by Lexa Blue
Paper in response to questions about the book "Alcohol, Cradle to Grave"
November 23, 2004
A. The book Alcohol: Cradle to Grave by Eric Newhouse gives many examples of both direct and indirect aspects of alcohol problems. One very direct example of how alcohol affects our society is the prevalence of drunk driving and the pain and loss that it causes. I have read that although only about two percent of drivers on the road at any given time are drunk, these intoxicated drivers are involved in almost fifty percent of accidents that occur. The pervasiveness of drunk driving also illustrates how the actions of one intoxicated person can affect the futures of so many other people. Other crimes, ranging from larceny to rape and murder, are far more prevalent when alcohol is involved.
Another problem that stems from alcohol problems is the incidence of depression and suicide. I would venture that most alcoholics suffer from some degree of depression, and many experience suicidal thoughts. The depression may stem from the physiological effect that alcohol has on the body or from the havoc that it wreaks in the individual's life. Alcoholism very often leads to lost jobs, poverty, ruined marriages, and other social problems. These are all examples of direct aspects of alcohol problems.
Although depression can be a direct factor for the alcoholic, it can also be an indirect issue for other family members. Children of alcoholics often struggle with depression in later life. Often, this depression stems from abuse experienced as a child living with an alcoholic parent. Alcoholism is one of the leading factors present in cases of child abuse. As a result of the familial tensions caused by alcoholism, many children of alcoholics face problems with their own lives and families as adults.
B. The book does an excellent job of demonstrating the impact of various political, economic, and ideological influences on the way in which our society interacts with alcohol. Whether we like it or not, alcohol constitutes a considerable portion of our country's economy. Alcohol is literally a billion dollar business. Because of the way in which our consumerist society works, no politician is willing to speak out against the alcohol industry. The government also makes money off of the alcohol industry in the form of liquor tax. Alcohol definitely bolsters our economy, and our country would most likely be worse off without it. Yet the liquor tax is certainly not enough to pay for the services that are provided to impoverished alcoholics by government and charity organizations. It is most definitely the taxpaying citizens of the United States who pay for these services
Who should pay for these services is a different matter entirely. In an ideal world, the government and private donors would fully support organizations which gave caring and helpful treatment to alcoholics. Realistically, such an ideal is not feasible. Alcoholics who do have access to treatment are shuffled through a twenty-eight day program and then turned lose, so to speak, to fend for themselves. Many return to alcoholism, as it is the only life that they know. Like Bill Broderson, they are usually sent through the programs again and again. Many people question at what point we should stop sending these people through treatment. There is no easy answer to this question. I would say that we should stop requiring treatment once it is clear that treatment is not working. This moment most likely occurs well before these alcoholics reach the point at which Bill finds himself. Perhaps, were treatments more effective, there would not be such a high relapse rate. With such short programs, however, no one can truly say.
C. I believe that the society we live in is much too stressful for our bodies and minds to handle. Here at Skidmore, my friends seem stressed almost every day. Our society is more fast-paced than any other that I can think of. It is all many executives can do to make it to the 5:30 beer with their buddies. That one beer, and the relief that it brings from the vast amounts of stress in most Americans' lives, could turn into an alcohol problem fairly easily. Another big factor in this equation is the fact that most Americans do not really enjoy their jobs. Their family lives are often chaotic as well. That 5:30 beer might be the only thing that they have to look forward to all day. If alcohol is the only thing that makes someone happy, they will try to get as much of it as possible, since human nature is to strive towards happiness. Before long, this someone finds himself with an alcohol problem.
A. Alcoholism is rarely, if ever, a disease that affects solely the alcoholic. It affects the alcoholic's family, friends of family members, coworkers, and others. The most apparent effects of alcoholism are negative. Spousal and child abuse are much more prevalent in families where one or more members are alcoholic. Coworkers are forced to pick up the slack once the alcoholic's work performance starts to fail. But there can also be positive effects. Helping a loved one overcome alcoholism can strengthen friendships and bring families together, as everyone is working to achieve a common goal.
B. Although I had never exactly thought of alcoholism as a "hole-in-the-soul disease," I think that the phase is a perfect description. Tammera Nauts describes herself during her alcoholism, saying, "I was spiritually bankrupt and looking outside myself for answers" (38). Many people never find spiritual meaning in their lives, despite being perfectly healthy. I cannot imagine the spiritual turmoil that must occur for an alcoholic searching for meaning in life. Alcoholics turn to alcohol to fill the void that they cannot find another way to fill. Part of them believes that the emptiness they feel can be filled by alcohol, yet alcohol only makes the inner pain deeper. Whether something is lacking in family relationships, romantic life, or some other area of life, it can never be filled by an addiction. Learning this is part of alcoholism recovery.
