Article

The Tragic Curse of Alcohol Abuse

Part 1

On the individual, national and global level, the misuse of alcohol is worse than ever.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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A 23-year-old woman and her male friend leave a movie theater in New Delhi, India, when several men in a chartered bus offer them a ride. But the occupants of the vehicle have ulterior motives. The men, allegedly drunk, gang rape and torture the young student and beat her friend almost to death. She dies 12 days later.

An inebriated man drives home after a New Year’s Eve party, swerving into the wrong lane and smashing into an oncoming van—killing a family of five.

A college student filled with dreams for the future passes out after a night of binge drinking to celebrate her graduation. Her roommates find her dead the next morning.

A young boy shields his face with his arms. His father rains down blows on the youngster, cursing at him with slurred speech. The child wonders, What did I do wrong?

These tragedies share a common denominator: alcohol abuse.

The thread of alcoholism is woven through mankind’s history. It has left a trail of pain, misery, shattered marriages, sexual assaults, death, loneliness, hopelessness and depression. While alcohol can be enjoyed in a responsible way, its misuse has darkened an already sinister side of human nature.

Each year, governments spend billions of dollars on television commercials, billboard ads, and school programs to combat the scourge. But in homes, cities and nations around the world, alcoholism is growing worse.

Not grasping a purpose for its existence, humanity has leapt headlong into widespread alcohol abuse. News reports continue to detail overdrinking by youth. Mass media attention has not made any headway in changing the trend of alcoholism in society.

Throughout man’s existence, alcohol has been used by millions of people as a temporary distraction from life’s hardships. Yet excessive drinking has only made people’s problems worse—bringing about more pain, more financial difficulties, more divorce, violence, death and depression. A vicious cycle of abusing alcohol to escape only leads to worsening problems. As world troubles grow in complexity and number, the cycle of abuse is spiraling out of control.

Drowning in Booze

A 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) report revealed 2.5 million people die from alcohol abuse every year. Titled The Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, the document’s foreword stated, “The harmful use of alcohol is a worldwide problem resulting in millions of deaths, including hundreds of thousands of young lives lost. It is not only a causal factor in many diseases, but also a precursor to injury and violence. Furthermore, its negative impacts can spread throughout a community or a country…” (emphasis added throughout).

The report outlined the overwhelming nature of the problem: “Alcohol consumption is the world’s third largest risk factor for disease and disability; in middle-income countries, it is the greatest risk. Alcohol is a causal factor in 60 types of diseases and injuries and a component cause in 200 others. Almost 4% of all deaths worldwide are attributed to alcohol, greater than deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, violence or tuberculosis. Alcohol is also associated with many serious social issues, including violence, child neglect and abuse, and absenteeism in the workplace.

“Yet, despite all these problems, the harmful use of alcohol remains a low priority in public policy, including in health policy. Many lesser health risks have higher priority.”

The comprehensive study also revealed that even with widespread recognition of the situation, the world is nowhere near fixing it: “Many countries recognize the serious public health problems caused by the harmful use of alcohol and have taken steps to adopt preventive policies and programmes, particularly to reduce drink–driving and the carnage that it causes. However, it is clear that much more needs to be accomplished.”

The report later stated, “A large proportion of countries, representing a high percentage of the global population, has weak alcohol policies and prevention programmes that do not protect the health and safety of the populace.”

In Russia, alcohol misuse is common, partly due to the popularity of vodka, which citizens associate with prosperity, hope, health and well-being. Many children drink—and sell—liquor! The WHO report revealed that in the Commonwealth of Independent States (a free association of 11 former republics of the Soviet Union), one in five deaths is from harmful drinking.

The study also confirmed that drinking among youth is on the rise around the world: “Overall, hazardous and harmful drinking patterns, such as drinking to intoxication and binge drinking, seem to be on the rise among adolescents and young adults…One reason could be the use of alcoholic carbonate drinks, better known as ‘alcopops’, that is equated with more problematic drinking patterns, such as more frequent drinking, earlier onset of alcohol consumption, drunkenness and more alcohol-related negative consequences…” (ibid.).

Research reveals that Western nations are fueling this rise: “The world’s highest alcohol consumption levels are found in the developed world, including western and eastern Europe. High-income countries generally have the highest alcohol consumption…” (WHO).

As societies around the world deteriorate, the abuse of alcohol becomes one more indicator of the breakdown of character. More people than ever lack the self-control to say “no” to a second…third…or fourth drink.

Way of Life

In the United States, binge drinking (which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as men consuming five or more drinks and women four or more in the span of two hours) and “partying” is now a way of life for vast numbers of young adults. Students skip morning classes to recover from the night before. Employees miss work the next day to nurse hangovers. After drinking too much, revelers engage in drunken, casual sex.

