As noted previo social epidemiologists also examine lifestyle choices as a factor In health, disease. and impairment, We will examine three lifestyle factors as they relate to health: drugs. sexually transmitted diseases, and diet and exercise .
Drug Use and Abuse What is a drug? There are many different definitions. but for our purposes. a drug is any substance-other than food and water- • that. when taken into the body. alters its functloning in some way, Drugs are used for either therapeutic or recreational purposes. Therapeutic use occurs when a person takes a drug for a specific purpose such as reducing a fever or controlling a cough. In contrast. recreational drug use occurs when a person takes a drug for no purpose other than achieving a pleasurable feelingor psychological state. Alcohol and tobacco arc examples of drugs that arc primarily used for recreational purposes; their use by people over a fixed age (which. Other drugs-such as some antianxiety drugs or tranquilizers may he used legally only if prescribed hy a physician for therapeutic use but are frequently l1S~J illegally for recreational purposes.Alcohol The use of alcohol is consldcrcd an 3Cceptcd part of the domf nant culture in the United States. Adults in this country consume an average of 2.4 gallons of wine, 213 gallons of beer, and J A gallons of liquor per year (U.S. Census Bureau, :!008). In
fact, adults consume more beer 011 average than milk or coffee. However. these statistics overlook the fact that among people who drink, 10 percent account for roughly half the total al ohol consumption in this country (Levinthal, 2002). . Although the negative short-term effects of alcohol are usually OVerLOlnC,chronic heavy drinking or alcoholism can cause permanent damage to the: hrain or other parts of the body (Fishbein and Pease, 1996). For alcoholics, the long-term negative health effects include nutritional defidcllcit:J resulting froru poor eating habits (chronic heavy drinking contributes to high caloric consumption but low nutritional intake); ',lrJiovascul,lr problems such as inflammation and enlargement of the: heart muscle, high blood pressure. and stroke: and eventually to alcoholic cirrhosis-a progressive development of scar tissue that chokes off blood vessels in the liver and destroys liver cells by interfcring with their use of oxygen (Lcvinthal, ()02).
Alcoholic cirrhosis is the ninth most frequent cause: of death in the United States. The social consequences of heavy drinking are not always limited to the pt'rsun doing the drinking. For example, abuse of alcohol and other d ugs by a pregnant woman can damage the unborn ictus. Can alcoholism be overcome? Many people get and stay sober, Some rely on organizations such as Alcoholies Anonymous or church support groups to help them overc me their drinking problem. Others undergo medical treatment and therapy sessions to learn more about the root causes of their problem. Caroline napp (1996: 242-24-'), who started drinking at age 14 and continued throughout college, describes how she felt after she regained sobriety and came to view herself as a recovering alcoholic.