Alcohol Dependence and Abuse
Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Pure ethyl alcohol is a colorless, mild-smelling liquid that boils at 79 degrees Celsius and evaporates quickly at room temperature. It is made either by fermentation of grain mashed and suspended in water or fruit juice, followed by the distillation (boiling) of the beer or wine that is produced, or by chemical synthesis from the petrochemical ethylene. Ethyl alcohol—usually simply called alcohol—has many uses, including the sterilization of surgical instruments and inclusion in the fuel gasohol; it is the liquid in which many medicines are dissolved, serves as the main component of perfumes and colognes, and is used in the manufacture of many useful chemicals. The best-known use of alcohol, however, is in alcoholic beverages, viewed by many as recreational beverages because of the mood-altering properties of the alcohol they contain.
It is believed that alcoholic beverages have been made since prehistoric times. The oldest records of widespread brewing of beer and production of wine have been found in what were ancient Babylon and Egypt, respectively. According to historians, the main reason for the preparation of alcoholic beverages by early civilizations was that their antimicrobial properties kept grape juice and other food sources from which they were prepared from spoiling. Drinking sparing amounts of fermented beverages was also thought to prevent many illnesses that people contracted from contaminated drinking...
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Changing Attitudes (Psychology and Mental Health)
As pointed out by Andrew M. Mecca, before 1935 the main opinion on alcohol dependence was that it was criminal behavior that merited punishment. Around 1935, the problem began to be identified as a disease. Crucial to the successful treatment of alcohol dependence was the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous, founded in that year. This organization operates on the premise that abstinence is the best course of treatment for alcohol dependence. The goal of the organization is sobriety: the permanent stoppage of a person’s drinking.
The methodology of Alcoholics Anonymous is psychosocial. It brings individuals with alcohol problems to the realization that they cannot use alcoholic beverages without succumbing to alcohol dependence. It identifies the need for help from a higher power, and it develops a support group of people with the same condition. As stated by Mecca, “Alcoholics Anonymous never pronounces the disease cured. . . . [I]t is arrested.” Estimates of the membership of the organization are between 1.5 million and 3 million, meaning that up to one-third of Americans with alcohol problems are affected by its tenets. These people achieve results ranging from discrete periods of sobriety (usually lasting longer and longer as membership in the organization continues) to lifelong sobriety. A liability of relying solely on Alcoholics Anonymous for treatment—according to many experts—is the lack of medical,...
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Treating an Epidemic (Psychology and Mental Health)
The excessive use of alcoholic beverages, with resultant alcohol dependence, has occurred for many centuries. Modern efforts to deal with alcohol dependence are often considered to have begun in the early twentieth century, with the activities of the American temperance movement that culminated with Prohibition on the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment. The idea behind Prohibition was that making liquor “impossible to get” would force sobriety on the nation. The measure turned out to be self-defeating, however, and several sources point out that it actually increased the incidence of alcohol dependence in the country. It was repealed in 1933.
The next, and much more useful, effort to combat alcohol dependence was the psychosocial approach of Alcoholics Anonymous, started in 1935 and still operating well. That organization does not reach the majority of individuals with alcoholic problems, however, so other efforts needed to evolve as treatment methodologies. Among these have been the wide use of psychiatric counseling, alcohol rehabilitation centers, family counseling, and alcohol management programs in the workplace. These options—alone or in various combinations—have had considerable success in reaching alcoholics, and combined alcohol dependence therapy seems to work best; however, it has not yet been possible to stem the tide of increasing alcohol dependence or to cure the disease. Instead, these...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Bennett, Abram Elting. Alcoholism and the Brain. New York: Stratton Intercontinental Medical Books, 1977. Deals with relationships between brain function and alcohol dependence as a brain disease. Coverage includes the concept of alcohol dependence as a disease, alcohol actions in the brain, testing for alcoholic brain disease, constructive relationships between psychiatry and other aspects of alcohol dependence treatment, and rehabilitation methodology.
Connors, Gerard Joseph, Dennis M. Donovan, and Carlo DiClemente. Substance Abuse and the Stages of Change. New York: Guilford, 2001. Discusses treatment for problems related to alcohol and for other addictive behaviors from the perspective of considering the motivation of the affected person. Treatment approaches may vary depending on the stage of change of the individual.
Cox, W. Miles, ed. The Treatment and Prevention of Alcohol Problems: A Resource Manual. Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press, 1987. Contains much information on many of the psychiatric, psychological, and behavioral aspects of alcohol. It is also widely useful in many other related alcohol dependence treatments, including Alcoholics Anonymous, marital therapy, family therapy, and alcohol dependence prevention.
Fletcher, Anne M., and Frederick B. Glasser. Sober for Good. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. Discusses alternative methods to stop drinking and...
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Alcohol Dependence and Abuse (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
The abuse of alcohol in any of its various forms, exhibited by repeated episodes of excessive drinking often to the point of physical illness during which increasing amounts of alcohol must be consumed to achieve the desired effects.
The American Psychiatric Association ranks alcohol dependence and abuse into three categories (what society normally thinks of as "alcoholics"): 1) individuals who consume alcohol regularly, usually daily, in large amounts 2) those who consume alcohol regularly and heavily, but, unlike the first group, have the control to confine their excessive drinking to times when there are fewer social consequences, such as the weekend and 3) drinkers defined by the APA who endure long periods of sobriety before going on a binge of alcohol consumption. A binge can last a night, a weekend, a week, or longer. People in the latter two categories often resist seeking help because the control they exercise over their intake usually allows them to maintain a normal daily schedule and function well at work or at school aside from binges.
Other psychologists categorize alcohol dependence and abuse into "species." There are several species currently recognized by some in the medical community, including alpha, a minor, controllable dependence; beta, a dependence that has brought on physical...
(The entire section is 1626 words.)