Time magazine reported that binge drinkers make up a large portion of the U.S. population: “One out of 3 adults and 2 out of 3 high school students who drink alcohol binge drink…Startlingly, the data suggest that 90% of the alcohol consumed by high-school kids and more than half the alcohol consumed by adults is downed during the course of binge drinking.”

A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics claimed Americans drink too much. It showed that 18 percent of men and 11 percent of women in the United States imbibe beyond the minimum recommended alcohol limit.

On top of this, in the age of “equal rights,” it should not be surprising that the once male-dominated ritual of binge drinking is no longer gender-biased. One Harvard University study reported that women on campuses across the country “are not just drinking more; they’re drinking ferociously” (Time).

Astonishingly, more than 90 percent of heavy drinkers consider themselves moderate or light drinkers. Yet denial is one of the first warning signs of alcoholism.

“Drunk Man of Europe”

As bad as conditions are in America, it could take lessons on how to party from Britain. This nation is awash in alcohol abuse. Recent studies reveal that around 50 percent of all men and women in Britain can be categorized as binge drinkers! This bad habit costs the country $37 billion per year.

“New research from the Department of Health underlines how excess alcohol affects almost every aspect of British life,” The Independent reported. “More than 2.6m children in the UK now live with a parent who drinks at hazardous levels. Mortality rates from liver disease among under-75s rose by 16 per cent between 2001 and 2009…And lost productivity because of hung over staff cost businesses £1.7bn [$2.6 billion] a year.

“Britain is the drunk man of Europe. Alcohol consumption in France, Germany and Italy is down by between 37 and 52 per cent since 1980. But in the UK it is up nine per cent, with binge drinkers sinking more booze than ever…” One expert stated that “it is now ‘commonplace’ to find young women being treated for liver disease.”

These statistics, however, should not be shocking when one considers what young adults are taught in homes and classrooms—or more correctly stated, what they are not taught. They are given no real, meaningful answers to life’s biggest questions. Millions are taught that the meaning of life is…you fill in the blank. Since nature abhors a vacuum, youth often fill the void with a wild, anything-goes lifestyle. An entire generation has embraced partying and is showing no signs of looking back. (Even worse, the health risks of alcoholism have now been removed from educational curricula.) Young people have adopted a nihilistic mentality and act as though there is nothing to live for. So they live to drink.

But this comes at a price.

High Cost of Hard Living

Although advertising and media present a glamorous picture—sipping martinis, reveling with friends, a “good time”—alcohol’s dark side is rarely highlighted. A Boston University study revealed that 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in America are caused by alcohol.

The following examples detail its negative effects as reported by America’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

In the United States, alcohol-related unintentional injuries kill more than 1,800 college students every year.

Approximately 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

2.8 million students reported driving while intoxicated.

In Britain, the numbers are even more staggering, according to The Independent:

In certain age groups, rates of cirrhosis (severe liver disease) have risen tenfold in 30 years.

Nearly one in four Britons see drunken or rowdy behavior in their neighborhoods.

In 2010, alcohol was to blame in 928,000 violent incidents.

Around 17 million working days are lost each year due to alcohol-related sickness. More than one in four adults are regular drinkers.

Alcohol plays a role in 33 percent of child abuse cases.

The Guardian newspaper framed the problem this way: “…the death toll from alcohol misuse is the equivalent of a passenger filled jumbo jet crashing every 17 days. Furthermore, 80% of alcohol-related deaths are from liver disease, which is the fifth most common cause of death in England and is set to overtake stroke and coronary heart disease as a killer within the next 10 years.”

Alcohol also plays a chief role in destroying families. When a bottle becomes primary in one’s life, everything else—including one’s spouse and children—is put on the backburner. Compared to married couples, divorced (or separated) people are 300 percent more likely to have been in a relationship with an alcoholic, according to the WHO report.

Children raised in a family that tolerates alcohol abuse often develop an unhealthy view of alcohol, the report stated. They grow up seeing no problem with excessive alcohol use and feel no need to exercise self-control. Because of this, one study showed that such children are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves.

With such horrific consequences, one wonders why heavy drinking is socially acceptable.

Inside the Science

The science behind alcohol overuse provides insight into why it is the “causal factor” in so many other problems. When one first drinks alcohol, the level of serotonin sharply increases. This hormone controls happiness, excitement and mood stability. Most antidepressants work by regulating serotonin levels. But unlike antidepressants, the serotonin increase from alcohol is short-lived. Alcohol’s numbing effects eventually reach the receptors that receive serotonin. This causes the absorbed amount of serotonin to drop dramatically below normal.

At low levels in the blood, alcohol tends to lift spirits and causes individuals to become more talkative. Most have heard the expression, “Wine makes the heart merry.” As the drinking continues, however, one’s mood changes. A decrease in serotonin levels results in a lack of emotional control. Men tend to be brash and more prone to violence when drunk. Women can become promiscuous. This leads to unwanted consequences and regrets the next morning.

