Alcohol And Humans
How Did We Get Here?
The history of alcohol and humans goes back at least 30,000 and arguably 100,000 years. Alcohol, a flammable liquid produced by the natural fermentation of sugars, is currently the most widely used human psychoactive agent around the world today, ahead of nicotine and caffeine. It was made and consumed by prehistoric societies in six of the seven continents (not Antarctica), in a variety of forms based on a variety of natural sugars found in fruits and grains.
Alcohol And Society
Alcohol and it's effects have been present in societies throughout history. Drinking is documented in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, in the Qur'an, in art history, in Greek and Roman literature as old as Homer and in Confucius's Analects.
From the earliest recorded use of alcohol, drinking has been a social activity, and both consumption and behaviour have been subject to self-imposed social controls.
In all cultures, drinking is a rule-governed activity, hedged about with self-imposed norms and regulations concerning who may drink how much of what, when, how, in what contexts, with what effects, etc.
Alcohol As Medicine
The use of alcohol through history is entrenched in the messy complications of human life—social norms, culture, rituals, religion, economics, medical beliefs, fun times, and probably much more. The therapeutic use of alcohol appears to be as old as alcohol itself and is, unsurprisingly, common to many cultures throughout time and across the world.
Wine was widely prescribed by physicians in classical Greece for such ailments as wind, bad breath, cancer, and wounds, and to loosen bowels.
Both beer and wine were integral to Egyptian ritualistic life, tied to health and religion.
Alcohol-based herbal remedies are a part of all major Chinese works on herbal prescriptions and medicine.
The Romans adopted a mixture of wine and frankincense or myrrh to numb the senses before surgery.
The aqua vitae, a "divine medicament" of the Middle Ages Monastery.
Medicinal use of alcohol is thought to have been widespread in the pre-Columbian Americas, varying with position in society and individual cultures.
Alcohol was even prescribed in London hospitals until the 18th century, but ultimately, with an increase in medical knowledge, there was a growing disbelief in the role of alcohol to promote health and an awareness of the burden of alcoholism.
Alcohol And Tradition
Often these traditions begin with health and wellbeing in mind. For example at Christmas we have mulled wine as part of a long standing tradition that began in the 2nd Century with the Romans who heated their wine to ward off the cold in the winter months. As its popularity continued to grow throughout the middle ages, Europeans would mix heated wine with spices because they believed it would promote health and avoid sickness.
The big turning point came in the 1890s, when glögg (Sweden's mulled wine) became associated with Christmas. Every wine merchant across the country had their own unique recipe to share. Over time, these unique bottles (most depicting Santa Claus) were distributed throughout the rest of Europe – uprooting the long forgotten mulled wine in a new festive light.
Alcohol And Celebration
Alcohol is universally associated with celebration, and drinking is, in many cultures, an essential element of festivity.
Whether it is a toast to see in the New Year, a Christmas tipple, or even just a Friday pint to see in the weekend, we find a way to establish the drinking of alcohol in our many customs.
It's crazy, when you think about it, that alcohol is so intrinsically ingrained in our celebration culture. We will literally celebrate ANY occasion by cracking open a bottle. No other drug is so socially acceptable and deemed 'Normal', to the point that your behaviour is seen as strange if you choose to abstain.
Got a new job? Here's a bottle of bubbly to celebrate.
Had a new baby? Let's go wet the baby's head.
Getting married? More bubbly please!
And so on.....