The consequences of alcohol misuse are serious—in
many cases, life threatening. Heavy drinking can increase the risk for
certain cancers, especially those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and
larynx (voice box). Heavy drinking can also cause liver cirrhosis,
immune system problems, brain damage, and harm to the fetus during
pregnancy. In addition, drinking increases the risk of death
from automobile crashes as well as recreational and on-the-job injuries. Furthermore, both homicides and suicides are more
likely to be committed by persons who have been drinking. In purely economic terms, alcohol-related
problems cost society approximately $185 billion per year. In human terms,
the costs cannot be calculated.
People who are not alcoholic sometimes do not
understand why an alcoholic can’t just “use a little willpower” to stop
drinking. However, alcoholism has little to do with willpower. Alcoholics are in the grip of a powerful
“craving,” or uncontrollable need, for alcohol that overrides their ability
to stop drinking. This need can be as strong as the need for food or water.
Although some people are able to recover from
alcoholism without help, the majority of alcoholics need assistance. With
treatment and support, many individuals are able to stop drinking and
rebuild their lives.
Many people wonder why some individuals can use
alcohol without problems but others cannot. One important reason has to do
with genetics. Scientists have found that having an alcoholic
family member makes it more likely that if you choose to drink you too may
develop alcoholism. Genes, however, are not the whole story. In fact,
scientists now believe that certain factors in a person’s environment
influence whether a person with a genetic risk for alcoholism ever develops
A person’s risk for developing alcoholism can
increase based on the person’s environment, including where and how he or
she lives; family, friends, and culture; peer pressure; and even how easy it
is to get alcohol.
the Signs of a Problem?
How can you tell whether you may have a drinking
problem? Answering the following four questions can help you find out:
• Have you ever felt you should cut down on your
• Have people annoyed you by criticizing your
• Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your
• Have you ever had a drink first thing in the
morning (as an “eye opener”) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
One “yes” answer suggests a possible alcohol
problem. If you answered “yes” to more than one question, it is highly
likely that a problem exists.
In either case, it is important that you see your
doctor or other health care provider right away to discuss your answers to
these questions. He or she can help you determine whether you have a
drinking problem and, if so, recommend the best course of action.
Even if you answered “no” to all of the above
questions, if you encounter drinking-related problems with your job,
relationships, health, or the law, you should seek professional help. The
effects of alcohol abuse can be extremely serious—even fatal—both to you and