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Nature or Nurture and Alcoholism

Reliable estimates on alcohol abuse in the United States reveal that over 10 million adults are suffering from the effects of alcohol. This is an indicator that alcoholism remains a phenomenal problem that has raised concerns both nationally and also the family level. Over 100 billion dollars are allegedly lost due to alcoholism; this is in terms of medical and health costs as well as out of the decreased productivity. The American medical association identifies alcoholism as a medical problem while the body of psychiatrists have also included alcoholism in the list of their major concerns.

The controversy surrounding alcoholism surrounds its cause. Opinion is sharply divided. With advents in research, numerous theories are emerging; there are those who firmly believe that alcoholism is as a result of heredity. The other school of though identifies a number of factors besides heredity. The vocal argument of this paper is that heredity alone is not the cause of alcoholism; there are other important factors such as environment and peer pressure that contributes to alcoholism. Alcoholism simply refers to increased consumption of alcohol despite the individual experiencing medical and health complications.

The definition of alcoholism varies depending on the context. To the medics, alcoholism is a complication brought about by the persistent and excessive abuse of alcohol. Psychiatrics refer to it as dipsomania, to describe the uncontrollable urge or compulsion to imbibe alcohol in spite of the raging side effects to the body. Marian (94) refers to it as occurring “when a person regularly and frequently consumes excessive amounts of alcohol so that the person loses control over his or her behaviour”.

Indeed, in line with this definition, alcoholism is characterised by the loss of self control and the development of an unexplainable dependency to alcohol. The existing definition of alcoholism just like its causes has always sparked controversy. Sociologists for example dispute its medicalization, preferring to give it a behavioural approach. Others insist that the definition of alcoholism should be accompanied by quantification and also defined by the frequency of intake. It is however the causes of alcoholism that have sparked a deeper controversy.

Indeed a look at alcoholism critically reveals that it is brought about by a multiplicity of factors. A sociological perspective of the causes of alcoholism pin points peer influence as one of the factors. There are a number of factors that act as socializing agents. Key to this is family which plays the basic role in social orientation. Peers however have been found to have the most influence. Studies conducted on peer pressure have affirmed this over time. Adolescents for example spend immense time with their friends compared to the time they spend with their parents.

Peer pressure can simply be defined as “the influences and pressure adolescents feel from their peers. (Foreman). With parents increasingly being absent in their children’s lives, teenagers are looking up to their peers for approval. Across the ages, peer groups serve as important forums where friends acquire new habits and behaviours that shape social interactions. Such influence can either be positive or negative. Excellence in academics and in sports can be the positive impacts of peer pressure but it (peer pressure) has too its flip side. A bad habit such as drug abuse and alcohol drinking is one such example.

This is mostly so as most people are driven by an uncontrollable urge to conform to their friends values. As William and Kathleen (104) observes, “peer influences have been consistently cited as risk factors for the initiation of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use among children and adolescents”. Though the role of peer influence is at the initiation stages, it is important to point out that such behaviours get worse if the peers are heavy drinkers and increases the chances of the individual becoming an alcoholic. A second factor that can be a cause of alcoholism is cultural foundations.

Studies conducted across the various racial, ethnic and social units have indicated that alcohol consumption has a causal correlation to culture. Indeed, it is dictated by social customs and that people follow what they perceive is an accepted norm in the society. Glen et al (215) concurs with this observing that “culture influences our view of alcohol and alcohol consumption. Culture dictates the self definition, attachment and intensity of our behaviour”. There are various ways through which culture encourages increased imbibing of alcohol.

It sets the necessary rules for alcohol consumption that has to be adhered to by the drinkers; these informal rules are passed across generations, producing attitudes to such ceremonies. Indeed individual’s feelings in regard to alcohol are culturally and psychologically dictated. It is this culture that also controls alcohol drinking amongst women. There exist informal inhibitions mostly psychological that tend to regulate the drinking habits of women. There are more alcoholic men than women, this is because they both have varied patterns of drinking, and these patterns are cultural based.

Culture plays a great role in shaping our identity, personality and dominant behaviours. It influences also how we interact with others. In a culture where alcohol is considered the norm and is widely available without restrictions or is considered to be a remedy to problems, there is likely to be a high number of alcoholics. Existing research for example claims that there are fewer alcoholics in the Jewish and Italian culture compared to the black Americans. Such a variance can be traced down to the nature of the respective cultures. Another possible cause of alcoholism is self medication.

A research conducted recently indicated that the abuse of alcohol in the form self medication is a widely accepted habit. People resort to alcohol to relieve stress and anxiety. According to the opinion poll conducted, people resort to drinking for a number of reasons. Importantly though, the findings concluded that “drinking alcohol makes people feel less anxious (40%), less depressed (26%) and more able to forget their problems (30%). ” (Greg) These findings according to the report are “consistent with the theory that people use alcohol to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression” (Greg M)

Self medication through the use of alcohol results to an increase in over reliance to alcohol leading to alcoholism. Indeed people suffering from psychiatric disorders are more likely to top the list in alcoholism. These are individuals suffering from anxiety disorders schizophrenia and those people engaging in substance abuse. There are also a number of psychological factors that contribute to alcoholism. Researchers have identified these factors to range from high expectations about life, intolerance especially in the face of frustrations, suffering from an acute need of attention and a higher compulsion towards aggression.

