Term Paper: Alcohol Abuse

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Alcohol Abuse Ecdriesbaugh

Alcohol Abuse

Excessive or risky drinking takes the lives of approximately 85,000 Americans per year, making it the third leading cause of death in the U.S. (SciTech Book News, 2006). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 18 million Americans are dependant on alcohol -- people who are addicted to alcohol cannot control their drinking, and can't stop drinking even when it's negatively disrupting their lives (McCollum, S., 2007). "Alcohol abuse is any drinking that causes problems with work or school work, your relationships, or leads to legal problems or dangerous situations" (Harvard Reviews, 2006).

According to Hawkins (2007), a primary social concern was once the population growth in developing countries, then obesity, climate change, and now it's drinking more than nine glasses of wine a week (fewer if you're female). "One thing these so-called time bombs have in common is that they have arisen gradually. Their effects are cumulative and should not be perceived as a shock" (p. 1). In contrast, a recent report divulged a disturbing public health crises concerning alcohol abuse among college students on college campuses across America. The study was conducted at Columbia University by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), entitled "Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America's Colleges and Universities." (Califano, 2007).

The study was conducted from 1993 to 2004, and according to CASA there has been "no significant reduction in the proportion of students who drink..." 70% versus 68% and binge drinking remained at a steady 40%. Even more disturbing is the intensity in which extreme alcohol abuse has risen so sharply (Califano, 2007).

The results are staggering: Approximately 3.8 million college students binge drink, and abuse prescription and illegal drugs. Approximately 1.8 million college students meet the medical criteria for substance abuse or dependence and need treatment. This is two and a half times the ratio of those who meet the criteria in the rest of the country (Califano, 2007).

The results also revealed that the rates of dangerous drinking increased from 1993 to 2001. Over this time frame, the proportion of students who binge drank frequently (three or more times within a two-week period) rose by 16%; those who binge drank 10 or more times within a one month time frame rose by 25%; and those who drank to "get drunk" three or more times within a one month period rose by 21% (Califano, 2007).

The sudden increase in the frequency of substance abuse among college students reveals overwhelming consequences. "Every year more than 1,700 students die from alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related injuries; 700,000 students are assaulted by classmates who were drinking; and almost 100,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assaults and rapes." (Califano, 2007, p. 2).

The question is, "Why do students drink and drug themselves to this extent?" CASA conducted a survey of 2,000 college students. These students said they did this to "relieve stress, relax, have fun, forget their problems, and be one of the gang..." (Califano, 2007, p. 2). Focus groups revealed that college women had a desire to "keep up with the guys" so they went drinking with them; however, what they did not know was that one drink has the same affect on a woman that two drinks have on a man. These women also confided that they felt pressured to have sex and that alcohol was an effective disinhibitor (Califano, J., 2007). It is also worthy to note that girls report higher levels of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders today than ever before. Psychologist's note that many turn to alcohol to cope with these issues (Smith, 2007).

CASA also surveyed approximately 400 college administrators and conversed with many experts in the field of substance abuse. The findings were troubling. At many institutions the administrators and alumni perceive binge drinking and other drug abuse as a part of growing up. Moreover, the substance abuse problem receives little priority because college presidents and trustees are obsessed with raising money, building new facilities, and recruiting faculty (Califano, 2007, p. 2). They lack resources to address the problem.

The CASA reports a dismal ending: School administrator's facilitated or accepted the college custom of alcohol and drug abuse. These customs are connected to "inadequate student academic performance, depression, anxiety, suicide, property damage, vandalism, fights, and a host of medical problems..." (Califano, 2007, p. 2) by failing to help these students find better solutions, school administrators contribute to the problem. (Califano, 2007).

Parents are partly responsible for their children's behavior. Over half of all college drinkers began to abuse drugs and alcohol in high school (sometimes even sooner). Substance abuse among teens is a parental problem. "Parents who provide the funds for their children in college to purchase alcohol and drugs and party at substance-fueled spring breaks enable the college culture of abuse. If parents cannot say no to children who want to go on such breaks, how can they expect their children to say no to alcohol and other substances?" (Califano, 2007, p. 3).

The affects that alcohol abuse has on the adolescent/young adult brain is even more disturbing. Scientists suggest that prenatal alcohol exposure can alter brain activity in the frontal-striatal areas. Scientists analyzed 22 adolescents between the ages of 8 and 18 of whom 13 were heavily exposed to parental alcohol consumption. Decreased brain activity as noted in two regions within the prefrontal cortex of those experienced prenatal exposure. These children may be more likely to develop substance abuse problems in early adulthood (GP, 2007). The average American citizen may not know that there's increasing scientific proof that abusing alcohol during the teen years can be detrimental to the developing brain. It is a scientific fact that alcohol damages the frontal areas of the adolescent brain. Adolescence is considered to take place between the ages of 10 and 20. Researchers now know that if the frontal areas of the brain are injured during Adolescence there is a chance the affects will be irreversible; therefore, this person may never know their greatest potential.

Scientists theorize that the human brain goes through two major periods of development. The first takes place during childhood, and the second happens during the teen years. During this time frame the brain's frontal lobes are the main regions of development. The transition between childhood and adulthood is governed by this part of the brain. The frontal lobes are heavily involved in planning, decision-making, and controlling impulses -- in other words, the development of good judgment is adversely affected. Without these skills, it will be extremely difficult to function independently in society. (McCollum, 2007).

Substance abuse decreases the brain's ability to learn, recall, and develop. Large amounts of alcohol inhibit the chemical reactions that strengthen the process of synapses -- connections within the brain. The brain requires that it be shaped and remodeled by experience; hence, alcohol abuse prevents these processes. In other words, "heavy drinking slows or blocks the brain's ability to develop through learning." (McCollum, 2007, p. 2). This may account for why experts believe that adolescents who binge drink are 90% more likely to be convicted of a crime in adulthood than non-binge drinkers. It was also noted that binge drinkers surveyed at age 16 and then again at age 30 were found to be more prone to adult alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, and social disadvantage (Russell, 2007).

A blackout occurs when the person has nearly overdosed on alcohol. Although the person is conscious, he or she will later have no memory of anything that occurred during the blackout. "It's like the VCR's working, but when you hit the record button there's no tape in the machine..." (McCollum, 2007, p. 2).

Research on blackouts is supported by scientific findings, including studies of rats. Some may question what adolescent rats and adolescent humans have in common. "Rats and humans have identical body temperature, blood pressure, and the same organs. Genetically, we're 95% identical to rats. This allows us to explore the detailed workings of the brain without exposing humans to harm..." (McCollum, S., 2007).

Duke University conducted a study and noted that adolescent rats drugged with alcohol have more trouble learning tasks than drunken adult rats. This is evidence that alcohol impacts the thinking abilities of teens more intensely than those of adults (McCollum, S., 2007) and produces more devastating results.

According to a study done by Michelle Davis, schools don't have the time or money to effectively teach students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and so they shouldn't have the primary responsibility for providing that type of education. Instead this education is left up to a drug and alcohol abuse prevention group (Davis, 2007). Thirty-two percent said that avoidance was taught inconsistently or that nothing on the subject was taught in their schools. This seems wrong. Schools are supposed to warn students about danger -- especially if the students parents are failing to do so. Drug and alcohol education could be part of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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