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Drinking Habits

The History of Alcohol and Alcoholic Beverage Consumption

Published:
October 26, 2023
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11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 26, 2023
·
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
October 26, 2023
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11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 26, 2023
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11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 26, 2023
·
11 min read

How long has alcohol been around as a beverage? While no one knows for sure, fermented grain, fruit juice, and honey have been used to make alcohol for thousands of years. Yeasts from the air act on the sugar, converting it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. 

So how was alcohol discovered? It’s likely that alcoholic beverages were discovered accidentally by pre-agricultural cultures. Let’s take a closer look at the history of what is considered the oldest and most widely-used drug.

Origin of Alcohol 

We don’t have sufficient evidence to pinpoint exactly when humans started consuming alcohol, and wondering who “invented” alcohol or “when was alcohol invented?” are likely to spark debate among historians and anthropologists. Scholars have noted that because alcohol is created via a natural process, it’s possible that our ancient ancestors drank fermented liquids, especially since primates, insects, and even birds partake in fermented berries and fruit (accidentally, as some would argue). 

Scholars believe that over 100,000 years ago, paleolithic humans or their ancestors would have recognized that leaving fruit in the bottom of a container for an extended period of time naturally led to alcohol-infused juices. In fact, scholars have also pointed to the Venus of Laussel, found in a French Upper Paleolithic cave, from 25,000 B.C. It’s a carved representation of a woman holding what looks like a cornucopia or a bison horn core, and some scholars interpret it as a drinking horn. 

History of Alcohol Production

While we can’t say for sure when humans started consuming alcohol, the earliest evidence that humans were brewing alcohol comes from pottery jars found in northern China that date back from 7000 to 6600 B.C. Residue analysis identified wine created from a fermented concoction of rice, honey and fruit.

Closer to the common era, alcohol production extended across cultures and civilizations, including the Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. For instance, between 5400-5000 B.C., it’s believed that people produced resinated wine in Iran. The evidence for this is based on the recovery of tartaric acid in ceramic vessels found on a fairly large scale at Hajj Firuz Tepe.

Similarly, between 4400-4000 B.C., grape pips, empty grape skins, and two-handled cups at the Greek site of Dikili Tash are the earliest evidence for wine production in the Aegean Sea region.

By the beginning of the 4th millennium B.C., wine and beer were produced in many locations in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Anatolia. At the same time, predynastic Egyptian tomb paintings and wine jars suggest the local production of herb-based beers. Similarly, in India, an alcoholic beverage called sura, which is distilled from rice, was in use between roughly 3000-2000 B.C. During this same timeframe, Sumerians in Mesopotamia are believed to have made beer, based on over 20 different beer recipes recorded on clay tablets.

Alcoholic beverages infographic - historical overview

Origin of Alcohol Uses

While we tend to associate consuming alcohol for pleasure or relaxation, ancient civilizations used alcohol for different purposes. Wine and beer were often treated as a luxury good for trading, and were typically used for medicinal and ritual purposes. For instance, ancient texts suggest Sumerians in Mesopotamia (3,000-2,000 B.C.) used alcohol in sacrificial and religious settings as an offering to the gods. In the epic Sumerian story “Gilgamesh,” a primitive man transforms into a cultured human after drinking 7 cups of beer. 

Similarly, Sumerian physician-pharmacists prescribed beer in relatively sophisticated “pharmacopoeias” found on clay tablets. Later, Egyptian doctors included beer or wine in many of their prescriptions, as noted in their medical papyri from 1,500 B.C. In Giza, alcohol was also used for compensation; workers received 3 rations of beer per day. People also drank beer at festivals and celebrations, such as the Tekh Festival, known as “The Festival of Drunkenness.” 

Alcohol also played a vital role in early Greek religious culture and was used as an offering to the gods, as well as currency throughout the Mediterranean region. Like the Egyptians, the Greeks also used alcohol as medicine. Greek texts frequently reference wine consumption for medical ailments, such as lethargy, diarrhea, childbirth pains, and sterilizing wounds. 

Of course, alcohol was also being used at this time for celebratory purposes. Greeks often gathered around for symposium — a place for elite men to drink together, share conversation, tell jokes, and have lively debates. In fact, famous Greek literature such as Plato’s “Symposium” and Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” highlight the ancient relationship between alcohol and celebration. And to be fair, Greco-Roman classics also contain numerous warnings against excessive drinking. 

