Alcohol Addiction and Abuse
Alcohol - it's the harmless glass of sherry your Auntie Doris downs once a year at Christmas time. It's also one of the world's most dangerous drugs, responsible for more deaths, health and social problems worldwide than any illegal drugs including heroine and cocaine.
In moderation, alcohol can induce a feeling of well-being, protect against coronary heart disease and cause little or no ill effects. In excess, it rips families apart, destroys careers, fuels violent crime and leaves its victims diseased and destitute.
In the UK these days hardly a town or city escapes the weekly ravages of alcohol-related crime. Drunken youths wielding knives and broken bottles have become an inescapable element of the Friday and Saturday night "party scene". And of nearly three million violent crimes committed each year in the UK , about 50% are estimated to be caused by alcohol abuse (according to the British Crime Survey). In the USA , alcohol is cited as a major factor in the majority of murders, manslaughters, rapes, robberies and child abuse cases.
So why is such a dangerous substance legal in so many countries throughout the world and why is it being sold as an everyday commodity on store shelves along with toilet paper and tinned cat food?
For the answer, look no further than the disastrous national prohibition law in the USA in the 1920s. Branded the "noble experiment", prohibition was designed to reduce alcohol related crime, deaths, disease and all manner of social ills spawned by the demon drink. In reality the national ban led to an explosion of organised crime as speakeasies, bootleggers and murderous gangsters vied with each other for their share of a new and highly lucrative underground business. The law was repealed in 1933 after pressure from a disillusioned general public which saw that it was unenforceable and simply didn't work.
At the time of the repeal, American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt mused that the best way to stop people drinking to excess was to make them aware of the damage to themselves and their loved ones (rather than by prosecuting them).
Political arguments have raged over the most effective way of combating alcohol abuse since the temperance movement was formed in the USA in the 18 th century. Bans have been tried and abandoned in several countries so are clearly not the way forward.
Confronting Alcohol Abuse
Ultimately, an individual's alcohol abuse can only be tackled by that individual (see treatment). But countless measures to curb alcohol abuse at a national level have been tried, tested and had varying degrees of success in different countries around the world. Campaigners are calling on politicians to take the most successful of these measures and build them into a co-ordinated national and global policy to reduce the havoc wreaked by this most dangerous of drugs. They include:
- Restricting the marketing activities of the multi-billion-dollar alcohol industry
- Introducing punitive taxes on alcoholic drinks
- Strict controls on the availability and sale of alcohol (some campaigners advocate a government monopoly of all alcohol sales)
- Rigorous drink-drive laws, strict enforcement and automatic heavy penalties
- Public education programmes to raise awareness of the health and social consequences of alcohol abuse
- Access to free treatment for heavy drinkers admitted to hospital or convicted of a drink-related crime
You should consider getting alcohol addiction treatment if you answer the question am I an alcoholic? in the affirmative.