Alcohol has been around for a very long time and has been a part of human civilization since ancient times. Some historians believe that alcohol from over-ripe wild fruits was consumed by our ape ancestors millions of years ago.
Additionally, scientists have found a change in a gene called ADH4 dating from about 10 million years ago. They think this gene allowed humans’ ape ancestors, and later their human descendants, to process alcohol much more quickly than before. This gene change allowed humanity’s ancestors to eat naturally fermented fruits without getting drunk from the alcohol in them. In turn, this expanded the diet humans’ ancestors were able to eat.
When humans evolved in 200,000 BC, they took alcohol use to another level. Historians and scientists have found that humans have been making alcohol in various forms for thousands of years. Scientists are able to prove this claim by testing chemical residues. Historians think that the invention of humans making alcohol predates the invention of writing.
Alcohol in Ancient Times
Historians think that ancient times saw the origins of alcohol brewed by humans. One of the earliest sites may be Göbekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey. At this site, which was possibly a temple 11,600 years ago, stone vessels exist that can hold up to 40 gallons of liquid. Historians think that ancient humans may have brewed beer from wild grasses there.
Sumerians and Alcohol
The Sumerians were an ancient culture that lived in modern-day Iraq between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago. They brewed beer made up of ingredients like barley malt, a grain called emmer and water. They even celebrated beer with songs written to Ninkasi, their goddess of beer.
Around the same time, beer was popular in other areas of the Middle East and northern Africa. For example, beer was brewed in homes in northern Syria at least as of 3,400 years ago. Some historians think that the vitamins created in beer gave ancient peoples enough nutrients to survive, as their diets were otherwise often very poor.
Egyptians and Alcohol
More than 5,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians had already mastered large, industrial-scale beer brewing. Beer and wine played important roles in everyday life. Some members of the nobility were even buried with miniature breweries they could bring into the afterlife.
Greeks and Alcohol
The ancient Greeks had a culture that celebrated wine. They often used the drink in their spiritual and educational life. Part of the long history of alcoholism was first noted here. For example, one ancient Greek writer from 2,000 years ago described how if left unchecked, the drinking at social events could turn into a brawl. Plato even wrote of the hangovers of his fellow philosophers.
Romans and Alcohol
Wine was popular in the Roman Empire. It was used both as a beverage in Rome and as an item to trade throughout modern-day Europe. For example, about 2,000 years ago, the site of Corent in France (Site de Corent) was home to around 10,000 people. Despite this small population, historians have found about 500 tons of wine jar shards in Corent alone, the equivalent of about 75 elephants. These shards represent only the most expensive of drinks that would have been consumed.
Therefore, historians think it is likely that poorer people also drank heavily. However, these containers may not be as well preserved. Some of the first hints about the history of alcohol abuse may have its roots here. Evidence suggests that soldiers drank heavily before battles and may have engaged in warfare while drunk.
Chinese and Alcohol
The earliest wine use may have been in China. About 9,000 years ago, the Chinese were already making a wine-like brew from fruit, honey, and rice. Other areas of the Middle East and Eastern Europe followed. Residents of modern-day Iran and Georgia grew grapes and made wine starting about 7,400 years ago.
Indians and Alcohol
Liquor was likely first created on the Indian subcontinent. Evidence of distilleries, or stills, from 2,500 years ago exists in modern-day Pakistan. This type of drink would not become popular in other areas of the world like Europe until around 900 years ago. Ancient Indians also had other kinds of alcoholic drinks available, including soma, a drink made from mushrooms. In addition, ancient Indians also drank a wine-like beverage made from sugar cane juice, grapes, and rice.
Colonization and Alcohol
Colonization brought alcohol to areas of the world where it did not exist before, like North America. Historians can find no evidence of alcohol use among Native Americans in much of North America before the arrival of colonists from the 16th to the mid-19th century.
As a result, many Native Americans had no cultural norms about alcohol use and learned from the colonists. Many colonists, especially frontiersmen who often binge-drank, sold alcohol to Native Americans. With only this dangerous drinking behavior as a guide, alcohol became a problem among Native Americans that persists to this day in some areas.
America and Alcohol
Colonial Americans drank a lot of alcohol compared to modern Americans. The average colonial adult drank 34 gallons of beer or cider, five gallons of liquor and one gallon of wine every year.
Beer brewing started very early in American history. The first brewery in the American colonies was founded in Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement. Women played a big role in early American alcohol production. Until the mid-1800s, most alcohol production in the United States was left to women.
South America also has a long history of alcohol use. The Incas invented a corn beer called chicha, which has been a part of South American culture for thousands of years. In modern-day Peru, shops called chicherías continue to sell the brew to this day.
Alcohol and Prohibition
In the late 19th century, American groups that wanted to ban alcohol had success in creating local prohibition laws. These laws were designed not only to stop alcohol use but also to stop the gambling and prostitution that often took place in saloons.
Over time, the local movement became a national one. The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution banned alcohol and was ratified in 1919. At first, the ban worked, and drinking declined by about 70% over the next few years. However, drinking rose again over time as Americans began to reject the ban. Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933.
Modern Times and Alcohol
The alcoholic beverage industry is booming in the United States. Alcohol sales in the United States grossed $234,380 million in 2017. Drinking remains popular among Americans. More than 86% of Americans have used alcohol at some point in their lives, and 56% have used in within the past month, according to the NIAAA.
History of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse has been documented over the past several thousand years, from Greek writings 2,000 years ago to the physical evidence in Corent, France. The Bible even mentions getting drunk from wine and effects like red eyes, incoherent speech, and mood changes.
Ancient Greek writings mention both women and men getting drunk, and even describe fatal accidents by drunk people. As writing and literacy became more common over the centuries, so did documentation of struggles with alcohol.
If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol, contact our caring staff at The Recovery Village. We are here to help you lead a better life without drinking.