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Chapter 13 - The Social Function of Alcohol from an Evolutionary Perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 September 2022

Riadh Abed
Affiliation:
Mental Health Tribunals, Ministry of Justice, UK
Paul St John-Smith
Affiliation:
Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, UK
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Summary

Humans and alcohol share a deep evolutionary history: our capacity to convert alcohol into useable sugars is a trait we share with the African great apes (gorillas and chimpanzees) and is unique to this taxonomic family among the primates. Although the archaeological record only allows us to date the production of alcohol back about 9,000 years (by which time it is already on an industrial scale), a cottage industry of alcohol production must date back a great deal further. With the exception of where its consumption has been prohibited on religious grounds, alcohol use occurs in every culture and society. Notwithstanding its hedonic properties, its real functional benefit is primarily social, playing an important role in rituals and group bonding. I review studies that demonstrate its functional consequences in terms of social bonding, mediated by alcohol’s ability to trigger the brain’s endorphin system. The endorphin system is the central basis for social bonding in primates. The health and other benefits that arise from social bonding are considerable.

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Evolutionary Psychiatry
Current Perspectives on Evolution and Mental Health
, pp. 202 - 213
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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