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It is now generally recognized that alcohol like the opium products is a narcotic. But alcoholism constitutes a special problem because of the wider use of alcohol and because of its entrenchment in the social customs. Alcoholism is a condition in which the individual has lost control over his alcohol intake in that he is constantly unable to refrain from drinking once he begins.

According to Adolf Meyer alcoholism is the development of an insistent craving for alcohol and its effects. It is also defined as that condition characterized by a relatively permanent, persistent desire for alcohol for the sake of its anticipated effects upon body and mind. For Keller and Efron alcoholism is characterized by the repeated drinking of alcoholic beverages to an extent that exceeds customary use or compliance with the social customs of the community and that interferes with the drinker’s health or his social or economic functioning.

Broadly speaking alcoholism has been characterized by four factors

• Excessive intake of alcoholic beverages

• Individual’s increasing worry over his drinking

• Loss of the drinker’s control over his own drinking

• Disturbance in his functioning in the social world

Studies have been made only to throw scientific light upon the question as to why people are addicted to the immoderate use of alcohol. In the study of chronic alcoholics it was found that a certain percentage of inebriates are pathological individuals referred as constitutional alcoholics.

The industrialization of society and the mechanization of the industry have put strains upon individuals to which the previous experience of the race has not adapted. The social conventions incite the formation of alcoholic habits. The pressure of social customs has exerted an important influence in the production of alcoholism. There are certain persons who are unable to face the harsh realities of life and start drinking to overcome their inadequacy. Men engaged in manual work have long been deluded in the belief that alcohol furnishes added strength and vigour with which they can pursue their labour. Men drink because their occupation has completely exhausted them. They look forward eagerly to the respite which intoxication affords after the heat of the blast furnace or the stench of the dockyards. Excessive consumption of alcohol can make a person addicted to it.

An addict is one whose drinking habit causes several problems in one or more areas of his life for instance his family relationships, jobs, financial status etc. And in spite of all these problems, he will continue to drink alcohol because his body gets so accustomed over a period of time to the presence of alcohol that if its use is stopped suddenly he will develop withdrawal symptoms like tremors, fits etc. Such a state is called physical dependence. Alcohol becomes so central to his thoughts, emotions and activities that he is simply unable to think of anything else. This condition is called psychological dependence. Alcoholic addiction is a disease rather than lack of will power or moral weakness. Unless the person stops drinking, his/her condition will become worse over a period of time.

Jellinck an American psychologist maintains that a drinker passes through various stages to become an alcoholic. These are: -

1. Blackouts in which the individual is not able to find a solution to his individual problems.

2. Sneaking drinks in which he takes alcohol without being observed.

3. Increased tolerance, in which he tolerates the increased effects of drinking.

4. Loss of control in which he fails to control the desire of not taking alcohol.

5. Development of an alibi system in which he gradually starts neglecting his social roles.

6. Going on periodic benders

7. Regular drinking in which he starts taking alcohol in the morning.

The problem of alcoholism in terms of personal misery, family budget, discord, and loss of wages, failure of health, accidents and cost in damage claims, cost of hospital treatment, cost in custodial treatment, inducement to crime are almost disastrous. A good number of persons arrested for crimes like rape, burglary, murder and theft are those who committed them under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is a major factor in the highway accidents. Since alcoholism affects the family members, friends and even the community, it affects millions of people in the country. Drinking reduces one’s operational activities and efficiency to below the minimum level necessary for social existence.

There are various programmes and measures for alcohol treatment:

• Detoxification in hospitals: Alcohols need medical care and medical supervision. Tranquilizers are used for treating their withdrawal symptoms like hallucinations. Vitamins and electrolyte balance are used for physical rehabilitation.

• Involving an alcoholic’s family in his treatment and rehabilitation enhances the chances of success by 75 to 80%.

• One of the effective social therapies, which use group interactions, is Alcoholics Anonymous. It is an organization of ex-alcoholics, which started in USA in early 1940s.In this, the members share, their experience with other alcoholics and give them strength and hope in an attempt to solve their common problems and recover from alcoholism. These associations are located in Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata etc.

• Treatment centres: These centres are developed as alternative centres to hospital treatment having 10-12 residents. Counselling and anti-drinking rules are observed.

• Changing values through education: Some voluntary organizations undertake educational and information programmes to alert the alcoholics to the danger of excessive drinking. Social workers help the drinkers in coping with life and changing the social values and attitudes about drinking.

There should be active community involvement against drinking.Nationwide prohibition of intoxicating drinks may check smuggling of liquor into the dry areas from the wet areas. Drinking is a social problem and mere legalistic approach to prohibition is not likely to succeed. Education, persuasion, creation of public opinion and number of other positive measures has to be taken if prohibition were to succeed reasonably. The media portrayal of drinking should be banned. Government should encourage and provide financial help to voluntary social and other non-governmental organizations engaged in de-addiction programmes and prohibition campaigns

Signing up for alcohol rehab is still the most effective way of breaking free from alcohol addiction.

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