Defining Who an Alcoholic Is and What the Effects of Alcohol on that Person Are
Within the context of our society, drinking of alcohol is a perfectly normal activity. For most people drinking a moderate amount of alcohol can be beneficial, indeed studies suggest that moderate drinking may protect against coronary heart disease by improving insulin resistance (Gold, 1991). However, for a minority of people drinking alcohol is an activity that is fraught with danger and, for a very few, is akin to taking a poison that will almost inevitably ruin their lives. Henceforth, it is important for research purposes to define who an alcoholic is and what the effects of alcohol on that person are. An alcoholic is a person who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol habitually and whose pattern of drinking is uncontrollable and usually impulsive. Alcoholism is a chronic and usually progressive illness involving the excessive ingestion of ethyl alcohol, whether in the form of familiar alcoholic beverages or as a constituent of other substances. Furthermore, alcohol often effects the nervous, peripheral and gastric systems and is characterized by mental disturbances and muscular uncoordination, and may eventually leads to disorders such as cirrhosis of the liver (Goodwin, 1988). Alcoholism is thought to arise from a combination of a wide range of physiological, psychological, social, and genetic influences. It is characterized by an emotional and often physical dependence on alcohol and may often lead to brain damage or early death (Drews, 1992).
In the past, researchers from various different disciplines sought to pin down a single cause for alcoholism. There was the concept of addictive personality whereby it was suggested that anyone with a particular personality type was almost inevitably predestined to alcoholism. In a similar way, the presence of a close family member with a drinking related disorder was also considered to be a danger of almost epic proportions with various people suggesting that their lifestyles would undoubtedly ‘rub off’ on anyone unfortunate enough to live near them (Raistrick, 1985). Studies on aspects such as the individual’s environment suggest a certain type of environment may play a major contributing factor in developing alcoholism. It has been illustrated that children of alcoholics are at great risk of being exposed to an unhealthy family system. The more time a person spends in such a negative environment, the more susceptible he/she becomes to trying alcohol and in the long run of becoming alcoholics, marrying an alcoholic or doing both and so continuing the vicious cycle (Bowden, 1985).
Clearly, Alcoholism, as opposed to merely excessive or irresponsible drinking, has been variously thought of as a symptom of psychological or social stress or as a learned, maladaptive coping behaviour (Barrera et al., 1991). More recently, and probably more accurately however, it has come to be viewed that alcoholism is a...