High Risk Groups

While alcohol abuse and alcoholism affect virtually every segment of the population, certain groups are at greater risk. Young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine have the highest prevalence of alcohol abuse, and persons who begin to drink at an early age, especially before the age of fourteen, have a greater risk for developing problems with alcohol. Persons with a family history of alcohol abuse or alcoholism are also more likely to experience alcohol-related problems. In the United States, American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) have the highest rates of current and heavy drinking of all racial or ethnic groups. Deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis are nearly four times greater among AI/ANs compared to the general U.S. population. They also have a higher prevalence of drunk driving compared to the general U.S. population.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend that alcohol be consumed in moderation only. Moderation is considered two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women (one drink is defined as twelve ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of a distilled spirit). Drinking alcohol is inappropriate for recovering alcoholics, persons under the age of twenty-one, persons taking medication, those who plan to drive, and women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, as it could injure the fetus. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy may result in fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or fetal alcohol effects (FAE). FAS is characterized by growth retardation, facial abnormalities, and central-nervous-system dysfunction. FAS is irreversible and will affect children their entire life. If a fetus's exposure to alcohol during pregnancy is not severe enough to cause FAS, it may result in fetal alcohol effects (FAE), alcohol-related developmental disabilities (ARDD), or alcohol-related neurodevel-opmental disabilities (ARND).

absorption: uptake by the digestive tract nutrient: dietary substance necessary for health malnutrition: chronic lack of sufficient nutrients to maintain health prevalence: describing the number of cases in a population at any one time

This illustration shows a healthy liver above, and a diseased liver below. Liver disease in alcoholics progresses from an enlargement of the liver to cirrhosis, which is characterized by liver scarring and is usually fatal unless alcohol consumption ceases. [Custom Medical Stock Photo, Inc. Reproduced by permission.]

This illustration shows a healthy liver above, and a diseased liver below. Liver disease in alcoholics progresses from an enlargement of the liver to cirrhosis, which is characterized by liver scarring and is usually fatal unless alcohol consumption ceases. [Custom Medical Stock Photo, Inc. Reproduced by permission.]

In conclusion, knowing the effects of alcohol on the body and the consequences of alcohol abuse and misuse is very important. When consumed in large amounts or irresponsibly, alcohol can cause extensive damage to health and well-being, including liver damage, poor nutritional status, birth defects, and death. Therefore, if alcohol is consumed, it should be done so responsibly and in moderation only. see also Fetal Alcohol Syndrome; French Paradox; Malnutrition; Pregnancy.

Laura Nelson

Bibliography

Kinney, Jean (2000). Loosening the Grip: A Handbook of Alcohol Information, 6th edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Leone, Bruno, ed. (1998). Alcohol: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.

Marshall, Ronald (2001). Alcoholism: Genetic Culpability or Social Irresponsibility? New York: University Press of America.

Internet Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome." Available from <http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd>

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Alcohol and Minorities: An Update." Available from <http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications>

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Alcohol and Nutrition." Available from <http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications>

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Frequently Asked Questions on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism." Available from <http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/>

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Substance Abuse: The Nation's Number One Health Problem." Available from <http://www.rwjf.org/resourcecenter>

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000." Available from <http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines>

allergy: immune system reaction against substances that are otherwise harmless immune system: the set of organs and cells, including white blood cells, that protect the body from infection protein: complex molecule composed of amino acids that performs vital functions in the cell; necessary part of the diet allergen: a substance that provokes an allergic reaction lactose intolerance: inability to digest lactose, or milk sugar enzyme: protein responsible for carrying out reactions in a cell

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