DNA and Destiny: Nature and Nurture in Human Behavior

By R. Grant Steen | Go to book overview
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12
Alcoholism and Addictive
Behavior

Alcohol use in the United States is exceedingly common, yet half of all the alcohol drunk is consumed by only 10% of the population.93 This in itself implies that some individuals drink too much. Yet consuming "too much" alcohol does not make one an alcoholic, and there is great variation from place to place, and from one era to another, in what is considered acceptable. To further complicate the picture, alcohol consumption varies between the sexes, between socioeconomic strata, and between occupations. Consequently, it is very difficult to determine what is "normal" for alcohol consumption. Yet it is often rather easy to identify someone who exceeds that normal level of consumption.

The American Psychiatric Association defines alcoholism as being of two types. The less damaging type is alcohol abuse, which is a psychological dependence on alcohol. An alcohol abuser is psychologically dependent on alcohol, he may indulge in occasional heavy alcohol consumption, and he continues to drink despite mounting evidence of occupational or social problems. The more damaging type of alcoholism is alcohol dependence, which is both physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. An alcohol-dependent person shows all of the signs of alcohol abuse, together with signs of increased alcohol tolerance and physical symptoms on withdrawal from alcohol. It has been estimated that between 10 and 31% of men in the United States are alcoholic, so prevalence of the disease is quite high.10

Virtually everyone has firsthand knowledge of alcoholism, either as the relative or close friend of an alcoholic, or as one

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