Alcohol Origins – Human Fascination, History and Evolution of Drinking From Medieval to Modern Times


Throughout human history, people have been intrigued with intoxicants, whether it be from a plants, drugs, or drinks. As far back as 12,000 BC, people ate wild mushrooms in order to have hallucinations. Many exotic plants have been used as an intoxicant, including cannabis and the coca plant (to make marijuana and cocaine). Since prehistory, humans have used ethyl alcohol as the main intoxicating ingredient in their beverages.

The term alcohol (also called ethanol or ethyl-hydroxide) comes from the Arabic alkuhl, meaning essence. Medieval Islamic alchemists first achieved the isolation of alcohol as a relatively pure compound, and later developed the art of distillation. Dried residues on 9,000-year-old pottery discovered in northern China imply the use of alcoholic beverages among Neolithic people. Later in history, Johann Tobias Lowitz first obtained pure ethanol in 1796 by filtering distilled ethanol through charcoal.

It is no surprise alcohol has become the predominant intoxicant in human history as it can be fermented from many kinds of readily available fruits, grains, and plants. Hence, it has been experi¬mented with more than any other intoxicant.

There are many forms of alcoholic drinks. Wine is made from fermentation of grape juice or crushed grapes. Beer is produced by the fermentation of malted barley or other grains with the addition of hops. Distilled spirits originate from sources of starch or sugar, including grains, grapes, potatoes, cherries, plums, and other fruits, as well as from molasses from sugar beets.

The process of distillation boils away alcohol from the sugar bath of fruit or vegetables and re-collects it as virtually pure alcohol. Since pure alcohol is pure agony to drink, water is added back in. So, it is rare to find beverages with 100 percent alcohol. Instead, major distillers manufacture and market, for example, 50 percent alcohol (which is labeled 100 proof). Hence, the higher the proof number on the label, the higher the percentage of alcohol in the bottle.

Even a few hundred years ago, alcohol was considered a luxury item. Yet, 20th Century distillery practices, along with the perfection of mass production techniques, have made alcoholic beverages more and more available to the masses at increasingly affordable prices. Some believe these factors have contributed to its rapid rise in consumption around the world. Not to mention the resulting widespread problems of alcohol abuse seen in modern society. Indeed, there is a strong correlation between the advances in alcohol production and the acceleration of alcohol-related abuse and health problems.

Today, an estimated 90 million Americans suffer from alcohol disorder, making it the number one health problem today — both in the United States and in more than forty countries around the world. In truth, there are now myriad alcoholic beverages and varietals in each category on the market today. Likewise, there are countless places where people can buy alcoholic beverages. Yet, there are very few reliable treatment programs with a proven track record of success. This massive gap necessitates a reliable and proven recovery plan rooted in latest scientific techniques. Without such a program, the escalation of alcohol abuse will only continue to get worse.


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