Short History of Drunkenness Mark Forsyth

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Almost every culture on earth has drink, and where there's drink there's drunkenness. But in every age and in every place drunkenness is a little bit different. Tracing humankind's love affair with booze from our primate ancestors through to Prohibition, it answers every possible question: What did people drink? How much? Who did the drinking? Of the many possible reasons, why? On the way, learn about the Neolithic Shamans, who drank to communicate with the spirit world (no pun intended), marvel at how Greeks got giddy and Romans got rat-arsed, and find out how bars in the Wild West were never like the movies. This is a history of the world at its inebriated best.

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I'm aware of some basic medical facts. A couple of gin and tonics will impair your reflexes; a dozen or so will reacquaint you with your lunch and make it difficult to stand up, and an uncertain number, which I am unwilling to investigate, will kill you. But that's not what we know (in an Augustinian way) drunkenness is. Certainly, if an alien knocked on my door and asked why people across this peculiar planet keep drinking alcohol, I wouldn't answer, Oh that's  just to pair our reflexes. It's basically ta stop us getting too good at ping-pong: There's another canard which is usually trotted out at this point, that alcohol lowers your inhibitions. 

 Nothing could be further from the truth. I do all sorts of things when I'm squiffy that I never wanted to do when sober. I can talk for hours to people that, sober,I would Consider tedious. I recall once leaning out of the window of a fiat in Camden Town waving a crucifix about and telling passers-by to repent. This isn't something that I long to do when sober but iust don't have the nerve for. 

Anyway, some of alcohol's effects are not caused by alcohol. It's terribly easy to hand out non-alcoholic beer without telling people that it contains no alcohol. You then watch them drink and take notes. Sociologists do this all the time, and the results are consistent and con-clusive. First, you can't trust a sociologist at the bar; they must be watched like hawks. Second, if you come from a culture where alcohol is meant to make you aggressive, you get aggressive. If you come from a culture where it's meant to make you religious, you come over all religious.  

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