Alcoholism is a prevalent drug problem in the United States. This assertion is not an overstatement. The horrific 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill is a perfect example of the damages inflicted by alcoholism on the world. The aforementioned alcoholism-related accident resulted in nearly $2 billion in environmental damage, as well as related costs in continuing medical care and litigation for the hundreds of people affected (Maltzman 6). What this incident illustrates is that the effects of alcoholism are exponential, affecting not only the abusing individual on a minor scale but the whole of society on the international scale. In this regard, alcoholism can be justifiably understood to be a major contributor to psychological and physical damage to one’s body, to familial and domestic issues, to societal issues, and to chronic unemployment and associated economic problems. In other words, alcoholism can nowadays be perceived as a pervasive and destructive cause of social degeneration, as this essay will demonstrate.
The harmful social effects of alcoholism found in the extensive physical and psychological effects of alcohol abuse. Maltzman describes how alcohol abuse can cause “profound changes in general health and well-being as well as personality as a consequence of the damage produced by alcohol to the nervous, neuroendocrine, and immune systems”. Furthermore, Maltzmann underscores the pervasiveness of this drug by writing that alcoholism is “a disease of the whole person” (Maltzman 3), in that it causes damage to the mind and body. Alcohol causes harm to the physical components of the body at all levels, from cells to whole organs and even entire systems, resulting in serious health issues such as liver disease, cancer, and brain damage (Maltzman 6). At the same time, alcoholism can result in grave psychological problems, with alcoholics experiencing “higher incidence of depression, suicide, and anxiety” (Maltzman 6) at periodic levels. More troubling still—alcohol abuse has been known to result in damage to the body and has been demonstrated to ruin one’s social status as it becomes increasingly difficult for the individual to function in society, due to increasing dependence issues. It is unlikely that such extensive physical and psychological consequences would fail to have an impact on one’s social performance as addiction takes over one’s life.
One major area in which an individual’s alcoholism can have wide-reaching social impact is in the stability and strength of one’s families and relationships. A variety of research studies, for example, have indicated a strong relationship between alcohol or drug abuse and domestic violence: alcohol increases the chances of becoming a victim of domestic violence and, in parallel, heightens the likelihood of exhibiting violent behaviour towards other members of one’s family or of one’s household. Such studies have indicated that although alcohol abuse has not been done to be directly correlated to domestic violence, alcohol abuse tends to be an underlying symptom. Bennett & Bland (1) state clearly: “The co-occurrence rates of substance abuse and intimate partner violence in most published studies have ranged between 25 and 50 per cent.” These studies suggest that problems such as wife-battering, child abuse, and domestic sexual abuse can result from the underlying psychological and physical effects of alcohol addiction. Furthermore, because domestic issues leave long-lasting scars on many generations, these problems affect not only the addicted individual but can continue to cause social and psychological problems for later generations. Domestic issues linked to chronic alcohol abuse can therefore be inherited from parent to child. In this regard, the alcohol abuse of a single individual can have a lasting and wide-reaching negative effect on the cohesion of family-life; wide-spread alcoholism threatens to break up families and incite domestic violence to new heights in North American society.
The social cost of alcoholism stems from the way in which the effects of alcohol-related incidents become public issues. For example, Maltzman describes the way in which alcohol-related incidents can result in events such as transportation accidents, industrial accidents, damage to public property, and so on (Maltzman 6). In such situations, alcohol wrecks chaos and scars the alcoholic, the alcoholic’s family and friends, as well as the community at large. “Important negative social consequences include lost hours of work, disruption of family and social life, and increased medical expenses for the individual and society” (Maltzman 6). In the example of an alcohol-related automobile crash, for example, the intoxicated driver and third parties are injured. Firstly, the intoxicated driver will have to be prosecuted and punished for his reckless driving. Secondly, the driver will have to be treated and rehabilitated. As a result, costs related to criminal justice and to health care have to be considered. In this light, alcoholism incurs social costs in the form of punitive and rehabilitative fees. Moreover, alcoholism contributes to the overall degeneration of social cohesion and prosperity. Gerhard Gmel and Jürgen Rehm sum up the situation concisely: “Alcohol misuse can harm people other than the drinker, and can have negative consequences for society as a whole” (1).
There are interesting links to be made between alcohol abuse and employment issues, which naturally have a direct impact on the state of the economy. Tobutt, for example, describes how “alcohol related problems in the workplace affect both owners, directors, managers, workers, trade unions and professional bodies alike” (Tobutt 1). In his book Alcohol at Work, Tobutt describes the way in which alcoholism can severely impair the professional performance of an individual. For any individual struggling with addiction, the physical and psychological consequences of addiction can have a negative effect on job performance as well as cause related employment issues such as tardiness and absenteeism. Not surprisingly, these problems often lead to unemployment as it becomes increasingly difficult for the addicted individual to deal with schedules, work efficiently and satisfactorily and comply with every-day problems at work. Unemployment due to alcoholism issues is likely to impact the economy as well as influence the individual’s psychological, emotional and physical well-being. Soaring levels of alcohol-related unemployment or poor workplace performance tend to lower the overall productivity and economic development of the nation. As a result, high levels of staff-turnovers, chronic poverty and welfare dependency increase the risk of retarding and stunting social economic growth. In other words, alcoholism has a direct effect on social economics but also incurs less direct but equally substantial social costs.
In examining the many wide-ranging consequences and costs of alcoholism, therefore, it becomes clear that the impact of alcohol abuse is not only personal but social. Bearing this information in mind, it is clear to see that the insidious manner in which alcohol is tacitly condoned and, some may say even tolerated, in American society makes it one of the most significant drug problems that this nation faces. As this paper has demonstrated, alcohol misuse can create long-lasting effects on the drinker’s physical and psychological well-being, divide and even break up families, incur societal costs related to criminal justice and health care domains and cause unemployment problems. It is time to acknowledge the massive problems associated to alcoholism in our society and to restructure our North American society. How we go down that winding path to recovery and rehabilitation is up to modern-day citizens. In other words, the work is up to us.
- Bennett, Larry and Bland, Patricia. “Substance Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence.” National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, 2011. Web. 29 July 2016.
- Gmel, Gerhard and Rehm, Jürgen. “Harmful Alcohol Use.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2003. Web. 29 July 2016.
- Maltzman, Irving. Alcoholism: Its Treatments and Mistreatments. Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific Publishing Co. Plc. Ltd., 2008. ProQuest Ebrary. Web. 24 July 2016.
- Tobutt, Clive. “Introduction to Alcohol and the Workplace.” Alcohol at Work: Managing Alcohol Problems and Issues in the Workplace. Ed. Clive Tobutt. Farnham, GB: Routledge, 2011. 1-20. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 25 July 2016.