Alcoholism refers to the abuse of alcohol by individuals who are unable to control their binge drinking behavior over a prolonged period of time. Alcoholics are not simply people who consume alcohol; instead, their entire lives revolve around alcohol. While many people usually dismiss the effects of heavy drinking to a hangover that will not last beyond the day, the effects of alcoholism are infinitely more enduring and devastating not only for the alcoholics, but also for their families and friends.
Excessive consumption of alcohol can exert a severe impact on the brain, both on the short-term and long-term basis. The reason why alcoholics exhibit aggressive behavior can be attributed to the effects of alcohol on various parts of the brain. First, alcohol can affect the gamma-aminobutyoric acid receptor (GABA-A) complex in the brain that inhibits aggressive behavior by creating anxiety over socially inappropriate behavior. Second, the effect of alcohol on the dopaminergic system that controls the psychomotor stimulation can lead to an increase in the intensity and level of aggression. The lower blood sugar in the brain can also contribute to a heightened level of aggression (Graham, Wells, & West, 1997, p. 626).
Consequently, alcoholics tend to overreact to unpleasant situations by using aggression. Furthermore, with excessive alcohol consumption, alcoholics lose their capacity to exercise self-control over their emotions and feelings. Very often, alcohol consumption becomes a means for them to unleash pent-up negative feelings. For other alcoholics, alcohol is a way for them to bury their negative feelings of anger, guilt and depression. Therefore, their general state of mind is moody and hostile, leading to increased chances of aggressive behavior at the slightest provocation (Graham, Wells, & West, 1997, p. 627).
Alcohol also has debilitating effects on the individuals’ ability to function effectively in a cognitive way. Alcoholics who are drunk are not cognizant of subtle social cues. They may behave in a socially improper way without even being aware of their actions. On the other hand, because they are only conscious of obvious externalized social cues, they are likely to be ultra- sensitive in their reactions to the situation. Deprived of their ability to think clearly and deeply, alcoholics, under the influence of alcohol, do not realize that they can behave in an alternative way. What is even more dangerous is that drunken people can develop a sense of grandiosity and believe that they are more powerful than they actually are. Thus, they may deliberate provoke others or misinterpret others’ behavior as a challenge to their supremacy (Graham, Wells, & West, 1997, p. 627).
Although the symptoms described above can be regarded as short-term effects of alcohol consumption, studies have indicated that alcohol abuse has long-term degenerative effects on the cerebellum. The cerebellum is an integral part of the brain that controls the acquisition of motor skills and processes that deal with movement. Furthermore, the cerebellum also plays a part in certain cognitive processes, such as language production and “mental imagery” (Sullivan, Rosenbloom, Deshmukh, Desmond, & Pfefferbaum, 1995, p. 138). During the postmortem examination, researchers have found tissue volume loss and shrinkage of nerve cells in the cerebellums of older alcoholics. The nerve cells are responsible for regulating eye movements. When they are damaged, visual perception can be affected adversely. In these cases, the individuals cannot perform eye-hand coordination activities, such as driving. These damages are most significant in older alcoholics who have been abusing alcohol for at least ten years (Sullivan et al., 1995, p. 139). Older alcoholics aged between 40 and 63 years of age were found to suffer from balance problems after given an extensive series of tests. Even though they have minor problems with their problem-solving skills, ability to process information and visuospatial capacity, they have severe problems with their balance even though this group has abstained from alcohol for about a month. With the combination of deficits of visuospatial capacity and balance disorders, these individuals are at high risk of falling and other accidents (Sullivan et al., 1995, p. 139). It is possible that the cerebellar structural changes are irreversible. Therefore, even if these alcoholics abstain from drinking, the damage may not be repairable ((Sullivan et al., 1995, p. 140).
Considering these debilitating effects of alcohol on the alcoholics’ ability to function in an appropriate manner, it is evident that alcoholics are incapable of performing well in their work and personal relationships. Most studies that attempt to analyze the relationship between alcohol use and income indicate that households with alcoholics have lower incomes than households with no alcoholic drinkers. The disparity in the incomes ranges from zero to 32-percent reduction in the incomes of households with alcoholics (Mullahy ; Sindelar, 1992, p. 135).
