116 alcoholism and alcohol abuse

SEE ALSO: Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse;
Crime; Drug Use; Drugs, Drug Abuse, and
Drug Policy; Drugs and the Law; Drugs/
Substance Use in Sport; Juvenile Delinquency


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alcoholism and alcohol

Paul Roman

Evidence of the presence of alcohol in human
societies extends to the beginning of recorded
history. Nearly all human societies have
discovered and used some form of beverage
alcohol (Heath 2000). Ethanol, the genre of
alcohol consumed by humans, occurs as a nat
ural product of the fermentation of common
foods. In decaying fruit, sugar converts to etha
nol, and likewise with grain and potatoes,
where decay and fermentation move from
starch to sugar to ethanol. Thus ethanols
production and discovery of its psychoactive
effects likely occurred accidentally when
humans attempted to store food for later con
sumption. The discovery of the psychoactive
effects of this substance likely led quite
quickly to the deliberate production of alco
holic beverages.
The normative structures surrounding the
use of alcohol have varied greatly over time and
geography. Many settings have been observed
by social scientists where drinking almost solely
accompanies rituals of celebration and social
solidarity (Bacon 1943). In many settings alco
hol is consumed regularly as a part of normal
diet. Some preparations, especially beers, have
significant nutritional value, while consumption
of diluted wine, via the purifying effects of
alcohol, allows for safe use of otherwise mar
ginal water supplies.
Together with evidence of positive social
effects of alcohol use, there is a long historical
record of events of drunkenness with varying
consequences. The potential adverse effects of
alcohol consumption are recognized in its pro
hibited use throughout Islamic and other reli
gious groups. In an early biblical account, Noah
is recorded as having shamed himself before his
sons after a drinking bout that celebrated com
pleting the construction of the Ark. Many his
torical records describe damage and destruction
associated with excessive drinking, and there
are occasional references to persons whose
chronic excessive drinking prevented them
from fulfilling expected social roles. In general,
however, the historical record suggests many
centuries socially integrated use and relatively
few problems in those cultures where alcohol
was manufactured and used.
The emergence of concepts of alcohol
related problems in the form of alcoholism
and repeated patterns of alcohol abuse are
social developments of the past 500 years. This
transformation has raised complex questions
for sociological analysis, for within most socie
ties patterns of socially integrated alcohol use
have been sustained in parallel to emerging
social concerns and problems. From a broad
perspective, the emergence of alcohol problems