Health Benefits

Additional evidence includes the fact that apparently alcohol, in moderation, conveys some health benefits to our species as well as others (see Question 28). Fruit flies, for example, live longer and have more offspring when exposed to intermediate amounts of alcohol compared with no alcohol or high amounts of alcohol. If alcohol had only negative health benefits, the selective advantage for its taste and smell may not have developed. Other evidence includes that the genes for alcohol metabolism, notably alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, vary widely within the human species, being less prevalent in East Asians. Without these enzymes, the consumption of alcohol is an intensely unpleasant experience, and thus, those individuals avoid it. This genetic variation in taste for alcohol suggests that such genes are selective depending on the environment. Where these genes are more prevalent, the rates of alcoholism increase (see Question 20).

Drosophila a type of fruit fly that Is commonly used to test genetic influences to various physical and behavioral traits.

Alcohol dehydrogenase an enzyme that is a biological catalyst that accelerates the breakdown of alcohol Into aldehyde, responsible for many of the negative effects of alcohol.

Aldehyde dehydrogenase an enzyme that accelerates the breakdown of aldehyde Into acetic add, a nontoxic chemical that is easily eliminated from the body.

Enzyme a biological molecule that catalyzes or accelerates a chemical reaction. Most enzymes are proteins.

Aqua vitae latin for "the water of life."

Potable drinkable water.

The attempt to alter one's conscious state is universal and appears almost instinctual, seen first in small children taking pleasure in spinning around or hyperventilating.

Alcohol is unique among intoxicants in that throughout its early history it was viewed as lifesaving. For most of the past 10 millennia, alcohol was probably the most common daily beverage and was a necessary source of fluids and calories. In a world of contaminated and dangerous water supplies, alcohol earned the tide granted it in the Middle Ages: "aqua vitae," or the water of life. Alcohol was primarily consumed in the West as an alternative to water because potable water was scarce. Alternatively, in the East, the practice of tea drinking allowed for potable water, and the fact that 50% of Asians lack the enzyme to metabolize alcohol properly contributed to the more limited use of alcohol in their culture (see also Question 22, Table 6). Additionally, the analgesic and euphoric aspects of alcohol were well known. Proverbs mentions alcohol as a means of relieving pain and suffering. Finally, alcohol provided a buffer against fatigue so that one could avoid the boredom and drudgery of long marches or backbreaking labor in the fields.

Psychotropic Effects

Intoxicant use has a long history. The attempt to alter one's conscious state is universal and appears almost instinctual, seen first in small children taking pleasure in spinning around or hyperventilating. It is seen in every society and in every epoch. The move from a "natural high" associated with various physical activities, especially sex, to a chemical substance causing such a state is a short distance. Drug use has a place in all cultures and has been and continues to be associated with religious rituals and spiritual awakening. This has most likely occurred for a couple of reasons. First, it allows for a particular culture to control the use and thus mitigate any harmful effects that may occur from misuse or overuse. Second, altered states of consciousness are sought in order to obtain knowledge of the divine or the deeper, hidden truths about life and the world. Certain drugs are purported to offer a metaphysical and epistemological window into the meaning of life. Alcohol is frequently associated with divine heavenly rest. The Eucharist confers immortality, and the Koran depicts a paradise flowing with wine. They all demonstrate a desire to penetrate the ineffable and to comprehend the universe. The Old Testament and the Talmud make ample references to the virtues of alcohol and that intoxication is a way of relieving oneself from the struggles of life. Today, alcohol plays a much different role in our lives. Although it continues to remain part of ritual and religion, its use is more commonly viewed as a form of relaxation and entertainment. Alcohol is increasingly the social lubricant that allows people to be less anxious at social gatherings and enhances the enjoyment of one another's company. It also stimulates the appetite and enhances the taste of food.

Mitigate to soften or become less harsh.

Metaphysical relating to a reality not Investigated by the natural sciences or perceptible to the normal senses.

Epistemological the study of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >