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See also:
参照項目: タバコ覚醒剤アヘンコーヒーテレビ
参照項目: Hemp as a "drug"
See also: Drug risks: How dangerous are the most common drugs?

Alcohol is widely used in Japan. About 70% of all alcohol is consumed as beer, with the remainder used in the form of sake (rice wine), shochu, wine, fruit wines and spirits. Grapes were introduced by the Portuguese about 400 years ago because wine was needed for sacramental purposes by Christians. Beer only arrived in Japan about 100 years ago but has become by far the most popular alcoholic beverage.

Hops and Hemp

We all know that beer is made from water and malts. There is an important third ingredient, hops, which acts as a preservative and as flavouring (it's responsible for the bitter taste in beers). Hops also contains a slightly psychoactive substance, lupulin. Few beer drinkers know that amongst all plants the closest relative of hops is cannabis hemp, marijuana. Most domestic Japanese hops is grown in Hokkaido, the Tohoku region or Nagano. All of these are former hemp growing areas, since both plants thrive in a similar environment.

In the United States and in Germany, beers are brewed from crushed hemp seeds. They have a nutty taste and full flavour. The hemp seeds do not act as an intoxicant, only the alcohol.

In Japanese society alcohol serves an important function as a release valve for social pressures. Many business negotiations are conducted in bars and restaurants under the influence of alcohol. Getting drunk can be an integral part of one's career path. It can be difficult to avoid alcohol altogether and often there is pressure to drink to join a group.

Alcohol and women
Drinking used to be pretty much a male domain in Japan, but now sales of alcohol to men are so saturated that recent adds for plum wine and beer are specifically targeting young women. And there are a few young ladies around that go through a couple of bottles of wine a week. When they have babies they really have to change their habits or the babies may suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The baby might be mentally retardated. Alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy.

Alcohol is tolerated
Public drunkenness amongst men, especially late at night, is quite common (and unlike in the USA, legal) though unlike many other countries it is not often related to violence. There is no great embarassment involved in being seen drunk by other people, so as long as you don't make a fool of yourself all the time. You have to be a pretty hard drinker before people treat you as a nuisance.

What age limit?
Like cigarettes alcohol is available from outdoors vending machines that perform no age verification, so the legal barriers against under-age drinking are somewhat theoretical.

The problem drinkers
While most people who drink alcohol do so in moderation and without doing any damage to their health, a minority of alcohol users does get addicted. It is estimated that there are several million Japanese with a serious alcohol problem. The health damage from excessive alcohol use is largely ignored by Japanese society.

Organic damage
Habituation to heavy drinking is very harmful, as alcohol is a relatively toxic drug when used in higher doses. Immoderate alcohol use causes damage to most internal organs including the liver, the stomach, bladder, the nervous system and the brain. It also corelates with higher cancer rates, though that does not necessary mean that alcohol causes cancer. It can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in unborn babies of pregnant drinkers.

Alcohol and solvents
The only other group of intoxicant drugs that is so clearly linked to brain damage as alcohol are the solvents (acetone, toluene, etc. in glue, nail varnish remover, etc.). This is not surprising since alcohol (ethanol) and its metabolites in the liver are all substances that are used as solvents in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. When alcohol is broken down in the liver it turns into a toxic substance that has the same effect as inhaled solvents. Chronic alcohol abuse is the major source of liver disease.

Especially during the year-end season the police gets very active catching drunk drivers. Alcohol affects the ability to operate machinery and operate motor vehicles quite seriously, more so than most illegal recreational substances do. It is involved in approximately 4000 traffic deaths a year in Japan, almost half of all traffic accident deaths in the country.

Withdrawal symptoms
If alcohol use is very heavy for an extended period then physical addiction, a serious medical condition, occurs. Sudden withdrawal of alcohol in an addict can produce physical withdrawal symptoms so severe as to be life-threatening. If the addict is not given either alcohol or valium he may die. Few other drugs, legal or otherwise, lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Sudden abstinence from marijuana, even after long term heavy use does not lead to any physical withdrawal symptoms.

Alcoholism and Smoking are our biggest drug problems
Alcohol abuse is probably the second worst drug-related health problem after tobacco, in terms of disease it causes and premature deaths.

Of course with alcohol there are "drug overdoses" too:

See also: "Hanami" merrymakers hit by alcohol poisoning

See also:
See also: Nicotine (Tobacco), Amphetamines (Speed), Caffeine (Coffee).
See also: Hemp as a "drug"
See also: Drug risks: How dangerous are the most common drugs?

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