After a long and stressful day, I often find myself sitting down with a beer or glass of wine.
Rituals like these are the signal that the work day is over and that it is time for fun and relaxation.
The problem is that over time this way of drinking doesn’t work.
Regular (and excessive) consumption of alcohol is associated with depression and lack of sleep.
And research shows that it can also increase anxiety levels in the long run.
However, the idea that alcohol is relaxing remains a powerful myth.
There is evidence to suggest that many people started drinking more during the covid-19 pandemic to try to relax.
Delving into the history of alcohol can offer some insights into why this myth has prevailed.
Throughout history, alcohol has often been used for medicinal purposes. and is considered to have many useful properties, including as an antiseptic and anesthetic.
I have studied how 19th and early 20th century explorers used the drink.
Observing the behavior of travelers can shed light on the scientific and medical understanding of alcohol.
Because, in an era before clinical trials, medical writers turned to explorers’ narratives to gather evidence about the health effects of different foods and beverages.
Therefore, his writings can help us learn about the previous approaches to alcohol and health.
In fact, many Victorian Arctic explorers drank a glass of rum “to warm up” at the end of a long day sledding.
They said it helped them sleep, relax and relieve tension.
Also British travelers in East Africa often drank small amounts of alcohol at the end of a day’s travel.
They considered it a useful “medicine” that helped them deal with both the effects of fever and the emotional stresses of the trip.
In a guide to travel advice published in 1883, George Dobson, a British army surgeon, advised that in hot climates “continuous work, like that of sportsmen and travelers, cannot be sustained for long without the aid of the occasional and sensible consumption of alcohol”.
health and balance
Initially and in small doses, alcohol seems to act as a stimulant, making the heart beat faster and giving you more energy.
However, it soon acts as a depressant, inhibiting the action of the central nervous system, which slows thought and reaction times.
These health effects were particularly important in early 19th century medicine, as some theoretical physicians viewed the body as a system that needed to be kept in balance.
And stimulants or depressants were seen as an important way to restore balance if someone wasn’t feeling well.
Over time, these views became increasingly unpopular with scientists and physicians, and were replaced by theories of disease that sought to determine more specific causes of infection.
For example, the “germ theory”, which was first proposed in 1861, showed that many diseases were caused by microbes and not by the weather.
Similarly, British doctors were becoming increasingly interested in the role of mosquitoes in the spread of malaria.
Such developments led to new medical approaches that sought to prevent and treat diseases common in hot regions.
Alcohol could also be used to mix other drugs.
criticism of the drink
But changing medical attitudes toward disease were not the only factor in declining medicinal drink consumption on expeditions.
The growing criticism of the expedition members’ drinking was also the result of changing social and medical attitudes towards alcohol.
This was due in large part to the temperance movement, a campaign rooted in evangelical Christianity that sought to discourage (and sometimes outright ban) the sale of alcohol.
Even those who considered moderate alcohol consumption acceptable began to worry that it might actually be more dangerous in extreme weather conditions.
For example, the National Arctic Expedition (1875-1876) was criticized for distributing a ration of rum, with suggestions that it had contributed to a bout of scurvy, which allegedly first manifested itself among the expedition’s heavy drinkers.
Criticisms such as these surmised that the scouts took increasing pains to emphasize that their alcohol consumption was moderate and “medicinal.”
They often did this by drinking only certain types of alcoholic beverages that they argued had greater medicinal properties.
This normally meant brandy, champagne, or certain types of wine.
But disagreement among doctors over which drinks were healthiest was fierce.
In fact, many of these drinks were considered medicinal for no reason other than the fact that they were expensive.
These drinks are rarely considered medicinal today, but medical concerns about the effects of alcohol have not gone away.
And, like their Victorian counterparts, many contemporary doctors have suggested that certain types of drinks are healthier than others.
Stimulants: alcohol or caffeine
As recent research by my colleague Kim Walker and I shows, stimulants (including alcohol) remained a popular medicine for European travelers in Africa until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In part this was because they were relatively cheap, easy to administer, and had perceptible effects on the mind and body of the drinker.
They were also believed to remedy the persistent belief that hot climates were physically damaging and psychologically depressing.
In the same 1883 travel guide, Dobson complained of “the depressing effects of the climate” to support his alcohol prescription.
Consequently, some travelers viewed alcoholic beverages as useful stimulants to help combat these effects.
Even those who opposed the expeditionary drink still considered stimulant drinks important, but prescribed “a cup of coffee” instead.
The medical understanding of the drink has changed considerably in the last 150 years.
But studying how Victorian and Edwardian explorers approached alcohol also shows important continuities.
Then as now alcohol consumption practices are determined not only by medical knowledge, but also by cultural attitudes toward different beverages and the environments in which we consume them.
*Edward Armston-Sheret is a PhD student in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway University, London. His original article was published in The Conversation whose English version you can read here.
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BBC-NEWS-SRC: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-60175164, IMPORTING DATE: 2022-01-30 15:10:05