Alcohol is the most familiar drug in our society. Although alcohol makes some people more active by reducing their inhibitions or shyness, it is a depressant in its chemical action. A person who drinks a fifth of whiskey in one gulp can die, because that amount of alcohol can depress the centers controlling respiration in the brain, causing breathing to stop.

How did one student die on his 23 rd birthday?

One student belonged to a fraternity in which the birthday tradition (supposedly) was to drink the same number of shots of whiskey as one's age. The student was found dead the day after his birthday with the words "23 shots" written on his forehead. His friends assumed he simply passed out after so much drinking. The anguished parents brought these details to the attention of news media in an attempt to prevent such episodes from occurring in the future.

What polling result surprised Gallup?

Alcohol is both addictive and dangerous. These characteristics are hardly news to most people. Polls consistently indicate that a third of the families in America are troubled by alcohol abuse and 80% of Americans identify alcohol abuse as a major national problem. The late George Gallup, who started collecting poll data on these questions in the early 1980s, commented that this was an extraordinary number, because it was rare for 80% of Americans to agree about anything.

What sort of placebo effect did Marlatt and Rohsenhow (1981) discover?

In small doses, alcohol is an effective anxiety-reducing drug, producing a "loose" feeling that may be accompanied by relaxed social inhibitions. Apparently one reason alcohol releases inhibitions is that most people expect it to have that effect. In a classic study, Marlatt and Rohsenhow (1981) found that people who thought they were drinking alcohol, but actually were not, showed the same sorts of behavior (relaxation and increased willingness to talk about personal matters) as people who actually drank alcohol. Marlatt replicated the study for the NBC news program Dateline in 2000, showing the same expectancy effect worked in a new generation of students.

What is "alcohol myopia"?

Alcohol has distinctive effects on the thought process. Claude Steele (1990) called it alcohol myopia. This is a metaphor. Alcohol does not really make people get myopic (which means "near-sighted"-the common visual defect in which far-away objects seem blurred). However, alcohol makes people-and even laboratory rats-neglect long-term consequences in favor of short-term pleasures. This is what Steele called alcohol myopia. After alcohol consumption, long-term problems seem more remote, while immediate sensations are vivid. This produces the escape some people seek. It also leads people to do foolish things that are not in their own long-term interest. For example, experts on AIDS say alcohol is a risk factor for AIDS, because people who know perfectly well how to prevent the transmission of bodily fluids may neglect to protect themselves when influenced by alcohol.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey