Alcohol Blessing or Curse

A product of natural fermentation, beverage alcohol, or ethanol, is perhaps the oldest known and most universally consumed psychoactive substance. Ancient peoples drank copious amounts of wine, beer, and other naturally fermented alcoholic beverages, praising their ability to lift the spirits, relieve fatigue, and enhance health. In many societies, alcohol was regarded as a divine gift and was incorporated into religious rituals. Early historical records indicate, however, that alcohol also brought problems. The Hebrew Bible, for example, tells how Noah embarrassed his sons by getting drunk (Gen. 9:20-24) and warns of calamity for "those who tarry long over wine" (Prov. 23:29-35).

Ambivalence toward alcohol use has persisted into modern times and is expressed cross-culturally in a wide diversity of attitudes, beliefs, and practices. The French, for example, regard wine as essential to their diet and lifestyle, and tend to view abstainers as deviant. Millions of Muslims, by contrast, forswear all alcohol as evil. Even within a particular society, attitudes may be heterogeneous and historically variable. Seventeenth-century colonial settlers in North America, for example, viewed drink as the Good Creature of God; three centuries later, the United States banned Demon Rum (Rorabaugh).

Empirical evidence suggests that the use of alcohol offers both modest benefits and significant hazards. In moderate amounts, alcohol is a mild relaxant that stimulates appetite and facilitates social interaction. Sociocultural norms play an important role in determining specific contexts in which drinking may normally occur and influence the experience and behavior of the drinker as well. Aside from alcohol's subjective benefits, there is evidence that moderate drinking may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease in some individuals (Klatsky).

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