alcohol still life
If we are to believe historians—and there’s no reason not to, humans have been getting wasted, sozzled, pissed, blotto and drunk for nearly 10,000 years. In the intervening millennia, we’ve swallowed fermented swill as Aztecs, Babylonians, Chinese, Indians (Old World and New) and Greeks. Some scholars believe that modern Western society is the result of the integration of Roman, Christian and Germanic culture during the Early Middle Ages*. If this postulate is valid, it seems likely that drinking practices and attitudes were among the cultural norms affected by this synthesis, and carried forward across generations. This would help explain the different patterns of ethanol consumption found in present-day Europe and in those family units that migrated from ancestral homes in Europe and settled in South America, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere.
*Anderson 1974:154-155; Hollister 1990:25
The southern or Mediterranean pattern is typical of Greece, Italy, Spain, and the south of France, where wine is consumed regularly with meals and in moderation, with no taboo on alcohol consumption. The northern or Germanic pattern is typical of the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Britain, and northern Germany: it is not consumed regularly, but when consumed, follows a heavy, feast or binge drinking pattern. Those living in grenz zones between the two extremes–e.g., northern France, Belgium, southwestern Germany, Switzerland and Austria have intermediate patterns of alcohol consumption.
The problem with ethanol is not its consumption in moderation: accumulating data suggest that among other things, alcohol in moderation reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, gallstones, dementia, diabetes and increases one’s lifespan and libido. On the other hand, consumed in excess, alcohol has little upside, both as a public health issue*, as well as from an individual perspective†.
*Alcohol causes half a million hospital admissions/year, 17,000 psychiatric admissions, 80% of all fire-related deaths; 65% of serious head injuries; 50% of homicides; 40% of RTAs/MVAs, 33% of divorces, 33% child abuse cases, 30% of fatal accidents, 30% of domestic accidents, and 8 million lost working days per year
†Fatty liver disease, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, fetal alcohol syndrome in offspring, esophageal varices, alcoholic cirrhosis
global consumption of alcohol
The Greeks formerly cautioned against ethanol’s excesses over two thousand years ago. Later recognition of the damage caused by alcohol triggered various permutations of the temperance movement. The movement began in the early 19th century in many English-speaking countries, and ranged from the mere ban on hard alcohol to complete teetotalism and the passage of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1919 (Prohibition), a failed attempt to control alcohol misuse, which was repealed in 1933.
Given the 20th century’s experience with legislating alcohol use, a ban seems impossible and severe limitation unlikely. The best we can hope for to minimize its adverse effect is control by its users, consumption in moderation, that users will not drive, operate machinery whilst under the influence and that they won’t drink during pregnancy.