Alcohol usage is generally viewed positively in most western cultures. This substance encourages people to be more sociable, and it is great for breaking the ice at parties. In some communities even inebriation is tolerated on certain occasions; although most would agree that excessive alcohol intake is a bad thing. The fact that alcohol is so acceptable in the modern world means that people can forget that it is a recreational drug. This misunderstanding about the nature of alcohol can lead people to all types of problems in society.
A drug can be defined as any substance that is absorbed into the body of a living organism and causes an alternation in normal body functioning. In many instances these substances are used to treat the symptoms of disease or to cure them. There are also drugs that people take for reasons other than medicinal. Recreational drugs are psychoactive substances that alter brain functioning. People like to take these substances because it temporarily changes the way they think, feel, and perceive. Alcohol is the most popular of all recreational drugs. Other recreational drugs include:
* Heroin/ opium
* Cocaine (including crack cocaine)
* Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
* Inhalants such as solvents or paint thinner
* Psychedelic mushrooms
There are a number of reasons for why people might take recreational drugs including:
* These drugs can create intense feelings of pleasure.
* They help people relax.
* It provides a temporary escape from reality.
* Recreational drugs can increase sociability and give even chronically shy people the courage to interact.
* They provide an escape from problems in life.
* Some people who are suffering from mental illness (often undiagnosed) can find that they feel better when they take these substances. This is known as self-medication.
* Recreational drugs help people feel more confident and self-assured.
* They can give life new meaning.
* Many people start off using these substances because of peer pressure. They want to fit in with their friends.
* Recreational drugs are addictive so if people take them for a period of time they may develop a physical and psychological dependence.
It is a common belief that illegal drugs are more dangerous than alcohol. The logic is that if a substance is against the law then it must be more harmful than something that is legal. This idea has been challenged. A recent study in the UK found that alcohol is the most dangerous of all recreational drugs. The researchers used a number of criteria to award different drugs a danger mark from 0 to 100. The outcome was that alcohol scored 72 out of 100. Other recreational drugs scored significantly lower on the danger scale: heroin 55, crack cocaine 54, and cannabis 20.
The idea that alcohol is the most dangerous recreational drug runs counter to the public perception. Most people view alcohol as relatively harmless and a part of normal living. The fact that people are so concerned about illegal drugs like heroin means that governments are forced to put their attention with dealing with that form of abuse. This may mean that a disproportionate amount of money is invested in dealing with illegal drugs at the expense of alcohol.
The fact that the relative dangers of alcohol are usually downplayed is dangerous for a number of reasons including:
* It gives alcohol abusers justification to continue with their dangerous behavior. They may believe that so long as they do not touch illegal drugs they will be fine.
* Inebriation is considered acceptable in many communities. Most people are not fully aware of the dangers of binge drinking.
* There can be a great deal of pressure on people to overindulge in alcohol. Some professions have an unhealthy drink culture that makes it easy for people to slip into problem drinking.
* The acceptability of alcohol means that there is not enough pressure put on the government to deal with dangerous drinking.
* The picture of alcohol in the media is often one of glamour and fun. This encourages young people to experiment with this substance.
* Underage drinking is treated less seriously than young people experimenting with illegal drugs. In fact underage drinking is often tolerated as a rite of passage.
It is possible for people to safely use alcohol. In fact studies have shown that drinking in moderation can bring health benefits. It is important that people keep in mind that they are dealing with a recreational drug, and that there will likely be serious consequences if they continue to overindulge. The individual needs to set limits on themselves and stick to these. The recommended safe levels for alcohol intake are:
* 1 drink per day for women
* 2 drinks per day for men
* 1 drink per day for those who are aged over 65
* No alcohol for those who are under 21 years of age.
* If people have ever had problems controlling their alcohol intake they are advised to stop altogether.
If people stick to these safe levels of intake they are unlikely to ever suffer problems as a result of their alcohol intake.
Problem drinking can not only destroy the life of the individual but also their loved ones. There are different levels of alcohol abuse such as:
* Binge drinkers are people who drink an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. This is the most dangerous patterns of drinking, but so long as the individual does not develop an addiction they will be able to stop or moderate.
* Heavy drinking can go on for years and the individual may not notice that it is leading to any negative effects – in reality they could be doing a great deal of damage to their internal organs. Heavy drinkers can quit or moderate if they have the right motivation to do so.
* Once people become alcohol dependent/ alcoholic it becomes much harder for them to quit. They get caught in a dangerous downwards spiral until they develop the motivation to quit.
* High functioning alcoholics are masters at hiding their addiction. They can maintain an outward appearance of normality for many years until they eventually crash.
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