Alcoholism is a disease, a mental illness and an affliction. These words match up just fine. But when is it okay to pair a word like addict or alcoholic to a person? Next to never, unless the alcoholic has come to terms with his or her own addiction. The word ‘addiction’ is a label that can’t be easily placed on an individual. The term addiction has achieved a mysterious definition as well. People will see something different whenever they think of substance dependency. Some see a filthy homeless man lying on the street with a hypodermic needle sticking out of his arm, while others see a famous celebrity making headlines after overdosing. Some may see a blue collar working father who comes home late at nights and unleashes his rage onto his family. Addiction is the common thread between all these images. Dependency can manifest itself in an infinite number of ways, because in reality, addiction is not constrained to just a drug or a substance. Dependency is the imbalance of something in your life that causes one to ignore other parts of their life. Essentially we are all addicted to something.
Alcohol is one of the bigger dependency problems we face as a society. According to a recent study noted in the Washington Post, one in eight Americans are alcoholics, and that number is on the rise. That is about 17.6 million people. Furthermore, alcohol is the third highest cause of death in America according to the NIAAA. We have a serious problem and it has to be confronted.
The pervasive effects of rampant alcohol abuse is especially apparent in our families. All of those 17.6 million alcoholics have loved ones and people close to them whose lives are being affected by alcohol. The effects of alcohol on the psychology of families is alarming. Its effects include: a partial or complete lack of effective communication; poor or nonexistent parenting skills; poorly run and managed homes with no set schedules, structure, or discipline; more conflict in the home including arguing, fighting, and sometimes physical abuse; and financial struggles that lead to a more stressful life. This is unacceptable. Alcoholism is not a choice for those who are simply born into its clutches.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that we all have stories of alcoholism affecting families or friends. The odds are that you know at least one alcoholic or one person whom has been impacted by an alcoholic. Whether the alcoholic was a drunk driver and killed or hurt someone you know, or whether an alcoholic raised you, alcoholism echoes throughout our society. It becomes a vicious cycle, as children of alcoholics are four times more likely to develop alcohol problems. Many alcoholics become physically and emotionally abusive and the damage often leads to divorce, leaving the child without a good example and hope. Many children raised by alcoholics may turn to alcohol or harder drugs, raise a child of their own, and restart the entire cycle.
Now this is not a cry to ban alcohol once more, as was done during the period of prohibition from 1920 to 1933 when there was a constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. The decade of prohibition saw a large scale increase in organized crime due to the black market of alcohol being created. Figures like Al Capone appeared and made a business out of breaking the law with their teams of mobsters. Restricting the sale of alcohol will not solve the problem and it will only create more problems in society.
However, something has to be done about America’s alcohol-fueled culture. While it may sound counterintuitive, reducing the drinking age to be closer to Europe’s drinking age may affect the drinking culture here in America. Making alcohol more common place and removing the “forbidden fruit” allure it has for our youth could counteract the problem. Many European countries introduce children to drinking as a social activity and something to be done in moderation on special occasions. In America, drinking is seen as something to do with the intention of getting drunk to escape from problems or as a reward for working hard. Perhaps if we stopped glorifying heavy binge drinking in the media and exposed our children to alcohol in small doses with careful guidance, we could begin to moderate our alcohol-fueled culture and prevent the cycle of addiction that destroys so many lives.