Alcohol thrives under its anonymity.
Being a legal drug, it is not shrouded with the same connotations as cocaine, heroin or even weed — it stays under the radar within our society.
We use alcohol as a social lubricant: We drink to connect, we drink to be professional, we drink during traditional ceremonies and, for some, we drink to make life feel a lot more bearable. Although it is a poison, it holds many functions.
Growing up, I saw around me what alcohol could do to people, how much of a hold it can have on someone. How addictive it can be.
Sometimes I think that if you do not know someone personally who is an alcoholic, it’s hard to truly grasp the severity that is alcoholism. It’s just plainly not taken as seriously. It is easy to ignore the fact that when someone is an alcoholic, they will never not be. You can never casually drink again. The rest of their life will be a battle against the drug.
With how common it is to drink socially, especially in Wisconsin, it is very hard to stay away once it’s gotten a hold on you. Not only are there severe physical withdrawal symptoms, like agitation, fevers, hallucinations, confusion and seizures, where an individual may even be forced to detox at a rehabilitation site, there are also severe social backlashes.
At least for me and my Wisconsinite family, alcohol is served at every function as though it were normal to drink every time we saw each other. As though it is just what was expected.
For cities like Milwaukee, it feels like there is almost nothing to do as an adult person with your friends outside of going to bars. And if you do find a place that isn’t a bar, it probably has a bar. It is pushed and truly encouraged to drink here in Wisconsin. For recovering alcoholics, there is a great barrier in finding a place to be where it is not socially reinforced that you could, and most definitely should, drink alcohol.
It is not just addictive because of the social benefits, but because most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, alcohol lets you forget your current position and the late bills you have to deal with in the near future. It leads you somewhere where life’s responsibilities rest a little easier on the shoulders. It is tempting to use alcohol as a support system for greater social problems.
Although most people know the common responses alcohol has on the body — from loss of coordination to a wine-headache to a good ole hangover — not many are aware of the long-term effects it can have on the body and the mind.
In terms of your heart, binge drinking can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and strokes. As for the brain, we all know about blackouts and memory loss, but continued use can lead to serious conditions such as Wernicke’s encephalopathy. Its symptoms include severe mental confusion, muscular incoordination and paralysis of the nerves that move your eyes. It can also lead to long-term forgetfulness and an inability to create new memories. Heavy drinking has been well-documented to harm long-term and short-term memory and can lead to Dementia or Alzheimers.
As for other organs in the body, heavy drinking can lead to a scarred, shrunken liver, an enlarged spleen, intestinal bleeding, worsening jaundice and fluid retention in the abdomen. Increased drinking is even linked to different types of cancer, such as head and neck, esophageal, liver and breast cancer.
Not only those who are considered binge drinkers will start to see harmful effects. The Center for Disease Control considers any woman who drinks more than one drink a day and any man who drinks more than two drinks a day to be in the range of unhealthy drinking. Once someone is out of the range, their health risk for the aforementioned diseases is heightened.
Once I started college, the lack of pure terror around the topic of alcohol wholly surprised me. It’s like none of these people really knew what they were getting themselves into. College students seemingly competed for the “who can get most fucked up” award weekly — and in some cases daily.
You’d think that with the crazy amount of drinking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, more people would be aware of the fact that, behind tobacco, alcohol is the drug most likely to kill an American. But we aren’t. It’s not packaged to us that way.
Oftentimes, we only consider hard drugs when we think about dangerous substances. We need to start thinking more about the dangers of alcohol and stop treating it as a casual pastime.
Alcohol is pervasive. It thrives under its innocuous image.
Elena Price is a Senior majoring in Journalism and Spanish. Do you think Alcohol is a pervasive drug? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.