An Interesting Lesson on the History of Alcohol

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : November 07, 
| 3 Sources

Throughout history alcohol has been something of a double-edged sword, reviled and revered in equal measure

Although nobody knows for sure the exact history of alcohol, it was almost certainly discovered by chance. Maybe rotting and fermenting fruit was eaten by ancient man, perhaps some honey turned 'bad'. Who knows?

What we do know is that beer mugs have been found that date back to Neolithic times. That is 10,000 BC. That is a long time ago, the Stone Age to be precise. A quote on the history of alcohol and its legacy: 

"...alcohol has existed longer than all human memory. It has outlived generations, nations, epochs and ages. It is a part of us, and that is fortunate indeed. For although alcohol will always be the master of some, for most of us it will continue to be the servant of man."

Morris Chaftez, Founding director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

From the moment of its discovery to the present day, history of alcohol has played a major role in many cultures and been of great benefit. We can also see a continued observance of the downside to excessive drinking and drunkenness.

A Brief Timeline of the History of Alcohol

· 7000 BC: There is evidence showing alcohol was consumed in China

· 3000-2000 BC: Evidence has shown use of alcohol in India

· 27000 BC: Babylonians worship a wine Goddess

· In ancient Greece, mead was a common alcoholic beverage made of fermented water and honey. Ancient Greek writings include warnings from drinking too much mead and the consequences for drunkenness

· Beer is believed to have been invented before bread. Back then, beer was thick, resulting in the use of a straw like object to avoid getting large chunks. Beer was used in many cultures around the world

· Wine was discovered after beer. The exact time that wine was used depends on where in the world you were.

· Middle Ages: Distillation process began, this has been identified as a key component in the history of alcohol. Brandy was first used as medicine, as well as Spirits.

· 1800’s: Moderation was being promoted again as a result of individuals recognizing the negative consequences of excessive drinking.

· 1900’s: Prohibition occurred which made the possession of alcohol was illegal. Prohibition occurred in Russia, Norway, Iceland, Canada and the United States of America. Today alcohol consumption is mostly destigmatized (and often encouraged) in most social settings.

Alcohol History and Religion

· Remember the story of Jesus turning water into wine. Although the Christian church frowns on excessive drinking, drinking in moderation plays a major role in Christian worship. Wine is viewed as a gift from God, and is therefore inherently good.

· It is thought that Mohamed forbade his followers to drink alcohol so that they could be distinguished from other religion's followers.

· In Holy Communion red wine represents the blood of Christ.

· In Ancient Egypt, Osiris (the god of wine) was the only God worshiped throughout the empire. Alcohol was left in tombs- to be used in the afterlife.

· Moses planted a vineyard on Mt. Ararat (Genesis 9:20).

· In Judaism, wine has been viewed as a blessing from God and a symbol of Joy. Wine was believed to provide nourishment and had medicinal benefits. Historically, wine was stocked in all important building, such as fortresses, and viewed as an important commodity.

· The Protestant influence of alcohol came during the Protestant Reformation. This time period brought an increase in the concerning behaviors that occur after excessive use of alcohol. Alcohol was supposed to be used to promote health, enjoyment and be used medicinally when used in moderation. 

history-of-alcoholPhoto by form PxHere

The History of Alcohol and Medicine

· Alcohol was and is still used as a painkiller (analgesic). Ever seen one of those films where an amputation is carried out and the only anesthetic is a swig from a whiskey bottle? Another old wise tail is putting whiskey on the gums of a teething child for relief.

· The ancient Chinese used it to reduce fatigue.

· Historically, alcohol was combined with a variety of other ingredients, such as herbs, to treat a variety of ailments. An example of this would be a combination that Hippocrates used of alcohol and other ingredients to treat intestinal worms.

· As noted above, alcohol was used medicinally within a variety of religions around the world.

· Recent research states that the moderate consumption of alcohol is beneficial to health. More so than abstinence.

