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Alcohol Abuse Problems: Rates, Effects & Treatment

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  • 0:06 Alcohol Users
  • 2:42 Theories of Addiction
  • 6:07 Alcohol & the Body
  • 7:46 Treatment
  • 9:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson examines alcohol use and abuse from various viewpoints, including biological, sociological, and the various theories on why alcoholism occurs. Treatment is also covered and what a counselor should be aware of when conducting detox.

Alcohol Users

What is one of the oldest recipes we have? If you guessed beer, you'd be right. Alcohol, which is a big reason people drink beer, has been around longer than there has been civilization and will likely continue to be around long after the sun turns red and giant crabs roam the world. As of right now, we are going to focus on humans and alcohol as a general thing since talking about wine, sake, beer, and all the others would be tedious.

As of 2007, an American will drink about 2.31 gallons of alcohol per year, on average. When looking at people who abstain from alcohol, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to abstain, and women are more likely to abstain than men. Examining socioeconomic status, we see that the lower a person's overall wealth, the higher the rate of abstaining. However, when you factor in education, the higher educated tend to drink more.

These are broad and sweeping findings that don't necessarily apply to the individual. You can fit every criteria in the 'Less likely to drink' column and still drink a lot. When we get to the individual, we begin to find labels. For example, alcoholic is a term used for people suffering from alcoholism, while alcoholism is defined as a progressive issue controlling alcohol consumption that continues despite social, physical, and other problems.

Alcoholism is the term given to the disease component, while alcoholic is a term put on people who have alcoholism. There is an unfortunate habit in society to blame a person for not being able to control themselves when it comes to alcohol, but as we will explore a little later, there may be a reason beyond self-control for this issue.

We also have other terms to describe people who drink. There is the social drinker, who we can describe as an individual whose drinking habits appear low risk and often in an interactive context. This is the person who drinks at parties or events but doesn't need to be sloshed. They can manage their alcohol.

A problem drinker, on the other hand, can be described as an individual whose drinking habits appear higher risk but not to a chronic level. With problem drinkers, we are seeing a shift away from control and into habitual or chronic use.

Let's transition from describing individuals and their drinking habits and start looking at this a little more scientifically. We will start with how we have tried to understand alcoholism and then shift into treatment.

Theories of Addiction

When it comes to working as a counselor, there are many ways to view alcoholism. One theory put forth to explain the addictive qualities that alcohol seems to have on some people is by describing alcoholism as a disease. Disease theory is a theory based on four qualities shared by the majority of alcohol abusers. They are:

  • Distinctive pattern of greater use
  • Persistent craving that is uncontrollable
  • Medical expertise is needed for some symptoms
  • Lack of responsibility for using

As you can probably guess by some of the qualities, the disease theory has largely been disregarded from its inception in the early '40s. The second quality - that of a persistent and uncontrollable craving - has been found to not be true for all former users who have undergone effective treatment. Furthermore, medical expertise is not needed unless there are dependent qualities requiring medical intervention. Lastly, the lacking of responsibility has been denied by the Supreme Court. This defense was used by people for things like drunk driving and murder, since the theory they used said it was the alcohol that did it, not them.

A psychological theory describes alcoholism as a maladaptive coping response to stressors. Everybody has stuff they do when they are stressed. Some people work out; some people eat like crazy. At some point in their lives, a person learns how they are going to handle stress. The psychological theory posits that these people learned to use alcohol as an escape mechanism from stress. And like overeating when you're stressed, drinking helps calm the stressed out person despite the alcohol's negative consequences.

A sociocultural theory describes alcoholism as a learned behavior, modeled after others, that is reinforced by the culture. I was talking about another topic with a friend lately, and the idea that 'we are who we are expected to be' came up. If you are expected to go to college, you likely will. What if you are expected to drink? What if you're not expected to be anything of value?

In the sociocultural theory, we see that modeling, which is a fancy way of saying 'monkey see, monkey do,' teaches people to drink. Little kids see that this is what their parents or peers do, and if they can't control it, then they break down and become an alcoholic, which brings along more expectations.

Last, we have the biopsychosocial theory, which can be described as a combination of the psychological and social theories with an additional idea that there is a predisposition in a person's brain that makes them susceptible to addiction. The truth always resists simple answers, and likely the best one is a combination of others. The biopsychosocial says that there are parts of the brain that are more susceptible to wanting to drink. People find enjoyment and pleasure from the alcohol itself. Combine this with individual thought pattern problems and a social push to drink, and you have a monster of a problem.

If we assume one of these models is correct, what is the best way of treating alcoholism? That is a method and personal choice to be taken up by the counselor. The model and theory a counselor adopts will reflect how they view the world. Many place more value on biology and nature, while others deem nurture and the environment to be more important.

Alcohol & the Body

Alcohol is a nefarious poison to the body. It degrades the body and brain, literally wasting it away. Heavy drinkers will have literal holes in the brains, like poke a finger in it 'cause there ain't nothing there.

Alcohol is metabolized, meaning it is broken down, in the liver. This concentration results in the liver first growing large lumps of fatty tissue. If alcohol consumption continues, it begins to poison the liver, leading to scarring and eventual failure.

Why is this bad? The liver is part of the system that cleans your blood. Without that, all kinds of gross stuff starts building up in your body.

There is a lie that circulates in many textbooks that says people can't die from withdrawal. I can tell you that they can die, and it is a screaming, howling pain. Alcohol slows down the neurons in your brain, so they have to work harder to keep you alive. More alcohol means your brain needs to work harder.

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