The History of Alcoholism
The History of Alcoholism.
With the discovery of alcohol came alcoholism, and so they have walked, hand in hand to where we are today
The history of alcoholism only really begins in the nineteenth century.
So were there no alcoholics before this time?
Of course there were but a scientific/systematic connection was never made between excessive drinking and its negative effects.
The concept of alcoholism did not exist.
Throughout history alcohol has been a double-edged sword, valued and reviled in equal measure.
From the ancient Greeks to the therapists of today, the 'gift' of alcohol has tortured them all.
History of Alcoholism
The Ancient World
however, the negative effects of alcohol were also noted
- Wine admired by Homer.
- Greeks write first poems praising alcohol.
- 5 BC Plato stated what he believed to be the correct behavior for drinking.
Those under 18 years of age should drink no wine. Wine in moderation for those under 30. No limit for those over 40.
It should be noted that life expectancy at this time was 40.
- Drunkenness among the ranks of armies was said to have decided the outcome of battles.
- Slaves were prohibited from drinking as it affected their work.
- The collapse of the Roman Empire partly attributed to wine.
The Christian World
- Drinking excessively was seen as a pagan habit by the early church so was discouraged.
- Drinking in moderation was seen as good. Alcohol was regarded as a gift from God.
The Medieval World
- An explosion in viticulture-all over Europe vines were planted and harvested.
- The monasteries and clergy led the way in wine production-producing and selling huge quantities of wine.
- Northern Europe saw the appearance of distillation and so stronger drinks: The Scottish made whiskey, the Swedish-aquavitas,the Germans-Schnapps and the Russians-Vodka.
- There were those who continued to warn of the dangers of alcohol e.g. in 1596 Barthélmy de Lafumas (an advisor to Henry IV) said drinking "...too often ruins homes and families"
The Enlightenment to the Nineteenth Century
- A rise in concern about the social harms of drinking. The lower classes were seen as particularly at risk. Unruly drunken behavior became more common.
- In reaction to increased alcohol consumption groups were formed. Methodism was an offshoot of the Church of England- which forbade distilled drinks. 1841 saw the establishment of the Teetotalism movement. The word teetotal has entered the English language meaning complete abstention from alcohol.
- As people moved into towns during the industrial revolution
so doctors began to see more clearly the negative physical symptoms of alcoholism.
Birth of a Concept, Alcoholism
- Magnuss Huss a Swedish physician classified systematically the damage that excessive alcohol consumption caused in his work Alcoholismus Chronicus. A disease was born and so begins the 'official' history of alcoholism.
- Obviously he was not the first to see the connection but was the first to establish it conclusively and scientifically.
The World Wars
- One of the consequences of World War 1 was that many men from all around the world came together. Doctors established by looking at cases of alcoholism among soldiers that it wasn't the type of alcohol drunk that damaged health but the amount.
- Yet still today many think only spirits cause alcoholism and that beer is is relatively harmless.
Prohibition in the U.S.
- A watershed in the history of alcoholism.
- In the 19th Century a surplus of corn led to the mass production of whiskey in the USA.
- This caused a major drinking problem in the USA.
- Alcohol Prohibition was introduced (1919-1933) - which banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol throughout the USA.
- A massive failure. Resulted in a huge rise in organized crime and a black market in alcohol. (Much like the prohibition of many drugs today.) A disaster and repealed in 1933.
The Twentieth Century
- The future will no doubt bring new ways of treating alcoholism. As you read this there are countless alcoholism treatment-centers using all kinds of different therapies.
- Everyday there are breakthroughs particularly in the area of alcoholism medication. New and exciting drugs such as nalmefene are being developed, a drug that brings the hope of an alcoholism cure ever closer.
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