C. The probability of alcoholism is most definitely increased by belonging to certain groups. In the book, Newhouse makes reference to the startling incidence of alcoholism among the Native American population in Montana. Alcoholism is certainly more prevalent in minority communities, as minorities in this country often do not have access to the same degree of services as the majority. Communities stricken with poverty are also more susceptible to alcoholism, as well as other kinds of substance abuse. Poor people are more likely (understandably) to be dissatisfied with their lives, and turn elsewhere to fill the void that they feel. A third group that is extremely prone towards alcoholism is family members of alcoholics. There is some debate as to whether this susceptibility stems from genetics, childhood living environment, or both. I tend to think that it is a result of the combination. While living in a traumatic environment as a child definitely leads to problems of all kinds in later life, it has become increasingly clear that there is some genetic component to alcoholism (reference: guest speaker in class).
A. A multi-dimensional approach to the problem of alcohol abuse refers to a viewing of alcoholism which takes into account the many levels that are affected. The smallest level is the individual alcoholic. Yet viewing alcoholism as a personal problem would not be entirely accurate. Alcoholism, as discussed above, affects the family of the individual dramatically. The lives of family members can be just as devastated by alcoholism as is the life of the individual with the disease. Alcoholism can also affect a town, as shown in the example of Great Falls, Montana. It seems as though almost everyone in the town has an alcoholic family member. The epidemic affects business across the town, as so many people's lives are changed by alcohol. The town economy is also affected, as it relies heavily on bars so bring in revenue. Lastly, alcoholism affects the country as a whole, as our tax dollars go to programs that support alcoholics who are put in court mandated treatment programs.
B. Bill Broderson's situation looks bleak, at best. He himself allows, "My physical and mental health is shot" (51). Like most chronic alcoholics, he suffers from a damaged liver, as well as extreme depression. He also has suicidal feelings, and has attempted suicide several times. He refers to a feeling that his mind is constantly in motion, and the only way he can silence it is to drink. His living situation is very unfortunate for an alcoholic, as the people he lives with all drink heavily as well. Such an environment would preclude any hope that is still left of recovery. Although Bill stated that he would "really like to stop drinking" (51), there is practically no hope left of any kind of recovery. He has been through the standard twenty-eight day treatment countless times. After the first few cycles of treatment and relapse, the program stops having any kind of meaning for the alcoholic, and the repeated cycle becomes entirely pointless. Even if he were to stop drinking for a period of time, there is no real hope of him having a life free from the stigma of his years as an alcoholic. He states, "With my reputation, people who don't know me well won't hire me" (50). There seems to be nothing left in life for Bill except for the freedom he gets from drinking.
It is difficult to say what might have helped Bill Broderson before those many years of relapse after relapse. I believe that the initial treatment period is inadequate for many alcoholics. I agree with the speaker who came to class in that one month is hardly enough time to even begin delving into the issues that contributed to the alcohol problem, much less what can be done to overcome it. After the court mandated treatment period, however, most alcoholics do not have the resources to continue treatment, so they leave with their issues identified but still unsolved. Perhaps longer treatment duration could have helped people like Bill and perhaps not. Any hope for Bill having a peaceful and successful life, however, is basically gone.
C. Changing teenage drinking patterns, while a noble task, would be extremely difficult to accomplish. In all recent memory, drinking as a teenager has been considered to be "cool." As has been demonstrated countless times by unintelligent adolescents, teenagers will do anything to be cool. I think that two main aspects contribute to the coolness factor. Primarily, adolescence is an extremely awkward time, when the majority of teens experience some type of social anxiety. Alcohol helps to loosen inhibitions, and one or two drinks usually allow people to relax and be themselves in social situations instead of constantly worrying what to do or say.
The second main factor in teenage drinking is rebellion. Throughout recorded history, teenagers have gone through a period of rebelling against their parents. This has manifested more recently in taking up activities such as wearing clothes that parents might disapprove of, associating with friends that parents do not like, skateboarding or other such behaviors, or, more unhealthily, smoking, drinking, and drug abuse. I do not believe that there is anything in the world that can stop teenagers from rebelling against their parents. As long as parents disapprove of drinking and alcohol remains a mind altering substance (undoubtedly forever), teenagers will continue to drink.