People engage in a number of behaviors dictated by culture, society, values, morals, ethics and genetics, which may often turn destructive in the long run. One of such prevalent practices is their disposition toward alcohol. Despite its severe consequences, such as disruption of brain development, liver-related diseases, heart diseases, etc., it is interesting to note the way alcohol has fascinated people since time immemorial. The strange attraction toward alcohol has led many experts to conduct studies to figure out the key reasons that trigger such a feeling.
Alcoholic beverages have been produced and consumed for ages. It also holds an important place in different religions and cultures. Besides being commonly known as the source of relaxation, it is heavily used for experiencing a range of psychoactive effects, such as euphoria, ecstasy, etc.
Due to the above short-term pleasurable feelings, alcohol has remained a cause of disagreement among people who have different opinion on its role. While some hail it as an elixir, some denounce it as a poison. However, it is often difficult to decipher as to why the human brain is so responsive to alcohol. A new research illustrated that human’s predisposition to alcohol has long been rooted in the evolutionary process explained in Robert Dudley’s “The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink and Abuse.”
The drunken monkey hypothesis, as explained by Robert Dudley, a professor of biology at the University of California, Berkeley, is an attempt to study the disposition toward alcohol in humans from an evolutionary perspective. As specified by Dudley, previous archaeological evidence based on the chemical residues from pottery jars suggests that humans’ interaction with alcohol started around 9,000 years ago, when they were familiarized with the fermentation process. After learning the process, they started fermenting rice, honey and fruit in order to produce alcohol. Though this exposure to fermentation does not explain the root cause of the human’s propensity toward alcohol, one can trace by understanding the biological needs of the primate ancestors of the mankind who survived mostly on fruits.
Due to the dependence on fruits, there was development of new tastes and eating habits, such as alcohol. The ripening process of fruits involves the work of yeasts that leads to the creation of alcohol. Although most ripe fruits contain less than 1 percent of ethanol, its fragrance that has the potential to travel long distances helped primates in finding their food. Being naturally disposed to the smell of alcohol, it helped them find their food without any hassles. At the same time, it increased their appetite and craving for food because of the apéritif effect of alcohol.
In recent times, human’s relationship with alcohol is somewhat conflicting in nature. The primates were not putting themselves at risk as their consumption of alcohol was very low compared to the increased level of drinking in the modern times. While Dudley, in one of his studies, found that the concentration of ethanol in the pulp of ripe palm fruits is just about 0.9 percent, it is as high as 4 percent in beer and 14 percent in wine.
Although humans are predisposed to alcohol, they tend to consume a much higher and larger amount than their body can allow. While the primates did not risk their lives, people indulging in heavy and excessive drinking in the present day tend to expose themselves to all kinds of vulnerabilities associated with alcohol, such as cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases, liver and kidney failure, accidents, falls, burns, serious impairment of the brain, etc.
While the analysis of evolution of new tastes with time explains the disposition of humankind toward alcohol, there are also factors like biological disposition, social circumstances, mental conditions, etc. that are responsible for drawing an individual toward it. Moreover, the release of chemical neurotransmitters in the brain also explains one’s craving for the substance.
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