The factors that influence Alcoholism

The factors that influence Alcoholism
The factors that influence Alcoholism

It is erroneously believed by even many people that alcohol is an aphrodisiac, though the Bard of Avon had made the right observation about alcohol’s role in this connection by observing that it provokes the desire but takes away the performance ! Notwithstanding the part played by alcohol in the sexual context many medical experts all over the world are inclined to regard alcoholism as a problem that defies satisfactory explanation and eludes a successful and permanent cure. However, of late, there has been a reassessment of the precise nature of this disorder. Alcoholism had once been considered a disorder of the mind alone but it now felt that it might have genetic and biochemical aspects also.

Equipped with a wealth of new data, scientists are hopeful of developing tests that can identify people who have the genetic framework to become potential alcoholics. Simultaneously, they are seeking more effective means of treating this disorder if only by modifying or manipulating the chemistry of the human body itself. However, recent studies and observations on patients seem to bear out the theory that susceptibility to alcoholism is perhaps, more of an inherited trait than had been suspected before. Thus, according to researchers, alcoholism may spring from genetically influenced responses to drinking. According to one scientist, alcoholism is not just a moral problem. He holds the view that it is unlikely that someone will become a persistent drinker without some biological predisposition to alcohol.

What happens to the alcohol in the human body when a person drinks? It is broken down primarily by the liver. First of all, an enzyme transforms alcohol into a chemical called acetaldehyde which, at high levels, can be toxic. To prevent it from accumulating, the liver uses a second enzyme to break it down. But scientists have observed that this response to alcohol intake is not uniform. For example, they have noticed that men who come from families with a history of alcoholism were found to produce higher levels of acetaldehyde than those from non-alcoholic backgrounds. This so- called high-risk group also claimed to feel less intoxicated after three drinks and showed fewer signs of drunkenness.

Researchers believed that by blunting the typical drowsy response to liquor, acetaldehyde may counteract alcohols initial ill-effects and encourage continued drinking. This is, perhaps, what is happen­ing in the case of the typical social drinker, who boasts that alcohol has no effect on him and tries to project a macho image of himself.

Brain wave patterns may also indicate an inborn vulnerability to alcohol. An international team of scientists recently found that sons of alcoholic fathers had a greater alpha-brain wave response to a single low dose of alcohol than the sons of non-alcoholic fathers. Researchers are now looking for what they describe as ‘biochemical markers’ while examining the effect of alcohol on the human brain. They feel that by pinpointing these markers physicians will be able to protect a person from alcoholism by manipulating his body’s and, ultimately, his brain’s biochemistry perhaps by administering suitable nutrients.

Thus, recent findings support earlier evidence from a few other countries, notably Sweden, that alcohol abuse often ‘travels’ within families. An adoptee, according to one study, appears to be four times more than likely to become alcoholic if a biological parent was alcoholic and the post-adoption environment also encouraged drinking. But not every child of an alcoholic will be exposed to the same type of risk. These are obviously different pathways to alcoholism.

The body’s metabolism is a pathway that can both discourage and favour dependence on alcohol. Some researchers believe that race and ethnicity influence the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream and the tissues. This alcohol is later broken down in the liver. They claim, on the basis of certain findings, that 60 percent of Orientals and 5 per cent of Europeans innately lack the most active form of the crucial second enzyme that converts acetaldehyde into a non-toxic substance. After drinking they suffer intense body flushing, dizziness and severe nausea.

Until such time as a permanent cause and a cure are discovered, it would be wise to observe some general rules such as not to drink (a) either to please someone else, (b) to get a moral boost, (c) to feel elated, (d) to get over depression or (e) to escape from unpleasant situations which the conscious mind cannot accept. Even while conceding that grapes can indeed be sweet, one would have to disagree with Omar Khayyam who wrote:

Be this juice the wrath of God who dare

Blaspheme the twisted tendril as a snare

A blessing we should use it should we not

And if a curse why then who set it there.

But then good old Khayyam perhaps only advocated the intake of sweet wine in very small doses to produce a favourable mood rather than large quantities which totally numb the senses to the point of inebriation by intoxicating the brain, thus defeating the very purpose of creating a pleasant mental climate!


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