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NZ’s casual attitude sets us up for misery ...alcohol

"...up to to 3000 children per year being born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This is a continuum of birth defects caused by the mother's consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. FASD damages
the child's brain and affects growth and facial features..."

21 Jun 2014
Taranaki Daily News
New Zealand
NZ's casual attitude sets us up for misery
Long-term effects of high levels of alcohol consumption lead to a litany of medical problems affecting almost every organ of the body.

Professor Doug Sellman of the National Addiction Centre at Otago University commenting on alcohol's effect on society, sums it up in one word: mayhem. A visit to any hospital emergency department on a
Friday or Saturday night confirms this.

Alcohol is a class of molecules distinguished by the bonding of an oxygen atom and hydrogen atom, called a hydroxyl molecule or -OH group attached to at least one carbon atom that has three other atoms
bonded to it.

There are many different types of alcohol molecules, for example, methanol, ethanol, propanol. The alcohol found in alcoholic beverages is ethanol. This has two carbon atoms in a chain, one of which has
the signature hydroxyl group. Ethanol is converted in the body to a compound called acetaldehyde and subsequently to acetic acid, both toxic.

Acetaldeyde is the troublemaker and can lead to liver damage and cancer. Some other alcohols, for example methanol, are very dangerous if consumed, since when oxidised in the body they produce highly
toxic products such as formic acid which can be fatal.

Alcohol is absorbed partly in the stomach wall but mainly in the small intestine and from there passes into the liver where it is metabolised. The liver can only process alcohol at a constant rate, one standard unit of alcohol per hour. A standard unit is defined as 10 grams of pure alcohol. Half a litre of beer at 5 per cent alcohol by volume is two standard drinks. Excess alcohol is sent directly to the heart where it reduces the force of heart contractions, lowering blood pressure. From the heart, blood is sent to the lungs. If a person has been drinking, traces of alcohol will be present when they breathe out. This is the underlying principle behind a breathalyzer.

Intoxication occurs when alcohol enters the bloodstream faster than it can be metabolised by the liver. Symptoms of intoxication include euphoria, flushed skin and a decrease of social inhibition. Higher doses lead to impaired muscle coordination, impaired decision making, violent or erratic behaviour, nausea and vomiting. Alcohol changes the viscosity of the fluid inside the semicircular canal of the ear which affects balance.

Long-term effects of high levels of alcohol consumption lead to a litany of medical problems affecting almost every organ of the body. Disturbingly, the adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable to its effects. Alcohol is an addictive substance and chronic abuse can lead to alcoholism.

A curious aspect of alcohol consumption is referred to as alcohol expectations. These are the attitudes and beliefs that people have of the effects of alcohol. For example, if you are part of a society that expects aggression with alcohol consumption, then people who consume too much alcohol in that society, tend to become aggressive when drunk. Tests have shown that men, in such a culture, who are told they are drinking alcohol but have actually been given tonic water, become more aggressive.

Sellman points out that there are at least 700,000 heavy drinkers in New Zealand, more than 70,000 alcohol-related assaults each year and up to 3000 children per year being born with foetal alcohol
spectrum disorder (FASD). This is a continuum of birth defects caused by the mother's consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. FASD damages the child's brain and affects growth and facial features.

In a comprehensive report, Christchurch Health and Development Study, is a chapter called ''Alcohol use in Adolescence'' by David Fergusson and John Boden of Otago University. They cover many aspects of
alcohol abuse such as crime, vehicle accidents and sexual risk taking, and examine the causes of alcohol abuse. Fergusson and Boden point to international experience with ways to treat and manage alcohol abuse, such as increasing alcohol taxation, regulating drink driving, regulating the availability of alcohol and restricting advertising. Finally in a section entitled, ''What does not Work'', they list the following: mass media campaigns, alcohol education in schools and warning labels.

Prohibition is unrealistic. New Zealand society's irresponsibly casual attitude to alcohol consumption is setting many young people today up for a life of alcohol abuse and the misery that entails.

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