When heavily intoxicated, the brain overcompensates for the lack of efficiency in its transmitters and receptors. It fires faster and with more intensity, which allows alcoholics to appear “normal,” even with a high blood alcohol level (BAL). When drunk, some alcoholics appear sober. But when actually sober, they are jittery and short-tempered. The individual then associates alcohol with feeling normal—which makes it addictive.

But as with an engine revved extremely high for extended periods, certain processes gradually break down. The brain’s receptors and transmitters stop firing. This constant “revving” of the brain eventually kills it.

Breathing and coordination is also affected as BAL increases. Inhibitions disappear. Judgment is impaired. Speech slurs. If drinking continues, coordination becomes jerky and haphazard. Past this point, an individual begins to slip in and out of consciousness. Breathing may be suppressed. Binge drinking can cause one to stop breathing completely or slip into a coma and die.

In addition, the corrosive nature of alcohol irritates the stomach and intestines. After prolonged alcohol abuse, the liver is severely affected. The enzymes that break down alcohol begin to mass produce. Over time, this stress causes parts of the liver to harden and die.

The combination of these effects is why alcohol is responsible for hypertension, cerebrovascular disease, chronic hepatitis, and other chronic liver diseases.

High-functioning Alcoholics

One group of alcohol abusers suffers quietly under society’s radar. Some live in affluent neighborhoods. They can be executives, professors, vice presidents, or principals of schools. The high-functioning alcoholic uses drinking as a crutch to hobble through life. They are always drunk—they wake and drink with breakfast—they drink at lunch—dinner is accompanied with alcohol and followed by a nightcap. Alcohol holds them up during hard times. It gives them strength to move forward. They cling to it like a baby to a bottle and nurse an addiction until it overwhelms them. It becomes a slow drip feed to their bloodstream—a constant, 24/7 buzz.

A New York Times article described this category of alcoholics: “Sarah Allen Benton is hardly your stereotypical alcoholic. She has a master of science degree from Northeastern University and is a licensed mental health counselor at Emmanuel College in Boston. In recovery from alcoholism for the last five years, she has written an enlightening new book about people like herself, ‘Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic’…As Ms. Benton describes them, high-functioning alcoholics are able to maintain respectable, even high-profile lives, usually with a home, family, job and friends. That balancing act continues until something dreadful happens that reveals the truth—to themselves or to others—and forces the person to enter a treatment program or lose everything that means anything.

“Typical high-functioning alcoholics…are in denial about their abuse of alcohol. Coworkers, relatives and friends often enable the abusive behavior to continue by refusing to acknowledge and confront it.

“‘The story of the [high-functioning alcoholic] is seldom told,’ Ms. Benton writes, ‘for it is not one of obvious tragedy, but that of silent suffering.’”

Sadly, more are choosing this path of “silent suffering,” turning to alcohol to escape the stresses of school, work and family. Women drink to cope with their broken marriages. Men do it to deal with monotonous jobs. Many drink out of loneliness and depression. But the comfort is only temporary and eventually takes its toll. Again, the vicious cycle kicks in. The effects of misusing alcohol only make school, work and family life harder to handle. Many remain trapped—and drink to deal with problems that are only exacerbated by alcohol.

Answer to Alcoholism

Picture an alcoholic alone in a hotel room: a jobless, twice-divorced man who just lost his children in a painful custody battle. He is sprawled out on the bed with a half-empty bottle of whiskey at his side. He is miserable and struggles against the cycle in which he has become caught—drinking, sobering up, and drinking again to escape his pain. He cannot see past drowning his sorrows in a bottle. With every sip, he wonders why life must be so hard—and why he can never fully escape his situation.

If he were to reach into the bedside drawer and pull out the Gideon Bible, however, he would discover that this cycle of widespread alcohol abuse was long ago foretold to occur. It is this Book, to which most will not turn for answers, that contains the truth about humanity’s collective bout with alcoholism.

The Bible explains the end result of thousands of years of man choosing his own path. Although alcohol abuse has existed since Noah’s time (Gen. 9:20-25), it has reached never-before-seen levels on a global scale. Notice the description in II Timothy 3 of our modern age: “…in the last days perilous [or dangerous] times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God…” (vs. 1-4).

Those who are called by God out of the ways of this world are told that they should “…no longer…live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have…walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that you run not with them to the same excess of riot…” (I Pet. 4:2-4).

God foretold these times would occur due to mankind’s nature. But will man ever be able to rein in human nature and control his addiction to alcohol? What does the Bible and prophecy reveal about alcohol and its overuse?

Part 2 will address man’s failed experiments at fixing his alcohol problem—and reveal God’s solution.


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