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The Ravages of Alcoholism

On Thursday, February 9, the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota announced a lawsuit against four of the world’s largest beer makers, and four beer stores in the nearby town of Whiteclay, Nebraska. The suit claims that the beer manufacturers and store owners knowingly contributed to widespread alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Tribe’s suit aims to collect $500 million in damages to pay for health care, social services, and rehabilitation associated with alcoholism. Alcohol is illegal on the Reservation. However, the suit claims the four beer stores in Whiteclay, which borders the Reservation, sold nearly 5 million cans of beer last year. Whiteclay has 12 residents. So who purchased all that beer? Tribal leaders claim it was knowingly sold to tribe members for resale or consumption on the Reservation.

021312-1 Alcohol addiction has long plagued those living on the Reservation with devastating health effects. 1 in 4 children on the Reservation suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The average life expectancy of a tribe member is between 45 and 52 years old, over twenty years shorter than the average American. Nearly 12 percent of Native American deaths are associated with alcohol compared with 3.3 percent for all Americans.

Some believe alcoholism is a matter of personal choice. Others contend that healthcare issues, and the economic costs and social liabilities associated with alcoholism make it a national issue. This is especially true in communities like Pine Ridge where alcoholism is thought to affect an estimated 80% of the population. Abject poverty, raging unemployment, and low graduation rates combined with pervasive alcoholism create a cauldron of complex problems. Tribal leaders see breaking the addiction cycle as one piece of the solution.

This week you will travel the internet to learn the science behind alcohol addiction: how alcohol affects the body, and the causes and outcomes of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

How alcohol affects your body

021312-2 Explore how alcohol affects a healthy, adult body at Stanford University’s interactive site about alcohol. The menu options reside in the green box along the left margin. Begin with an introductory quiz. Can you separate the facts from the myths? Next, read the sections on the nervous system, neurons, and effects of alcohol. These will explain the structures and functions of the nervous system, how they communicate, and how alcohol changes communication. How does alcohol affect behavior and why? How do you expect alcohol would affect driving? Check your answer by reading the Alcohol and Driving section. Learn about how blood alcohol levels are measured and then test your understanding with a short quiz. Finally, try your hand at a game of catch. Play ‘drunk’ and play ‘sober.’ Watch the ball. What is the difference?

Alcohol effects in utero

The previous site introduced you to the effects of alcohol on adults—people with fully developed systems who have reached a mature height and weight. How does alcohol affect an unborn baby? What are the long term effects on that child after she is born? 

021312-3 Alcohol passes through the placenta so if a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so too does her fetus. At two weeks old, an embryo is roughly the size of a grain of rice. The brain, organs, and face are still developing. Imagine the effects of alcohol on a developing embryo. Children exposed to alcohol while in utero are at risk for a host of developmental delays and disorders. The most severe is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).  Generate a list of questions about FAS. Then, visit the National Library of Medicine at the National Institute of Health.  Use its wealth of information about FAS to answer your questions. Read the list of problems associated with FAS. At the bottom of the summary there is a section titled, ‘Start here.’ Click ‘Fetal Alcohol Syndrome’ to read more about the signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and long term effects. Scroll down further for an extensive list of resource links. Take the FASD Alcohol Use Quiz. 021312-4View graphics that show how FAS can affect the shape of a child’s face and head, and the areas of the brain that can be damaged by in utero exposure to alcohol. Read what these areas of the brain control; predict how that might affect development and behavior.  Read more about FAS and Native American communities. Summarize why FAS (and FASD) is a problem among this segment of the population. There is no cure for FAS, only prevention. How can FAS be prevented? View the effects of alcohol on a fetus. Finally, work your way through the Kid’s Quest on FASDs. Be sure to take the fact checkup and to view the video introduction to Iyal.