27 May
2012

Alcohol as a Social Problem
by
Kelly Burton

A Paper Presented in Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements of
SO 304 Social Problems
14 Feb 201

Abstract

Alcohol is a social problem that is focused mainly on the poor community.  Drunk driving  fatalities, health problems are the main negative aspects of alcoholism.  Driven by large tax revenues and huge revenues to the makers of alcohol, little is done to correct this problem in the United States.  Research shows the alcoholism cost the Unite States three percent of the gross national product.  Because a majority of liquor stores are in lower income neighborhoods, some will stipulate that its a ploy of keeping the lower classes down to prevent social upheaval.  The real problem of finding a root cause for alcoholism is not major concern for researchers in the United States.

If alcohol was not a big business would we still be consuming it today?   Alcohol has been in the world for centuries, initially created as a more efficient way to store a food source, “During the European Middle Ages, grain was hard to store and distribute in a manner that was safe from mold and rates, unless it was brewed into beer” (Sernau, & Sernau, p 134, 2009).   But in today’s world of mass transit and global distribution channels there is really no need to use this method of distribution.  In the United States during prohibition, because of religious and moral reasons, alcohol was made illegal in the U.S. after passing the eighteenth amendment in 1920.  Thirteen years later it was overturned and made legal again with the passing of the twenty first amendment (Sernau, & Sernau, p 135, 2009).  One must ask why was a drug that leads to a large number of social ills made legal again?   The simple answer is American people wanted something that even for a short period, made them feel good and forget about their daily problems.   While the reversal of the rule shows that the American legal system can work for the people, it also shows that what is a matter of public opinion, is not always in the best interest of the people.

Alcoholism today cost the Americans three percent of our three percent of our gross national product (Klingemann 2001).  “Alcohol consumption, and especially abusive consumption, can entail important costs to society. Compared with tobacco or illicit drugs, alcohol is clearly more “expensive” in terms of the resources expended in dealing with the adverse consequences of abusive drinking” (Klingemann 2001).  Klingemann points out that unlike tobacco or illicit drugs alcohol over consumption costs us in the following ways:

•Direct costs –  Health, judicial and social welfare systems
Material damage

•Indirect costs –  Premature death

Excess morbidity and unemployment

If alcohol only caused problems for the person who was consuming the product, there would not be as much concern, however people who over consume effect those around them.  Family violence is often linked to the person being under the influence of alcohol (Sernau, & Sernau,  p135, 2009).  In 2005, according to the U.S Bureau of Justice, 42 percent of people jailed for violent crimes were under the influence of alcohol (Sernau, & Sernau, p135, 2009).   Our nation is plagued by people driving under the influence of alcohol, every 39 minutes a person is killed by a drunk driver, based on the 13,470 people killed in the United States in 2006 (DUI 2007).  The situation of drunk drivers is perplexing, we can show a direct causation between an accident causing a fatality and the fact it was solely caused by the person consuming alcohol and driving the vehicle.  Yet thousands of people drink and drive knowing the risks and problems that can occur.

Our laws make it illegal to drive when intoxicated, yet until a certain threshold is met for a blood alcohol level, the crime is reduced to just impaired which carries a much lower penalty.  Alcohol is linked to a multitude of health issues.  Low birth rates, higher blood pressure rates and liver failure are a few that are commonly known.  Yet taxes collected from sales of alcohol are not utilized to treat these problems nor are the taxes utilized for prevention programs.

Simply banning alcohol is not a solution, rather we need to look at the root causes of why people feel the need to consume alcohol.  For some its merely a chemical dependance to the drug.   If one over consumes alcohol, their body forms a dependance on the drug which drives the persons behavior to drink.  The American Medical Association since 1956, attributes alcoholism to a disease and stipulates that as a disease it is permanent and must be continually treated.  Some consume alcohol as a recreation, while others feel the need to escape the worries of their daily lives.   Perhaps the problem goes even deeper, more sinister, perhaps alcohol is a wedge that is utilized between the classes.  A group of people that are kept in supply of cheap alcohol and retain a high level of inebriation as less likely to notice that they are being kept down.  In the film “Boyz n the Hood”, John Singleton’s first film, Furious Styles played by actor Laurence Fishburne points out to his young son the fact that there is a liquor store and gun store on every corner in the ghetto, the reason why, is because they was us to kill ourselves and each other.  Now while the film is not a documentary, if you look in poorer neighborhoods you do see a lot of liquor stores, so perhaps the writer Mr. Singleton is on to something.

Allowing alcohol to remain legal could be a way our government is allowing the masses to drink themselves in a mindless stupor.  A public that is numb to what is going around them are less likely to rebel against the system.  Alcoholism is not just a problem among the poor, the wealthy can be addicted too.  However, those who are in power are  shielded from the more negative of effects.  A wealthy person that is charged with drunk driving or vehicle manslaughter, can afford an attorney who will get the sentence reduce to a slap on the wrist.  A upper class person who finally gets themselves in over their and find themselves addicted to alcohol can afford in residence rehabilitation care at a posh spa like resort.  Pop culture stars are constantly in the media for going to rehab, and people act like they are heros for fighting their inner demons in a widely publicized manner.  Yet a middle class who hits the wall of alcoholism is stuck trying to fight it with Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) meetings and the inadequate12 steps.

I stated earlier that alcohol is legal because it is big business.  In 2003 the retail sales of alcohol in the United States was $115.9 billion (Lib Index, 2010).  A majority of the sales was from beer and wine (the cheapest of the alcohols), with an average beer consumption of 21.6 gallons per person.  The corporations are not the only ones making money off the alcohol, the state governments are taxing the sales for a healthy profit.  In 2009, spirits were taxed by the states anywhere from 68 cents up to $26.45 per gallon, beer and wine were being taxed at 11 cents up to $2.50 a gallon (Tax Foundation 2009).   The federal government taxes the corporations that make the alcohol to get their piece of the pie.  So while alcoholism is a social problem, it is one that is profitable for our government, since they are reaping the monetary rewards for the nations addiction.

Alcoholism will remain a social problem as long as it does not effect our mega corporations.  As long as people continue to work and support consumerism alcohol regardless of its negative impacts on our society will never be considered a social problem that is in need of correcting.  As long as it remains a problem of the lower classes, our government ruled by the monetary elite will continue to allow the sales and collect taxes and never invest in the research necessary to find the root cause of the problem.

References:

DUI. (2007, January 01). Drunk-driving-statistics. Retrieved from http://www.duiattorneyhome.com/DUI/Drunk-Driving-Statistics

Klingemann, H.K. (2001). Alcohol and its social consequences – the forgotten dimension. World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe 2001, 1(1), 9-10.

Lib Index. (2010, January 01). State Sales, gasoline, cigarette, and alcohol tax rates by state, 2000-2009. Retrieved from http://www.libraryindex.com/pages/2127/Economics-Alcohol-Tobacco-U-S-ALCOHOL-SALES-CONSUMPTION.html

Sernau, Scott, & Sernau, Scott. (2009). Global problems. Allyn & Bacon.

Tax Foundation. (2009, July 10). State Sales, gasoline, cigarette, and alcohol tax rates by state, 2000-2009. Retrieved from http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxdata/show/245.html

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