Is drinking alcohol a human right?
By Diane Cooke
The desire to consume alcohol, along with the body’s ability to break down the ethanol that makes us tipsy, dates back about 10 million years, according to Science mag.
The finding not only helps shed light on the behaviour of our primate ancestors, but also might explain why alcoholism—or even the craving for a single drink—exists in the first place.
Scientists knew that the human ability to metabolise ethanol—allowing people to consume moderate amounts of alcohol without getting sick—relies on a set of proteins including the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme ADH4.
Although all primates have ADH4, which performs the crucial first step in breaking down ethanol, not all can metabolise alcohol; lemurs and baboons, for instance, have a version of ADH4 that’s less effective than the human one.
Researchers didn’t know how long ago people evolved the more active form of the enzyme. Some scientists suspected it didn’t arise until humans started fermenting foods about 9000 years ago.
When the earth cooled off and food sources changed. Primates started to eat fallen fruit rather than from the trees. And fallen fruits, when they’re exposed to bacteria in the environment that convert sugars to alcohols, will begin to accumulate ethanol. All of which conjures up a chaotic image of drunken monkeys ago-go.
However, the scientist in charge Matthew Carrigan said the discovery might explain why human brains evolved to link pleasure pathways with alcohol consumption—ethanol was associated with a key food source.
“It’s not a whole lot different from the addictions some people have towards food,” he explains. “At the right dose, when you didn’t have alcohol and candy at every corner, it was hard to get too much of this sort of stuff, so when you found it, you wanted to be programmed to overconsume.”
And humans have been partying ever since. However, in Scotland the authorities are discussing the benefits of banning violent criminal offenders from drinking alcohol if the crimes are committed under the influence. However, enforcing such a ban could prove difficult.
Even in the days of Prohibition people found ways to drink. The increase of the illegal production and sale of liquor (known as “bootlegging”), the proliferation of speakeasies (illegal drinking spots) and the accompanying rise in gang violence and other crimes led to waning support for Prohibition by the end of the 1920s.
At least 18 states in the US have laws that regard the use of intoxicants by pregnant women as child abuse, according to a survey by ProPublica.
However, an attempt to impose a ban on New York bars serving expectant women seems to have backfired because pregnant women are legally entitled to drink.
The city explicitly prohibited restaurants and bars from refusing alcoholic drink orders to mothers-to-be, with new guidelines that say doing so would represent discrimination under the city’s Human Rights Law.
“While covered entities may attempt to justify certain categorical exclusions based on maternal or fetal safety, using safety as a pretext for discrimination or as a way to reinforce traditional gender norms or stereotypes is unlawful,” the guidance released by the Commission on Human Rights says.