History of Alcoholism

The history of alcoholism goes as far back as alcohol coming into existence to begin with. This goes back thousands of years. There were fermented beverages being made in China dating back to 7000 B.C. There’s even Greek literature from thousands of years ago that talks about the dangers of abusing alcohol. Alcohol abuse and addiction has been around for a long time, which is why in 1920 the United States ended up passing a law to prohibit almost anything alcohol related. In other words due to this law you couldn’t manufacture, sell, import, or export alcohol, excluding the use of alcohol for medicinal purposes.

Like any illegal substance, alcohol was still being sold and consumed by many and this created an underground black market. There were speakeasies popping up all over the country, only increasing each year. Home brewing of hard cider or wine was legal, but within a limit that most people significantly disobeyed anyway. Prohibition lead to an increase in alcohol poisoning cases because a lot of the alcohol being passed around was not being produced properly in distilleries, and was often spiked with chemicals to give it an extra punch. The consumption of alcohol with abandon practically became an epidemic. The problem was evidently only growing in the country during this time period, despite futile attempts to keep it under control. Whenever one illegal drinking establishment would get cracked down, there would be about ten other speakeasies popping up in its place.

Medical doctors at this time began writing whiskey prescriptions for patients who weren’t using it per the label. There ended up being over one million gallons of alcohol consumed every single year via prescriptions alone. By 1933 prohibition of alcohol was cancelled. Legal or not legal, around 15 million Americans struggle with alcoholism now and it remains a serious threat in our society.

As you can see, since alcohol has been around, there have been problem drinkers along with people who are able to drink moderately. And along with that, people who stay away from drinking altogether. Scientists aren’t quite sure what is at the very core of alcoholism, but there are a few things which can lead one toward alcoholism (which has been identified by medical professionals). These factors are long-term drinking, depression or anxiety, a history of alcoholism in the family and social acceptance of drinking. While these things may seem obvious, not every person with a combination of these factors becomes an alcohol. So this evidently leaves room for further research.

The Stigma

A long time ago, alcoholism was looked at and treated as a degraded, wicked thing. People who drank to excess were often looked at as morally corrupt. There was definitely a particular stigma involved with being an alcoholic. This kept the treatment of alcoholism to a pretty limited process because people weren’t dealing with it in the right way. Thankfully this has changed tremendously since. The notorious light which was once shed on alcoholism has died down by a long shot ever since the condition started being regarded as a disease instead. From there, it seemed as though this new viewpoint opened the door for the treatment of alcoholism to evolve and expand.

The Treatment

Alcoholics Anonymous has been around since 1935, which ironically was not shortly after alcohol became legal to sell again. Two alcoholics came together, Bill W. (which was a stockbroker from New York), and Dr. Bob S. (a surgeon). They embarked on the formation of AA because Dr. Bob S. was desperately seeking a way to get sober. And after Bill W. achieved sobriety, Dr. Bob S. came to his friend Bill that he had met at the Oxford Group (a nonalcoholic and spiritual group). Eventually Bob got sober and soon after this AA was formed. They planned to work with alcoholics at Akron’s City Hospital in Ohio. At first the group consisted of only Dr. Bob, Bill and their friend Ebby T. By 1939 there were three Alcoholic Anonymous groups. The success of AA was reflected in the one hundred sober alcoholics achieved over the course of those four years. That same year (1939) the book Alcoholics Anonymous (which was written by Bill) was published for the world to learn and see the successful methods and philosophy applied by the group. Alcoholics Anonymous remains a global movement today.

Though Alcoholics Anonymous seemed to start up as late as the 1930’s, rehab on the other hand has been around for a lot longer. As early as 1750, there were “sobriety circles”, which were these groups formed within Native American tribes with the purpose of aiding alcoholics. Fast forward roughly a hundred and thirty years and in 1879 Dr. Leslie Keeley calls “drunkenness” (for lack of the term alcoholism yet) a legitimate disease, claiming he can cure it. The doctor opens over 120 rehabs, called Keeley Institutes, all over the United States.

These days we see tons of rehab clinics all over the world, of different varieties. Some of these rehabs offer in-patient recovery programs, some out-patient. Some of them offer natural treatment and alternative medicine in order to help the patient deal with detox and addiction, some offer mainstream medicine. Some rehabs have group therapy while others have individual therapy. Some rehabs have all different kinds of therapy, and even offer various types of classes and activities in order for their patients to find outlets that addiction can be substituted with.

As you can see treatment of alcohol addiction has evolved tremendously over time, and in modern society people are no longer frowned upon for being an alcoholic necessarily. Instead, in this day and age, there are a myriad of solutions to addiction offered in the form of various groups, rehabs and programs.

The Facts

Over time, tons of organized data has emerged from legitimate long-standing research regarding alcoholism. For instance, let’s look at what data has been discovered in terms of how alcoholism affects somebody physically and mentally. These long-term effects are:

  • High blood pressure, stroke or other heart conditions
  • Liver disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Vitamin b1 deficiency (which can lead to amnesia or disorientation)
  • Ulcers
  • Gastritis
  • Cancer of the mouth
  • Cancer of the throat
  • Unintentional injuries
  • Malnutrition
  • Alcohol Poisoning

Obviously, it’s fairly well-known that these things can occur and put a dent on someone’s health if they’ve been drinking over a long period of time. However, what about the things that could result from even just one night of binge drinking? Not a lot of people look at the potential consequences which can be harmful from abusing alcohol merely one time. These short-term effects are found to be:

  • Slurred speech
  • Black outs
  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired judgment
  • Being uncoordinated
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Distorted vision
  • Unconsciousness

It’s clear that between the introduction of alcohol to the present time, there have been major successful efforts in the direction of handling alcoholism. Treatment mechanisms are still evolving, and many groups still emerging behind this shared purpose. While it is still a significantly large problem in society today, there are so many more solutions to help someone with a drinking issue than there once was.


By Robert O. Newman II, ICDAC, ICPS, CIP