One quiet evening two years ago, my family and I were watching a movie when we received an urgent phone call. My mother’s brother had been rushed to the hospital because of liver failure. Our family was thrown into a panic as we realized that the deadly effects of alcoholism were choking the life from this precious member of our family. My uncle was in critical condition, and my parents hurried to the hospital, unsure of how long he would live.

The impact of alcohol is apparent in almost every aspect of our society. We can see it in grocery stores, at restaurants, in professional sports, and on TV. Americans drink 432 million gallons of liquor, 711 million gallons of wine, and six billion gallons of beer every year. The American Council for Drug Education estimates that “nearly half of all Americans over the age of 12 are consumers of alcohol.” Alcohol truly holds a significant place in our culture. However, the subject of alcohol often makes people a bit defensive. Some argue that it is wrong to drink at all, others hold the position that moderate drinking is acceptable, and many are unsure of their opinion, or have no beliefs about the “morality” of drinking. I believe complete abstinence is the highest and best way because of alcohol’s effects on our nation, its influence on our families and social circles, and its impact on its users, both physically and emotionally.

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Alcohol’s negative impact on our nation is overwhelming, Alcohol abuse costs the country $175.9 billion each year. Every day there is a report of a robbery, murder, or case of abuse where alcohol was a factor. The range of the damage that alcohol brings is not limited to drinkers. Family members and friends receive the brunt of the impact. Perhaps you know someone close to you who is addicted. Two of my uncles are alcoholics, and have been in and out of detox facilities for years. My aunt is a recovering alcoholic, my grandfather is too, and my great-grandfather died an alcoholic. My two cousins are living with us because of their parents’ condition.

A startling fact about alcohol use, whether moderate or excessive, is that parents have a great impact on the drinking habits of their children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated that “Parents’ drinking behavior and favorable attitudes about drinking have been positively associated with adolescents’ initiating and continuing drinking.” Two out of three teens surveyed in an American Medical Association study admitted that it was easy to obtain alcohol from their homes without their parents’ knowledge. When weighed against the possibility of a teen becoming dependent on alcohol, is even the occasional pleasure of drinking worth the risk?

Not only does alcohol damage our nation, families, and friends, but it also harms our bodies. The human brain and body are very sensitive to the presence of alcohol. Perhaps you have noticed that even a small amount of alcohol can make a person appear happy or more talkative. More drastic effects include staggering or slurred speech.

Alcohol affects a person’s behavior because it is a depressant, and a very poisonous substance to the body. The liver can only metabolize small amounts at a time, so the alcohol waiting to be processed is circulated to the brain where it begins to interfere with cell function and information transfer. One ounce of alcohol slows muscular reaction and decision-making. It also lessens coordination and concentration, and causes loss of inhibition. Even very small amounts of alcohol cause these side effects; when someone drinks any amount of alcohol, the question is not if they are drunk, but how drunk are they?

Drinking and driving is one of the most serious areas of concern. There is a drunk-driving death every 31 minutes in the United States, and alcohol is a factor in almost 40 percent of fatal accidents.

Another important fact is that alcohol is highly ­addictive. This makes it a challenge for one to remain a “moderate” drinker, and extremely difficult for an alcoholic to quit. Genetic studies show that some are predisposed to a weakness resisting alcohol addiction. If you have an alcoholic in your family, there is an even stronger chance that, should you ever start drinking, you will become an alcoholic. This fact makes moderate drinking that much more dangerous.

A friend was once close friends with a beautiful family. The mother was a vibrant, devoted parent. Several years ago, she began to have a glass of wine with dinner when she and her husband went out. Eventually, one glass turned into two, then three, until she was consuming large amounts of alcohol. She and her husband separated, and she began to abuse her children and consequently lost custody of them.

How can alcohol pull a person down so quickly? The answer is found in its chemical composition. It produces certain chemical reactions in the brain that release dopamine, a substance that causes feelings of well being. These reactions also stimulate endorphin production, which is a natural painkiller. This “feel good” effect drives people to drink increasing amounts. But here’s the catch: when a certain amount of alcohol is consistently consumed, the body becomes tolerant of that, and more is necessary to produce the same physical effect. This progressive process is similar to other addictive drugs. As one alcoholic described it, “[After] you take that first drink, you want to replicate that rush. I wanted to get to that point [again].” (Chicago Tribune) This feeling is so powerful that it drives many beyond their resolutions to remain moderate drinkers leading to their ultimate ruin.

My uncle survived liver failure, and entered a rehab program where he will hopefully succeed in overcoming his alcoholism. Miraculously, the mother I described recently quit drinking and has been sober for three months. She attributes her success to the support of her religion. However, these stories are rare compared to the many of pain and loss.

Taking all of these factors into account, alcohol runs the risk of ruining many lives in its deadly spiral. Not only does it damage one’s health, but it hurts many others too. Should we continue to support an industry that has led to the ruin of millions? Consider the saying: “What parents use in moderation, children will use in excess.” Many are unconsciously paving the way for their child’s future alcohol ­dependency.

We should avoid alcohol, not only for our protection, but also to ensure that our casual habit does not begin a dependency in another. Some may ask, “What’s wrong with a little alcohol?” But I contend that’s the wrong question. Instead, I encourage you to ask, “What’s right with it?” As an anonymous writer once said: “We drank for joy and became miserable. We drank for sophistication and became obnoxious. We drank ‘medicinally’ and acquired health problems. We drank for confidence and became doubtful. We drank to make conversation easier and slurred our speech. We drank to forget and were forever haunted. We drank to cope with life and invited death.”

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