Interestingly, the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages seems to have been commercialized and regulated by these early governments. The oldest known code of laws — the Code of Hammurabi of Babylonia (1770 B.C.) — regulated drinking houses (among other things). 

History of Alcohol Commercialization 

The Greek and Roman empires are largely responsible for the international commercialization of alcohol. In fact, ancient Greece was one of the earliest known centers of wine production, with winemakers establishing vineyards as early as 2,000 B.C. By the first and second centuries in the common era, the Mediterranean wine trade had exploded.

Over the next several centuries, alcohol was being regularly produced in modern day Germany, France, Egypt, Arabia, and South America. For instance, between 500-1000 C.E., a variety of fermented beverages from the Andes regions of South America were created from corn, grapes, or apples and called “chicha.” Several Native American civilizations also developed alcoholic beverages in pre-Columbian times. 

It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, when alcohol consumption really took off. This was largely due to the British parliament passing a law encouraging the use of grain for distilling spirits. Cheap spirits started flooding the market and peaked in the mid-18th century, with gin consumption reaching 18 million gallons in Britain. The amount of alcohol being consumed by people around the world continued increasing throughout the 1700s. 

History of Alcoholism

By the 19th century, people’s attitudes started changing toward alcohol as they witnessed problems arising from alcoholism in their communities. This is when the first modern temperance groups arose, which promoted drinking in moderation — and eventually pushed for total prohibition. 

In the early 1900s, countries around the world such as Russia, Norway, Iceland, Canada, and the United States established laws that made the possession of alcohol illegal. In 1920, the United States ratified the 18th Amendment — a constitutional order prohibiting the manufacture, sale, import and export of alcoholic beverages and entered what became known as the “Prohibition Era.” However, the distribution of alcohol moved underground, and the illegal alcohol trade boomed. In 1933, the U.S. ratified the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment and legalized alcohol once again

Since the 1950s, the worldwide per capita consumption of distilled spirits, beer, and wine has generally increased. However, more and more people are recognizing the detrimental effects of alcohol on our physical, mental, and emotional health. There’s even a growing number of celebrities who have ditched alcohol for good. 

At Reframe, we help people rethink their drinking habits in order to live a healthier, happier life. While drinking has become an indelible part of our modern history, we can still learn to enjoy ourselves by cutting back or eliminating our alcohol consumption. Let Reframe teach you how!

How long has alcohol been around as a beverage? While no one knows for sure, fermented grain, fruit juice, and honey have been used to make alcohol for thousands of years. Yeasts from the air act on the sugar, converting it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. 

So how was alcohol discovered? It’s likely that alcoholic beverages were discovered accidentally by pre-agricultural cultures. Let’s take a closer look at the history of what is considered the oldest and most widely-used drug.

Origin of Alcohol 

We don’t have sufficient evidence to pinpoint exactly when humans started consuming alcohol, and wondering who “invented” alcohol or “when was alcohol invented?” are likely to spark debate among historians and anthropologists. Scholars have noted that because alcohol is created via a natural process, it’s possible that our ancient ancestors drank fermented liquids, especially since primates, insects, and even birds partake in fermented berries and fruit (accidentally, as some would argue). 

Scholars believe that over 100,000 years ago, paleolithic humans or their ancestors would have recognized that leaving fruit in the bottom of a container for an extended period of time naturally led to alcohol-infused juices. In fact, scholars have also pointed to the Venus of Laussel, found in a French Upper Paleolithic cave, from 25,000 B.C. It’s a carved representation of a woman holding what looks like a cornucopia or a bison horn core, and some scholars interpret it as a drinking horn. 

History of Alcohol Production

While we can’t say for sure when humans started consuming alcohol, the earliest evidence that humans were brewing alcohol comes from pottery jars found in northern China that date back from 7000 to 6600 B.C. Residue analysis identified wine created from a fermented concoction of rice, honey and fruit.

Closer to the common era, alcohol production extended across cultures and civilizations, including the Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. For instance, between 5400-5000 B.C., it’s believed that people produced resinated wine in Iran. The evidence for this is based on the recovery of tartaric acid in ceramic vessels found on a fairly large scale at Hajj Firuz Tepe.

Similarly, between 4400-4000 B.C., grape pips, empty grape skins, and two-handled cups at the Greek site of Dikili Tash are the earliest evidence for wine production in the Aegean Sea region.

