Ethanol: A Matter Of Perception?

As we discussed ethanol this week in class I began to realize that the problem with alcohol in our country is truly a problem of perception.  I’m not saying that we perceive the problem as larger than it is, but I do believe that our perception of alcohol as well as our perception of those who use it in excess is contributing to the problem.

Under aged drinking is obviously a problem we experience on a regular basis.  It is rampant in colleges, universities and many high schools across the country and it seems that when those who are under age as well as those in college drink to excess when they have the opportunity.  Solutions range from stricter enforcement to a lower drinking age to a flat out prohibition but I think our problem has a simpler solution.  Change the perception of alcohol.  Growing up you hear from your parents that alcohol is for adults and that you should never drink it until you are an adult.  Right away you get rebellion and a desire to be an adult driving under aged people to want to drink.  Next you have the Jersey Shore and other shows and movies that show people getting completely hammered and having tons of fun doing it.  This sends the message that the purpose of drinking alcohol is to get completely smashed.  If we could change how the consumption of alcohol is portrayed both in the home and in the media I think the urge to drink and drink to excess would decrease among under aged people.

Habitual and excessive drinking can also lead to the other perception I consider to be incorrect.  Most of society view alcoholics as lazy slobs who are running away from their problems but chose not to help themselves.  While it may be true that the initial drinking may have been in response to emotional stress, it is not likely the reason they continue to drink.  Alcoholics develop an addiction much like any other drug addict.  Ethanol affects many pathways in the brain some of which cause the lowering of inhibitions and slowing of cognition.  Ethanol also causes the release of dopamine, the “happy” neurotransmitter, in regions of the brain that are related to behavior reinforcement.  So just like your dog doing a trick to get a biscuit, alcoholics drink to get that rush of dopamine.  They should be treated just like any other addict.  Many alcoholics do not seek help because of the social stigma attached to alcoholism.  If they were encouraged to get help and praised for getting healthy like those with other addictions they would likely be more receptive to help.

If these perceptions about alcohol and its use could be altered then I believe we would see a shift in the way it is consumed without have to change laws.  Other countries have similar laws in place but do not experience the same problems because drinking alcohol is portrayed as something that is normal in moderation and is not meant to be consumed exclusively by adults in a party type setting.