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Alcoholism in History

People have consumed alcohol through most of human history, perhaps all of human history, as animals are sometimes observed intentionally eating fermented fruit. Despite this long history, alcoholism seems to be relatively new. While there have probably been alcoholics at least since the beginning of agriculture, alcoholism has only becoming a widespread problem in recent centuries. Broadly speaking, there are several factors that affect a society’s rate of alcoholism, or as it is usually called historically, “drunkenness.”


Excess alcohol consumption doesn’t usually appear in a society until at least some of its members have excess money and time. If food is scarce, it doesn’t make sense to turn some of that food into alcohol. Of course, we see examples today of people buying alcohol at the expense of food, but that’s because the alcohol is already available. Someone else has made it and mass production makes it relatively cheap. Societies have to reach a certain level of wealth before widespread alcoholism is even a possibility, like Elizabethan England, for example.

Cultural attitudes

Ancient Greeks usually drank diluted wine after dinner. While they weren’t averse to occasional drunkenness–read Plato’s Symposium, for example–they more often praised moderation. Republican Romans were similar, drinking mostly at meals. Drinking later became more common as Rome became obscenely rich. Sulla drank himself to death in retirement and Mark Antony drank at the expense of duty and common sense. Some emperors are legendary for their parties.


In our age of worldwide distribution and unprecedented abundance, it’s easy to forget that famine was a constant threat to our ancestors. A plague or drought could ruin a harvest. Even a culture that celebrates drinking can’t make alcohol without wheat, honey, or grapes. This variability would slow addiction, as nature would impose dry periods every so often.


The more potent a substance is, the more quickly you become addicted. For thousands of years, alcohol was not particularly concentrated and even then it was often diluted. Even children drank alcohol with meals. When alcohol is more potent, it becomes a problem. For example, when the Romans first introduced wine to Gaul, the tribes there, who were accustomed to beer, didn’t know the wine was supposed to be diluted. This led to widespread drunkenness, which made them easier to conquer. Similarly, distillation turbocharged alcohol addiction in many countries, for example Gin in England and Vodka in Russia.

Drinking is sometimes defended as natural, cultural, or even healthy. This may be true in moderation, but like all good things, we’ve managed to turn alcohol up to 11. We didn’t evolve to drink vodka and whisky, and just as we now enjoy an overabundance of food, we also have an overabundance of alcohol, which even our poorest citizens can acquire. It’s no wonder so many people become addicted.

If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at