By the beginning of the 4th millennium B.C., wine and beer were produced in many locations in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Anatolia. At the same time, predynastic Egyptian tomb paintings and wine jars suggest the local production of herb-based beers. Similarly, in India, an alcoholic beverage called sura, which is distilled from rice, was in use between roughly 3000-2000 B.C. During this same timeframe, Sumerians in Mesopotamia are believed to have made beer, based on over 20 different beer recipes recorded on clay tablets.

Alcoholic beverages infographic - historical overview

Origin of Alcohol Uses

While we tend to associate consuming alcohol for pleasure or relaxation, ancient civilizations used alcohol for different purposes. Wine and beer were often treated as a luxury good for trading, and were typically used for medicinal and ritual purposes. For instance, ancient texts suggest Sumerians in Mesopotamia (3,000-2,000 B.C.) used alcohol in sacrificial and religious settings as an offering to the gods. In the epic Sumerian story “Gilgamesh,” a primitive man transforms into a cultured human after drinking 7 cups of beer. 

Similarly, Sumerian physician-pharmacists prescribed beer in relatively sophisticated “pharmacopoeias” found on clay tablets. Later, Egyptian doctors included beer or wine in many of their prescriptions, as noted in their medical papyri from 1,500 B.C. In Giza, alcohol was also used for compensation; workers received 3 rations of beer per day. People also drank beer at festivals and celebrations, such as the Tekh Festival, known as “The Festival of Drunkenness.” 

Alcohol also played a vital role in early Greek religious culture and was used as an offering to the gods, as well as currency throughout the Mediterranean region. Like the Egyptians, the Greeks also used alcohol as medicine. Greek texts frequently reference wine consumption for medical ailments, such as lethargy, diarrhea, childbirth pains, and sterilizing wounds. 

Of course, alcohol was also being used at this time for celebratory purposes. Greeks often gathered around for symposium — a place for elite men to drink together, share conversation, tell jokes, and have lively debates. In fact, famous Greek literature such as Plato’s “Symposium” and Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” highlight the ancient relationship between alcohol and celebration. And to be fair, Greco-Roman classics also contain numerous warnings against excessive drinking. 

Interestingly, the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages seems to have been commercialized and regulated by these early governments. The oldest known code of laws — the Code of Hammurabi of Babylonia (1770 B.C.) — regulated drinking houses (among other things). 

History of Alcohol Commercialization 

The Greek and Roman empires are largely responsible for the international commercialization of alcohol. In fact, ancient Greece was one of the earliest known centers of wine production, with winemakers establishing vineyards as early as 2,000 B.C. By the first and second centuries in the common era, the Mediterranean wine trade had exploded.

Over the next several centuries, alcohol was being regularly produced in modern day Germany, France, Egypt, Arabia, and South America. For instance, between 500-1000 C.E., a variety of fermented beverages from the Andes regions of South America were created from corn, grapes, or apples and called “chicha.” Several Native American civilizations also developed alcoholic beverages in pre-Columbian times. 

It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, when alcohol consumption really took off. This was largely due to the British parliament passing a law encouraging the use of grain for distilling spirits. Cheap spirits started flooding the market and peaked in the mid-18th century, with gin consumption reaching 18 million gallons in Britain. The amount of alcohol being consumed by people around the world continued increasing throughout the 1700s. 

History of Alcoholism

By the 19th century, people’s attitudes started changing toward alcohol as they witnessed problems arising from alcoholism in their communities. This is when the first modern temperance groups arose, which promoted drinking in moderation — and eventually pushed for total prohibition. 

In the early 1900s, countries around the world such as Russia, Norway, Iceland, Canada, and the United States established laws that made the possession of alcohol illegal. In 1920, the United States ratified the 18th Amendment — a constitutional order prohibiting the manufacture, sale, import and export of alcoholic beverages and entered what became known as the “Prohibition Era.” However, the distribution of alcohol moved underground, and the illegal alcohol trade boomed. In 1933, the U.S. ratified the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment and legalized alcohol once again

Since the 1950s, the worldwide per capita consumption of distilled spirits, beer, and wine has generally increased. However, more and more people are recognizing the detrimental effects of alcohol on our physical, mental, and emotional health. There’s even a growing number of celebrities who have ditched alcohol for good. 

At Reframe, we help people rethink their drinking habits in order to live a healthier, happier life. While drinking has become an indelible part of our modern history, we can still learn to enjoy ourselves by cutting back or eliminating our alcohol consumption. Let Reframe teach you how!

Cut Back on Alcohol Consumption With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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