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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 15 April 2002 Issue

PAWPRINTS, FOOTPRINTS & ANIMAL CHATTER
By Judith Marie Gansen

Saving Children and Animals Beats "Cool" Drinking Any Day

At times I wonder if I were a rich person, what single thing could be done to  stop the most suffering in the world?  Find a cure for a disease or help victims of poverty?  Put all the "bad guys" in jail?  I thought if I had that power that wiping out child abuse was the single most important issue because sometimes the abused can become abusers of adults, children and animals and so the cycle goes on.  But where does abuse come from?  The answer is often addiction problems.  Alcohol and drugs being the two that cause the most grief in our world but I am choosing to talk about alcohol since it is legal and encouraged in our society. 

In the Feb 23rd issue of TV GUIDE a story about heavy metal rocker Ozzy Osborne talks of his addiction problems (cocaine and alcohol) and how he bit the head off a live dove in an office with executives years ago and also a bat onstage (he claimed later he thought it was fake).  In Michigan a man just received a prison sentence for the brutal killing of two innocent cats who were bashed against the wall.  In Kansas City, Missouri a man is on trial for bludgeoning his dog who bit the nose of his child--it took him hours to kill the dog as he drank during the murder and the dog screamed in fear and pain.  Alcohol was involved in all of these cases.  Wherever you see animal abuse, please check on the welfare of other pets, adults and children living in that house because abuse may be happening to them too. 

Any police officer can tell you that Friday and Saturday nights are their busiest times--I always had the most cases to type on Monday mornings when I worked for the police department.  It's the time when people most often relax and many times that relaxation involves an addictive substance.  What good is a party without some booze?  At least that is what the commercials tell us--you are more likely to "get the girl" or "be popular" if you drink their product.  For a while liquor was not seen a lot on TV or in the movies, now you can barely watch something without people having a drink in their hands.  Really "cool" people too--like the best paid and most glamorous movie stars.   It angers me that since big corporations have taken over the major networks we see ads for alcohol during what used to be called "family viewing" time, so the kids can see them too.  Same thing is true for movies we watch.  I read somewhere that it is suspected but not proven that money may be changing hands--if you push our product on your show, we will pay you this much or help your business out in some way.  What other possible reason for the bombardment of liquor on nearly every show and in nearly every movie?  Big corporations know something that people often don't realize.  Young people idolize stars and want to be like them.  You push a product in a movie, in an ad or on TV and the youth will follow.  It's part of becoming a REAL ADULT, isn't it?  By the time they are addicted they will not buy this product because they want to or to be "cool," they will need to buy it because they have to.  I guess some of those big executives don't care about what kind of world they leave their children. If someone develops a drinking problem it is someone else's problem, right? 

People years ago tried to stop liquor sales--it was called Prohibition and it didn't work.  People wanted to drink so badly they did it on the sneak and illegally made it themselves.  A few years back I watched a story where a city in Alaska made the sale of liquor illegal for one year.  Their crime rate dropped very dramatically.  What is to be learned from this?  Can't we get through life without addictive substances to lean on?  Where are we going wrong in teaching our children?  Why are we so impressionable that we follow like sheep?

In families where there is alcohol abuse there is a 50% higher chance of child sexual abuse.  Alcohol shuts down the part of your brain that governs reason.  It is why a good citizen who may sing in the church choir will argue with you when you try to take their keys away so they don't drive when they are drunk.  Alcoholism is progressive and affects memory and after years of abusing their bodies alcoholics may get "blackouts" or complete blocks of time never stored in their memories.  They can get dementia.  How horrible for their children--Mom or Dad or Grandma/ Grandpa may not remember a story told by their children.  How great the anger is in their kids--it breaks my heart.  They may also not remember if Sally had her medication last night or that Fred has an important test to study for.  They may not remember if they left the stove on, the iron plugged in or the back door unlocked.  They may forget the dogs' heartworm pill or to feed their cat.  They may forget to take their insulin shots or may give their insulin shots to themselves when they are drunk.  They drink to forget--guess what, it works.

Only a partial list of health issues associated with drinking--heart arrhythmia or heart enlargement, liver cirrhosis, breast cancer, esophageal and throat cancer, skin wrinkles, impotence, blood pressure, alcoholic muscle disease, neurological disorders, nerve damage, etc.