According to some of these studies, alcoholics are incapable of holding a full-time job. The people in the prime age working group are most affected by alcohol abuse. Even though some studies show that with young adults, employment rate is higher among alcoholics than non-alcoholics, the main cause can be attributed to the fact that young adults drop out of school and start working at an earlier age. Even when they work, alcoholics are likely to miss work frequently because of their drinking problems. One study indicates that absenteeism caused by alcoholism can exceed that of non-alcoholics by 40 percent (Mullahy ; Sindelar, 1992, p. 136). In addition, because the alcoholics’ capacity to work is impaired by alcohol abuse, they cannot work in important occupations that demand reliability and high competence (Mullahy & Sindelar, 1992, p. 137).
Alcoholic parents have a negative effect on their children because the effects of alcohol undermines their capacity to use their parenting skills in a number of ways. First, excessive drinking by the parents can lead to inconsistent parenting behavior. When the child misbehaves in certain way, the parents may overreact by screaming the child on one occasion; on another occasion, the parents may act indulgently towards child. Consequently, the child receives mixed signals about appropriate behavior. In addition, the inconsistency in parenting behaviors creates an unpredictable and unstable environment that can undermine the child’s mental and emotional growth (Windle, 1996, p. 181). In a study conducted on the effects of alcohol on parents’ interactions with children, it was found that parents are unable to respond appropriately to a child’s improper behavior. Although the child is acting improperly, the group of intoxicated parents not only fails to discipline the child, but engage in parental indulgences that are inappropriate for the occasion (Lang, Pelham, Atkeson, ; Murphy, 1999, p. 188).
Second, parents who are frequently abusing alcohol cannot monitor their children appropriately. An integral dimension of parental monitoring involves setting limits on proper and improper behavior along with a consistent enforcement of sanctions against violations of these rules. Without the establishment of these rules and their consistent enforcement, the children cannot learn about limits and proper behavior (Windle, 1996, p. 181).
Third, alcoholic parents are not nurturing parents who can provide quality time for their children. Because they constantly suffer from hangovers or mood changes from excessive alcohol consumption, these parents fail to behave in an emotionally supportive fashion towards their children. Thus, they push their children to seek emotional support in the outside worlda situation that can have adverse consequences (Windle, 1996, p. 181).
Fourth, parents who abuse alcohol are also known to exercise harsh discipline. As described above, alcoholics are easily provoked at the slightest offense. Therefore, they can be excessively harsh and arbitrary in their use of discipline. These forms of discipline can result in the growing alienation of the children from their parents (Windle, 1996, p. 181).
Certainly, parents who drink heavily serve as negative role models for their children who are likely to take on their alcoholic behavior at a young age. Without adequate supervision and control, it is likely that these children will become alcoholics and engage in alcohol-related activities (Windle, 1996, p. 181). By their actions, alcoholic parents teach their children to drink as a way of coping with life. Thus, these children are likely to turn to drinking themselves to escape from their lives ((Windle, 1996, p. 1821).
Families with alcoholic parents are characterized by frequent marital discords. Therefore, their children grow up in an unhealthy emotional environment that is threatened by potential disintegration. Children are afraid that they are going to lose their parents and their lives will be disrupted. Spousal and child abuse are also a common part of the picture of a household affected by alcoholism (Windle, 1996, p. 182).
The inability for alcoholic parents to keep their jobs and their needs for medical treatment due to alcohol-related reasons certainly places tremendous stresses on the family. Financial stress is a common reason of disputes between spouses. However, coupled with the extra expenditure of alcohol purchase, medical treatment and the lack of income, alcoholism can destroy the welfare of a family (Windle, 1996, p. 182).
In the long run, children who grow up in these households develop a perverse perception of family life. They will come to accept the negative relationships and the alcoholic drinking as a normal way of life. As they reach adulthood, they will carry over all the negative practices they have experienced during their childhood. The intergenerational transmission of alcohol addiction is one of the most devastating effects of the enduring legacy of alcoholism (Windle, 1996, p. 182).
From the above discussion, it is evident that alcoholism can exert a long-lasting physiological and social impact. Alcoholics place themselves at high risk for various accidents and impair their capacities to function effectively in daily life and perform their jobs. Furthermore, alcoholism threatens the welfare of families by destroying the relationships between loved ones. Worst of all, children who grow up in such a dysfunctional environment grow up to become like their parents and impose their ways on their children, thus triggering a never-ending cycle of alcohol abuse. Alcoholics who are addicted to alcohol need to abstain from alcohol and seek help before they and their families are destroyed by a seemingly innocuous glass of wine.