The Brief History of Alcohol

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People have been making and drinking alcohol as long as humans existed. Alcohol is an intoxicating ingredient present in various types of beers, wines, and spirits. A kind of a depressant, alcohol mechanics to slows down the body’s system. Usually, people consume alcohol to relax, socialize, and celebrate. Alcohol consumption in India amounted to about 5.4 billion liters in 2016 and about 6.5 billion liters in 2020. Whereas in the United States, almost 40% of its population are alcoholics.

But do you know that addiction to alcohol dates back to 7000 BC? It played an influential role in the ancient civilization of Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, and Britain. So how was alcohol discovered?

The Timeline of Alcohol Consumption

People all over the world were consuming fermented grains and fruits for almost thousands of years. While alcohol lies central to human history, the origin of it varies. The first evidence of people making alcohol can be traced back to 7000 to 6600 BC, somewhere between northern China. It is highly believed that people starting consuming alcohol long before they even knew how to spell it. 

The word alcohol was first coined in the mid-16th century. It is derived from the Arabic ‘al-kuhul’ or ‘al-kohl’, which literally meant Kohl- a cosmetic product applied over the eyes. Maria the Jewess was a chemist who experimented with the process of distillation.  This experiment resulted in the accidental discovery of Kohl and the ancient Egyptian soon started making their Kohl eyeliners. And since kohl was an Arabic word, it was prefixed with ‘al’ thus becoming ‘al-kohl’. The world alcohol then appeared in the English language but was used to describe makeup products. It was not until the 18th century that the word started to be used for describing boozing.

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Long before the human started consuming alcohol, it had been already in fashion among our ancient ancestors- apes. When a fruit falls from a tree and gets rots, it produces a chemical substance known as ethanol. The smell of ethanol attracted the ape and they started enjoying the booze even before we existed. Humans started brewing alcohol in Persia. It was first discovered by Al-Razi. Recent chemical analysis confirms the earliest alcoholic beverages include fermented rice, honey, and hawthorn fruit.

In ancient Egyptian culture, bread and beer were the major diets of the people. It is believed that during those days beer was considered the drink of the gods thus was expensive and available to a certain class of society. The beer was made from fermenting barley, wheat, and dough. Surprisingly beer was also consumed as a medical remedy for several ailments. In Giza, beer was provided in the ration to the soldiers. While in Greece, winemakers established vineyards. It was used as currency in the Mediterranean regions. Wine became such an integral part of Greece that they have their own wine God, Dionysus. Similarly, the culture of alcoholism in Rome was adopted by the Greeks. They soon increased the production as the local demand for wine rose. Within 2 centuries, the Roman Empire even started the business of exporting wines. It was also provided as a currency for slave labor.

The earliest trace of alcohol goes to China, where the real story behind the origin is far from complex. Chinese consumed alcohol by fermented fruits and flowers. An early Chinese proverb explains that alcohol is the best among all the medicinal remedies. Additionally, alcohol in Britain came in around the 16th and 17th century and by the 1630s in America. People were consuming alcohol in family meals, weddings, festivals, and holidays. Also, it escalated religious ecstasy and communion for supernatural fate control of a particular tribe. Americans depended on alcoholic beverages such as wines made by grapes called ‘Chicha’. However, due to high rates of abuse, officials started restricting alcohol consumption. Massachusetts in 1654 reasserted laws against brewing as alcohol often triggers crimes such as violent combats or even rapes. However, this ban ignited labor strikes and people started protesting against the law. In response, the ban was lifted and restrictions were revised. Alcohol also played an important role in the Civil war in the 19th and 20th centuries. Doctors were using alcohol as sedation to treat the wounded soldiers. 

Additionally, the US government in 1920 prohibited the manufacturing and sale of any type of liquor. Though the illegal trade of alcohol still prevailed and the government had to cancel the prohibition by 1933. In 1948, Antabuse was discovered and the potential use of alcohol was considered wrong and discarded few of its benefits as a medicine. And by the 1950s, the American Medical Association coined the term alcoholism. 

Alcohol in Modern Times

Now the ancient use of alcohol had been long forgotten, people consume liquor to get drunk straight. Alcohol consumption if not the least, today is indeed considered a taboo. In modern societies, though people understand the conveniences, they usually drink to suppress emotions like shyness, anxieties, or tensions. Crimes committed under the influence of alcohol have stunningly escalated. Around 140.6 thousand people died due to liver cirrhosis caused by alcohol consumption in India. According to WHO, more than 3 million people died due to harmful use of alcohol in 2016. Alcohol also accounts for 5% of the global disease burden. On average, almost 237 million men and 46 million women suffer from alcohol use disorder. Every day, around 28 people in the US die in drunk-driving crashes.

According to the religious perspective, the conflict over alcohol consumption is quite interesting. While Islam completely prohibits any consumption of alcohol, in Christianity wine is in fact offered to God. They held that both the Bible and Christian tradition taught that alcohol is a gift from God. Whereas, in Hinduism, it is not recommended though a little boozing is appropriate on special occasions. Thus, alcohol in modern times is rather an individual choice than a societal reminiscence.

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