There are stages of alcoholism that people go through and at the later stages they need a lot more of the drug to get their feeling of "high."  Excessive drinking, even in a family where there is no abuse going on and lots of love, causes suffering to the children.  Kids need their parents to look up to and to guide them in our troubled world.  In addition to being taught right from wrong children need parents to set an example.  They need parents (or other caregivers) to teach them about drugs, sex and other important issues.  Children growing up in alcoholic homes where two parents have the disease have a 70% chance of developing some form of addiction themselves--overeating, gambling, overspending, drugs, etc.  Grandchildren of alcoholics are also at high risk.  There is even a group called Adult Children of Alcoholics.  Children growing up where there is alcohol abuse often have abandonment issues--they may hook up with the wrong guy or gal or stay in a bad relationship because being rejected is so painful for them because they felt abandoned as children.  Alcoholics tend to marry each other and have friends with the same problem.  That is because if there is a sober person around someone who is drinking they will notice when the drinker repeats a story for the third time or does something else silly or embarrassing.  They tend to try to push drinks on others or get others started. Alcoholism is America's Number One health problem.  When I hear of fires caused by "faulty wiring" I often wonder how many times the people doing the work may have taken liquor with them on the job.  What's a few drinks when you are working hard?  My husband and I experienced this when we had some work done on our house--I bought the guys donuts and coffee as a kindness gesture and the next day I guess as a way to "thank" me, I came home from work to find beer cans they left all over.  Thank God they were not working on wiring or a gas furnace.

Alcohol can be fairly cheap and easy to purchase.  The message is everywhere.  Recently on a menu at a restaurant I was at there was a heading called "Painkillers" and then it listed the drinks they served.  I complained because of the message that it gives out.  It's just business, right?

I should mention that for many years I didn't drink at all.  Then I drank socially for a while until I saw all the pain that drinking was causing others--now my husband and I have decided we don't want it in our home.  Alcohol abuse tears apart marriages.  It kills innocent people and animals on our roads every day.  It puts a huge financial drain on your budget. Binge drinking has killed college kids.  Part of hazing is sometimes to down liquor--drinking contests go on all the time at parties.  How many of these kids will become alcoholics and how many will die from acute alcohol toxicity?  Isn't one death enough?  It is frightening to think of the people involved in very important jobs who make life and death decisions who are alcoholics--doctors, electricians, teachers, clergy, police officers, school bus drivers, pilots, hunters with guns--it can be absolutely any human being and people who have this disease don't wear a sign that they do.  It does seem to be a bit more male oriented.  Maybe that is because it is targeted to males in advertising more or in many societies you aren't a man unless you drink.  One person I know became an addict by his father sitting down his son around age 12, giving him a drink and showing him how to "be a real man."  The father was also an alcoholic.

Alcohol and Activists

As animal advocates it is easy for us to want to have something to lean on because of the horror we hear about or see every day where animals are hurt or slaughtered.  Police officers, judges, ER doctors in high crime areas and anyone else dealing with the ugly parts of life can become burned out, depressed or anxious.  Some will turn to liquor since it is legal--you don't need a doctor's prescription or to even admit you can't handle things--all you need is some money.  It's more "macho" to drink than to go to see a counselor if you need someone to talk to.  An ID card and a little money are all you need if you are young.  Sometimes sadly young people get their hands on liquor underage on their own. 

Since the World Trade Center disaster incidents of alcohol abuse are up and so are drugs for prescription tranquilizers.  In our society we don't want to feel pain.  When I worked at Hospice one of our best social workers came back from a funeral of one of our patients.  It happened to be a black family. We were discussing the similarities and differences in different cultures and how they deal with death.  She said she noticed that in black families there was a lot more crying and yelling and screaming.  She also noticed the grieving loved ones who did this seemed to get better quicker.  They felt their pain and it somehow helped them to heal.  Teach your children that pain is part of life--don't try to pretend something bad didn't happen, talk with them or have them write or draw about it.  When we acknowledge that someone is hurting it helps them to heal.

Not long ago even PETA did a "Drink Beer" campaign in an effort to get people to stop drinking milk.  Great intention but I didn't agree with the campaign.  Of course, not everyone who drinks will become an alcoholic.  Some people can be heavy drinkers but can stop if they choose to.  There is no cure for alcoholism now.  But until they find a cure for addiction problems I believe it is best to keep it out of my house.  I see the liquor ads and they remind me of the thousands who die from this "beverage" either by drinking it or through the senseless acts of violence to people and animals or the drunk drivers who kill so many (in 1986 highway fatalities from drinking were 24,000 people--source the Justice Department.  My God, 24,000 human beings).  I hear the cries of the innocent children and animals as they are abused or killed--why don't others hear those cries?

When I was younger I worked with my sister-in-law helping to cater weddings.  She would always counsel the bride-to-be that if you have liquor at a wedding it's best to not have an "open" bar.  When people have to pay for their own drinks there are fewer incidents of violence or property destruction at the wedding.  Doesn't that tell us something right there?