Research has also indicated that people who had a prior exposure to alcohol may have an exacerbated drinking problem should they go through a traumatic event. This is because most resort to alcohol so as to escape the realities of pain and anxiety. Alcoholism can also be as a result of a family background. Attitudes and drinking habits of elder family members or their parents is bound to have a negative influence on the younger children who may perceive drinking as a norm. In homes where alcohol drinking is considered a common occurrence and is carried out with no restrictions, the younger generation is also likely to take up such behaviours.

The propensity to take alcohol increases with increased exposure to a drinking culture. A reverence of a drinking culture especially binge drinking was seen to be a major influence towards inculcating alcoholism amongst college students. The youths are being brought up in an environment that is largely influenced by the popular media. Should a certain habit be given predominant attention and be seen as the “in thing”, it is more likely to be taken up by the youth. This is how the culture of binge drinking has been carried out from one generation to another.

As aforementioned, there is a multiplicity of factors behind alcohol abuse. As has been observed above, these factors range from culture, peer pressure and physiological factors among many others. Opinion is sharply divided with some scholars claiming there is a sole link between alcoholism and genetics. A look however at the above has largely disputed this; heredity alone cannot be attributed to alcoholism. While appreciating the role played by genetics as one of the causes of alcoholism it is important to point out it occurs amidst other factors.

Claiming hence that it is the only factor is grossly misleading. Indeed current research has established heredity as one of the factors. The argument in regard to the link between alcoholism and genetics emanates from a “common observation that people with serious drinking problems quite often have a parent, brother, sister, or other relative who has experienced the same sort of problem” (Royal College et al 107). The available studies on the subject have further indicated that a significant proportion of males who are descendants of an alcoholic are also likely to develop drinking problems.

This is what has led to the conclusion that alcohol drinking problems run in the family. Before the research on genetics, most scholars used to offer the explanation of familiar influence as the reason why some families indicated a high tendency towards alcoholism. The prior observation was that socio-cultural factors were solely behind this, however, “the evidence strongly suggests that humans have a genetic predisposition to alcohol” (Postyslaw 106) Studies conducted out with the need to evaluate the genetics factor have focused on twins and children that have been adopted.

It is the conclusions from such observations that have confirmed the issue of genetic predisposition. This particular gene contributes towards making some people more prone to alcoholism compared to others. The scope of research is yet to reveal the exact gene or genes that contribute to this but the link is undeniable. There is the probability there exists more than one gene. The logic behind the genetics factor has pointed out the existence of genes that have a higher resistance to the negative effects of heavy drinking.

This phenomenon has been observed amongst the Asians who exhibited a particularly negative response to alcohol meaning that they are less likely to fall to alcoholism. A similar phenomenon has been observed in young women who are also prone to side effects of alcohol consumption even in small quantities. Comparison of twin children with their adopted counterparts has strengthened the argument against nature versus nurture in the raging debate of alcoholism. It has indicated that no matter where such children are raised, whether within their own families or in adopted homes; they have a higher predisposition to alcohol.

Children mothered or fathered in a lineage that has exhibited alcohol problems are likely to be inclined towards alcoholism. The link between alcoholism and genetics according to most scholars however cannot be used to disregard other factors. This is because of the existence of various limitations. There exist many children of alcoholic parents who do not develop a drinking problem in their adulthood even if they are exposed at an early stage in their life to alcohol. The major argument made against heredity is that had the problem been with the genes, more and more people would turn into alcoholics with time.

Such an argument hence is a powerful indication that alcoholism is caused by a number of factors which range from peer influence, socio-cultural factors, physiological factors and inadvertently, heredity. Works Cited Rostyslaw Robak. A Primer for Today’s Substance Abuse Counselor. Lexington Books, 1991 Royal College of Psychiatrists Special Committee on Alcoholism, G Edwards, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Martin Roth. Alcohol & Alcoholism: The Report of a Special Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Taylor & Francis, 1979; 107 Jamie Foreman. Adolescence: Change and Continuity

Peer Influence. Positive Peer Pressure in Adolescence. 2001. retrieved on December 15, 2008 from http://www. oberlin. edu/faculty/ndarling/adpeer2. htm Glen R. Hanson, Peter J. Venturelli, Annette E. Fleckenstein. Drugs and Society. Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 2005; 215 Rostyslaw Robak. A Primer for Today’s Substance Abuse Counselor. Lexington Books, 1991; 106 Marian B. Jacobs. Coping with Hereditary Diseases. The Rosen Publishing Group, 1999; 94 William R. Miller, Kathleen Carroll. Rethinking Substance Abuse: What the Science Shows, and what We Should Do about it. Guilford Press, 2006; 104

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