Why Do Humans Drink Alcohol?

Is drinking alcohol all bad? Can it be positive when done in moderation? Why do we drink alcohol anyway?

Great questions. I came across a recently published book by Edward Slingerland about this topic. The title is “Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization.” Intriguing!

Edward Slingerland is a Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. He has adjunct appointments in Psychology and Philosophy. He also is Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture and the Director of the Database of Religious History.

The Nutshell Findings

The nutshell findings are

  • Archeological evidence suggests that humans have made for a long time (about 10,000 years). Beer has existed long before transitioning from hunter/gatherer to agricultural societies. We discovered how to make it by accident. But thousands of years of drinking since then are not an accident.
  • Humans’ ecological niche is culture (and resulting technologies). That is how we obtained and are maintaining our position on earth. To survive, humans had to become creative, communal, and cultural.
  • Humans have a prefrontal cortex (PFC). It is the part of the brain that evolved last. The PFC gives us the ability to reason, be rational and have self-control. Yet, it is not great at being social.
  • Drinking is a way to disable (or partly disable) the PFC temporarily. The result: stress release, and increase in being communal and creative.”

Of course, there is the caveat that we can overdo it, damage our health, and become addicted. An article entitled “Alcohol and Health: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” states.

  • Alcohol abuse can lead to liver damage (fatty liver cells, which is reversible, and worse, cirrhosis, which is not reversible).
  • It also leads to brain damage.
    • “Chronic alcohol abuse may cause permanent changes in your brain, often leading to impaired brain function.”
    • “[It] may increase your risk of dementia and cause brain shrinkage in middle-aged and older adults.
    • “In worst-case scenarios, severe alcohol-induced brain damage may impair people’s ability to lead an independent life.”
    • Conversely, drinking moderately has been linked to a reduced risk of dementia — especially in older adults.”
  • There is a link between alcohol abuse and depression
    • People may start abusing alcohol due to depression, or
    • They become depressed by abusing alcohol.

It looks like it is another Yin-Yang type of situation. Abuse is definitely bad. Moderation can be good.

I think I don’t need to get into the dangers of drinking and driving.

The Key Takeaways

There appear to be some good reasons why humans have consumed alcohol for 10,000 years or more.

  • Our ecological niche (aka survival and thrival) relies on us being cultural.
  • That means we need to bond together, be communal and collaborate. Our prefrontal cortex is all about being logical – and that can get in the way of being communal at times.
  • Alcohol provides a way to turn the PFC down a bit from time to time.

Of course, there are other ways, too. Meditation? That tends to be solitary. Yoga? Sure. Practices of mindfulness, stop overthinking and being present. Yes! Nonetheless, it can be fun to “let the hair down” a bit with friends and a glass of wine.

In any case, two things are certain:

  1. Alcohol will not go away anytime soon.
  2. Alcohol affects different people differently. For most people, drinking alcohol in moderation has some benefits. Since the most significant benefit is an uptick in being communal, it might be a good idea to drink less at home by yourself and save most of your drinking (and associated calories) for social occasions.

I’m Curious

How do you feel about drinking alcohol and its impact on your life?

Live Brilliantly,

Dr. Stephie

P.S.: I appreciate you commenting and sharing this Brilliance Nugget with others. Thank you!

Stephie Althouse

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