.
In the United States, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse, Dr. Morris Chafetz, said: “It’s not uncommon to see severe alcoholism problems in kids 9, 10, 11, 12 years old. It’s a far more serious problem than we ever imagined.” The Alcoholics Anonymous organization has started “Junior AA” chapters for those ten to twenty years old. In New York city alone there are an estimated 66,000 youngsters twelve to eighteen years of age with serious drinking problems.
FAR-REACHING EFFECTS ON HUMAN LIVES
The Bible says that “wine itself makes life rejoice.” (Eccl. 10:19; compare Psalm 104:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7.) But it also warns that wine can be “a ridiculer, intoxicating liquor is boisterous, and everyone going astray by it is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1) Consider some of the ways that excess in the use of alcohol can make a mockery of human lives.
Some persons are able to drink surprisingly large quantities of alcoholic beverages and still not give the appearance of being “drunk.” A poll by the French paper Le Monde shows most alcoholics in France drinking from four to five quarts of wine a day, yet often showing little outward sign of intoxication. Nevertheless, as Proverbs 23:32 says of excessive drinking, “at its end it bites just like a serpent, and it secretes poison just like a viper.” An early sign of this poisoning may be the well-known “hangover” with its nausea, headache, restlessness, trembling, sweating, stomach upset and tremendous thirst (due to the shift of water from the cells to areas outside the cell walls).
The long-range effects, though less dramatic, are much more grave in their consequences. Alcoholic beverages are high in calories. But these are “empty” calories, lacking vitamins and minerals and amino acids in any quantity. The heavy drinker often neglects normal eating, and then nutritional deficiencies begin to develop. These play a large part in the diseases accompanying alcoholism. Particularly the liver, already heavily worked in metabolizing (“burning up” or oxidizing) the alcohol, suffers, and in time cirrhosis of the liver sets in, a prime source of death among long-term alcoholics.
Excessive amounts of alcohol irritate the tissues of the mouth, throat and stomach. Some French medical authorities believe that 90 percent of the cancer cases in that country involving the mouth, throat and larynx are due to alcoholism. In time, the drinker may develop delirium tremens—with its violent shaking, frightening hallucinations and forms of paralysis—and, though only lasting from three to ten days, this often proves fatal.
Even more serious—and more immediate—is the effect of alcohol abuse on personal conduct. This is because alcohol, when absorbed into the bloodstream, affects first of all the highest functions of the brain—thinking, learning, remembering and the vital making of decisions and judgments. A small amount of alcohol for most persons has little effect. But where one takes several drinks in a relatively short time, his ability to remember, to concentrate and to solve problems drops rapidly. The brain finds difficulty in processing more than one kind of incoming information at a time. (Ps. 107:27) Vision becomes impaired; the person has trouble in seeing things off to one side and may have the feeling of looking through unfocused binoculars. Yet, because of alcohol’s somewhat hypnotic effect, the one overindulging may feel he still has full command of his senses.—Isa. 28:7.
Since alertness and reflex responses, triggered by the brain, diminish with high alcohol concentrations, driving becomes extremely hazardous. Alcohol abuse is involved in at least half of the 55,000 deaths and one million major injuries occurring each year on United States highways. Where states have lowered the legal age for drinking to eighteen years, a dramatic rise in fatal road accidents caused by drunken teen-age drivers has occurred.
The greatest tragedy lies in alcoholism’s effect on family life. For the alcoholic’s mate and children, life can become a nightmare. Youthful lives may be blighted or permanently scarred. The separation or divorce rate for alcoholics in the United States is seven times as high as that of the rest of the population. In France, alcoholism figures in one fourth of all suicides and one half of all homicides. (Compare Proverbs 4:17.) Research has shown that chronically alcoholic mothers may produce defective children—children born with abnormally small heads, lopsided faces, having stunted growth ability and subnormal intelligence.
The chronic alcoholic is a poor employee; he cannot perform anywhere near what his normal capacities would allow. He has a far higher rate of absenteeism, takes twice as much sick leave as other employees, is involved in more work accidents. Besides his own inefficiency he generally impairs the efficiency of those whose work ties in with his. (Compare Proverbs 21:17; 23:20, 21.) Estimates place alcoholism’s cost to business and industry in the United States alone at $12,000,000,000 annually. Alcohol abuse leads to a breakdown in morality and the growth of crime. Surveys show it often is a stepping-stone to drug addiction.
Nations today are searching for remedies for this major problem. This means finding out why and how people become alcoholics, so as to know what protective measures can be taken or how a cure can be effected where the person is already a victim of alcoholism. What have the results in this regard shown and where does the real solution lie?
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Many persons can eliminate 1/3 ounce of pure alcohol per hour. BEER 8 oz. WHISKEY 3/4 oz. WINE 2 3/4 oz.
When one drinks alcohol, it is quickly taken into the bloodstream, soon reaches the central nervous system, and starts to slow down brain activity.
Several drinks may be required before motor centers of the brain are affected, resulting in faltering steps. But be on guard! Before that, the barriers of self-control come down. As Hosea 4:11 says, “Wine and sweet wine are what take away good motive.”
A very small amount may affect you adversely; others may drink more, with no observable effect; do not conclude that you can drink freely because others do.