According to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1996), alcoholism is defined as a disease condition due to the excessive use of alcoholic beverages. While Silvertein in his book 'Alcoholism' (1990) gives three criteria that the American Psychiatric Association listed for physicians to diagnose alcoholism as follows:
1. Physiological problems, such as hand tremors and blackouts.
2. Psychological problems, such as an obsessive desire to drink.
3. Behavioral problems that disrupt social or work life.
Traditionally, addiction is defined as being possible only to a psychoactive substance (for example alcohol, tobacco, or drugs), which is ingested, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and alters the natural chemical behavior of the brain temporarily. Alcoholism can be of any age, background, income level, social, or ethnic group. Even the highly educated people are not spared. An alcoholic can totally disrupt family life and can cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime. Parental alcoholism may affect the fetus even before a child is born. Because crime and violence are associated with alcoholism, incest and battering are common in alcoholics' families. Male alcoholics are wife beaters.
"Alcoholism also has other negative effects on the spouse of an alcoholic. The spouse may have feelings of hatred, self-pity, avoidance of social contacts, and may suffer exhaustion and become physically and mentally ill." (Berger, 1993) Peter and Esther Jones lived with their four children in Lagos. Sadly, however, Peter's alcoholism caused the home to break up. He returned home virtually every night so drunk that he would turn the volume of both their radio and television sets to the highest levels. When his wife appealed to him to turn down the volume so as not to disturb the sleeping children and neighbors, he got her beaten up mercilessly. Ant time she demanded for money to buy food for the family, he claimed he had no money.
This was the routine with Peter and Esther until; she decided to take the easy way out. One fateful morning, she left home, and never returned. Peter never realized that he had lost his wife forever. He returned home everyday, expecting to see that she had come back to him. But as it gradually dawned on him that she would never come home to him again, he became so overwhelmed that he increased his drinking. On his way home one night after his drinking spree, he was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver and he died later in the hospital.
The four children were thus left to themselves. Neighbors helped the much they could but they could not live on their good grace forever. Soon enough, the eldest child, a girl, got involved with a notorious criminal in the neighborhood who offered to help her bear some of her burdens at home. The second girl ran away from home nobody knew where she was. The only boy soon started moving around with delinquents in the area and ended up living in the street. He became a street urchin. The third girl and the last child died while committing an abortion.
Alcohol affects each member of the family – from the unborn child to the alcoholic's spouse. Its devastating effects result in not only physical problems for the alcoholics, but also may result in physical and psychological problems for other members of the family as stated above. In some cases this problem has led to divorce and its unpleasant consequences. Alcohol impairs judgment, memory, concentration and coordination, can induce extreme mood swings and emotional outbursts. This is why an alcoholic is totally unpredictable. Alcohol acts as a sedative on the central nervous system, depressing the nerves cells in the brain, dulling, altering and damaging their ability to respond. Large doses of alcohol has the potential to cause sleep, anesthesia, respiratory failure, and in extreme cases coma and death. Long term drinking may result in permanent mental disorders and addiction to alcohol.
Alcohol affects effective functioning of the brain especially alertness and the ability to make quick decisions and engaging in complex tasks. So do not drive after drinking; many people have died because of this. Do not operate machines including generators after drinking, you can cause costly accidents. Do not teach your children after drinking; you may never regain your respect.
Some other effects on the central nervous system include impaired visual ability, unclear hearing, dull smell and taste, loss of pain perception, slower reactions, altered sense of time and space, and impaired motor skills and slurred speech. Alcohol distorts vision and the ability to adjust to lights. It diminishes the ability to distinguish between sounds and to perceive their direction. Alcohol can also lower resistance to infection. The body gets rid of alcohol mainly by the action of the liver enzymes that convert it into products that can be passed out in urine. The bodies of some alcoholics have enhanced this function and can tolerate more alcohol than light drinkers and teetotalers. However heavy may cause inflammation and destruction of liver cells, leading to cirrhosis (irreversible lesions, scarring and destruction of liver) it impairs the liver's ability to remove yellow pigment resulting in skin appearing yellow (jaundiced).. Liver damage causes fluid to build in extremities (Edema). The liver accumulates fat over a period of time, due to the prolonged drinking which can cause liver failure. Think of the high cost of medical attention that will be required when sickness has set in on the budget of the family.
Abuse of alcohol weakens the heart muscle and its ability to pump. The heart can be enlarged or abnormal and beat irregularly as a result. Blood pressure is increased with all the attendant problems such as risk of heart attack and strokes and the potential to inhabit the production of white and red blood cells. Alcohol interferes with the body's ability to absorb calcium resulting in bones being weak, soft and brittle. Muscles become weaker and could shrink in size or waste away (atrophy). Alcohol affects the functioning of some of the hormones in our bodies. For example, it inhibits anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) and makes you want to urinate frequently (diuresis). Sexual functioning can be impaired, resulting in impotence and infertility which can be irreversible. Women that abuse alcohol have been known to have the potential to develop breast cancer.
Drinking during pregnancy significantly increases the chance of delivering a baby with fetal Alcoholic Syndrome; small head, possible brain damage, abnormal features, poor muscle tone, sleep and speech disorders and retarded growth and development. Because alcohol circulates to all parts of the body, it affects the action of many drugs and chemicals in the body. Alcohol changes the functioning of cell membranes and the functioning of drug receptors on cell membranes and affects the way nerves and muscle fibers function. For this reason, it can be said to be a two-edge sword. It can prevent the action of good and desirable drugs. It can also prevent the action of bad and undesirable poisons.
Alcohol loosens the mouth and makes the person say things he shouldn't have said in sober mood. This can make the alcoholic easily get into trouble. This also makes him prone to telling lies in order to get out of trouble.