An excellent article about addiction in Time Magazine (May 5, 1997, written by J. Madeleine Nash with reporting by Alice Park/New York) speaks about levels of a substance called "dopamine" in the brains of people with addiction issues.  The research was led by psychiatrist Dr. Nora Volkow of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.  Some quotes from this excellent article:  

"What is not controversial is that the social cost of drug abuse, whatever its cause, is enormous.  Cigarettes contribute to the death toll from cancer and heart disease.  Alcohol is the leading cause of domestic violence and highway deaths."  (From JMG--who else is in the homes of those people doing violence?   the family dog, the family cat or bird?  Since we trivialize animal abuse accurate statistics are not always kept--animals may not show outward signs of being abused or may not be noticed by other family members).

"They don't yet know the precise mechanism by which it works, but scientists are increasingly convinced that dopamine plays a key role in a wide range of addictions, including those to heroin, nicotine, alcohol and marijuana." 

"..This stereotype is beginning to give way to the recognition that drug dependence has a clear biological basis.  'Addiction,' declares Brookhaven's Volkow, 'is a disorder of the brain no different from other forms of mental illness.' "

"Addicts, in fact, display many of the symptoms shown by patients who have suffered strokes or injuries to the prefrontal cortex.  Damage to this region, University of Iowa neurologist Antonio Damasiio and his colleagues have demonstrated, destroys the emotional compass that controls behaviors the patient knows are unacceptable."

"Low dopamine levels caused by a particular version of the D2 gene, they say, may link a breathtaking array of aberrant behaviors.  Among them: severe alcoholism, pathological gambling, binge eating and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder."

Ms. Nash also writes:  "Abstinence, if maintained, not only halts the physical and psychological damage wrought by drugs but in large measure also reverses it.  Genes and social forces may conspire to turn people into addicts but do not doom them to remain so."

Please recognize that there are kids everywhere in the world dealing with one or more alcoholic parent or relative.  Teach these kids that it is not their fault that someone they love has this disease.  Encourage counseling for everyone involved.  Teachers and school administrators need to realize our children are in pain -- an estimated 25% of Americans have alcohol-related problems or report drinking problems that put them at risk.  That means for every 4 people you meet today, one may have this problem.  When a child or teen comes into school with "an attitude" there may be problems at home or they may be abusing alcohol.  Children with this problem gravitate to other kids with problems because it's hard for them to relate to kids living a more normal family life.

Ann Landers, who has done so much to help educate people on this important issue recently spoke about National Alcohol Screening Day, which is Thursday, April 22, 2002.  There will be more than 2,000 screening sites where people can hear a presentation and meet with a clinician.  From her wonderful column:  "Relatively low levels of alcohol consumption may increase the risk for auto accidents, medical interactions, birth defects, strokes and certain cancers.  Forty percent of all traffic crash fatalities in 2000 involved alcohol, and it is a factor in a large proportion of deaths from falls, burns and drowning.  Hazardous drinking is involved in about a third of suicides, half of homicides and a third of child-abuse cases." 

If you have the problem, get help.  Tell the liquor industry we don't want to see animals in their ads (like the cigarette industry did) which target kids.  Demand that the networks stop pushing liquor down our children's throats during family time.  Tell the movie industry we want no more of it.  Teach teens that it's cool not to drink.  Set an example in your own family--have alcohol free parties and show everyone what a good time you can have without it. Do it for the ones you love and for our beloved animals.  Some resources:

Alcohol Screening Day:  
National Screening
1-800-697-6700     
www.mentalhealthscreening.org

Other Good Sites:
Last Call
http://www.time.com/alcoholism (Time Magazine's web report)

alcohol drug treatment referral -
http://www.nationalhotline.org/

Mothers Against Drunk Driving
http://www.madd.org

Al-Anon/Alateen
http://www.al-anon-alateen.org     Ala-Non and Alateen - support

National Association for Children of Alcoholics   
http://www.nacoa.net/

Good Movies Dealing With the Problem (my hat is off to the courageous people  and actors who made these movies):

1) Shattered Spirits - with Martin Sheen (a wonderful actor--we love the West Wing), originally aired on ABC 1/6/86 and recently replayed on the Dish Network-an alcoholic causes pain and anguish to his family
2) 28 Days with Sandra Bullock - a young woman deals with the disease

Look inside yourself for the courage.  If you have tried to quit and failed, keep on trying.  Do it for yourself because you matter.  Do it for the ones you love.  Do it for your children who suffer so badly when Mom or Dad isn't making sense anymore.  Do it for the women who every day are beaten and killed by drunk husbands.  Do it for the men who suffer while watching the woman they love slowly killing themselves.  Do it for the many animals beaten and bludgeoned to death.  Please--just do it.

Judy
Staff:  Animals in Print  (free online animal publication)
http://www.all-creatures.org/aip/

Pawprints, Footprints & Animal Chatter
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