· Gin was used as a diuretic.

· Alcohol has been used as an antiseptic.

· Moderate alcohol use has been shown to reduce a person’s risk of heart disease, gallstones and chances of developing Type II Diabetes.

· Recent research has shown that consuming less than 4 drinks per day could slightly increase a person’s life span.

· Recent research has shown that moderate drinkers are 23% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia and other Cognitive Impairment disorders. 

Alcohol History and Nutrition

· It has been said that beer was the staple food in some cultures. In Ancient Egypt the phrase "bread and beer' was used to represent all food.

· Clean drinking water is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past alcohol was drunk as it was far safer than water which was generally very dirty and a major source of disease.

· It was not uncommon for children and adolescents to drink alcohol in ancient times

· The fermentation process greatly increases the level of amino acids and vitamins.

· Alcohol can also have a negative impact on a person’s nutrition and health. Alcohol can reduce the body’s absorption of nutrients. Common deficiencies among those who drink are:

    · Vitamin B1

    · Vitamin B12

    · Folate

    · Vitamin A

    · Calcium

    · Protein

Vitamin supplements can aid in the above deficiencies.  

· Drinking can contribute to weight changes. For some this can be weight loss, contributed to by a person’s focus on drinking compared to their health.

· Poor eating behaviors are more common when a person has been drinking. This could contribute to weight gain as a person may be less likely to eat nutritious food and opt for easier options. Additionally, many alcoholic drinks are high in calories.

The Social History of Alcohol

· Alcohol was used in social situations among those who practiced Judaism

· Ancient Romans are known to have encouraged excessive drinking. Ancient writings describe drinking games such as drinking the quantity of drinks rolled on a die. Drinking on an empty stomach as well as vomiting to drink more were common behaviors were common behaviors then. Similar behaviors can be observed today as well.

· Excessive drunkenness’s problems can be traced back in history including to the Ancient Roman times. It is believed that Julius Caesar drank in moderation as he did not want to act similarly as others who drank excessively.  

· In present times, alcohol can be used in social situations to encourage conversation (a social lubricant). For some, comfort can be found in holding a drink in social situations.

· Alcohol is often used to enhance the flavors of food (e.g. wine with cheese and other food pairings).

· Since alcohol is a depressant, some find that it can help them relax when feeling distressed 

History and the Negative Effects of Alcohol

As you can see, Alcohol has been involved in human interactions for centuries. There is a pattern that can be observed within the different ancient civilizations, religions and modern day countries. The pattern would be that drinking in moderation is viewed as socially acceptable, however excessive drinking and drunkenness is viewed negatively.

Alcoholism and problematic drinking can be traced back to ancient times with writings and drawings from ancient civilizations. 

However, prolonged and excessive drinking can lead to alcoholism. Problematic drinking can be traced back in time, before the time of Julius Caesar.

It is likely that the negative stigma associated with alcoholism and problematic drinking can be traced back in history as well. Drunkenness was observed to have a negative impact on individuals work performance and social responsibilities.

A person’s inability to control their drinking was viewed as a weakness. This viewpoint has continued and is a main part of the stigma associated with alcoholism. In today’s world, addiction is viewed as a chronic and progressive disease. Not being able to control drinking behaviors is a key component of alcoholism, and should not be viewed as a weakness. Long term and chronic drinking causes changes in a person’s brain which contributes to the inability to control drinking behaviors. While we can understand that from the medical viewpoint, changing the stigma associated with alcoholism is not as simple.

It is because of research that we are currently able to better understand addiction and provide treatment. There are varying levels of treatment for an alcohol addiction ranging from detoxification programs to outpatient programs. Many alcoholics have found value in participating in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Smart Recovery.

Should you feel that your drinking is a concern, talk to your Primary Care Physician about your concerns. They would be able to talk to you about your options and provide referrals within your community.

 There are also treatment providers who can provide assistance in determining the best alcoholism treatment programs for you.

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


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