Alcohol consumption is a learned behaviour- no one likes the taste of alcohol at first. People drink out of curiosity, because of custom (let’s “toast” the bride and groom), or o escape from an unpleasant feeling with a sense of well- being and euphoria. Alcoholics are perceived as being weak people or as having bad habits.
Alcoholism is the disease produced by the repeated misuse of ethyl alcohol. It is a Primary disease: it is not caused by some underlying psychological or moral flaw. It is a chronic disease: it does not go away with time. It is a Progressive disease: it does not improve as long as one continues to drink. It is a potentially Fatal disease, if the drinking is not interrupted.
A primary characteristic of an alcoholic is a loss of control- once an alcoholic starts to drink, he or she is not able to predict things or situations in a normal way.
There are at least 300,000 alcoholics in Australia and 1 person in 10 who drinks at all will become an alcoholic. 1,600,000 Australians are affected either personally, or within their family by abuse of alcohol.
Approximately 25% of people who drink alcohol have problems during their life.
Alcohol and the body
Once alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, it is rapidly distributed throughout the body. It affects almost every cell, every organ, and every level of human functioning, .The most profound early effect is on the central nervous system, where it acts as a sedative, producing relaxation and sense of well-being. It impairs the intellect, physical abilities and metabolism.
When alcohol is taken regularly, in large amounts over many years, permanent physical damage will occur. This damage is often aggravated by the lack of vitamins because most alcoholics have poor eating habits. Alcohol can also damage the liver, brain and other parts of the nervous system. In the final stages of alcoholism, parts of the brain are permanently damaged and confusion, disorientation and DT’s result.
Alcohol and the brain
Any chemical that alters mood, feelings, co-ordination, perception, or behaviour, alters the cells in the brain and disrupts their normal chemical behaviour.
When alcohol enters the blood stream it travels to the brain. Alcohol can affect millions of nerve cells and change communication patterns throughout the brain. Alcohol can impair vision, distort hearing, muddle speech, impair judgement, dull the body’s senses, disturb motor skills, and reduce co-ordination. Deep inside the brain alcohol can affect the areas that control aggression, hunger and thirst, pleasure and pain, and body temperature.
These effects are produced because alcohol inhibits blood from transporting oxygen to brain cells. When brain cells are deprived of oxygen, they become impaired and possibly die! That’s brain damage.
Because the brain matures more slowly than other organs of the body, it may be even more susceptible to certain permanent, irreversible effects of alcohol.
The hypothalamus is the portion of the brain that controls lour automatic reflexes: breathing, heartbeat, and other bodily operations over which an individual has no conscious control. When alcohol is present in the blood stream it directly affects the hypothalamus, possibly damaging it, particularly during the adolescent years.
In addition, alcohol has a profound effect on the frontal lobe- the part of the brain that allows us to analyse and program our behaviour. It also allows us to convert experience to memory and is responsible for the formation of our “self-image”. These processes require a tremendous amount of energy. The depressant nature of alcohol directly lowers die energy centre in the brain. Those who lower the energy levels in the brain by using alcohol or other toxic chemicals, lose not only mental capacity, but their ability to realise they have lost it.
Adolescence is a time of changing attitudes, perception and behaviour. Peer pressure is very strong and the need to belong and to be accepted often leads a young person to yield to these pressures.
Adolescence is also a time of fluctuating psychological and physical growth. Brains cells (neurons), are especially important during this developmental period and must be protected. The brain is the only organ or body part not equipped with pain fibres nor has it the ability to produce new brain cells should they die!
Alcohol and the unborn child
Alcohol is carried from your blood through the placenta and enters your baby’s blood, circulating through your foetus. Your baby is then dependent on your excretory system to remove the alcohol. Exposure to alcohol can represent a serious risk to your child. Women who drink during their pregnancies double the risk of having a baby born with physical or mental handicaps.
Foetal Alcohol Effects refer to birth defects as a result of alcohol use during pregnancy. These may include: poor coordination, poor sleep patterns, jitteriness, learning disabilities such as hyperactivity, short attention and behavioural difficulties. Most of these are problems that will last a lifetime.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is die most serious condition associated with drinking during pregnancy. It is characterised by low birth weight, small head, mental retardation and failure to thrive and grow properly. A recent study has found that a father’s drinking habits during the month of his child’s conception can affect his baby’s birth weight.