Alcohol: The World's Favorite Drug

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9780140266665: Alcohol: The World's Favorite Drug

Alcohol can be an item of diet, a medicine, sometimes an element in religious ritual. It is a valued object for the connoisseur, a traded commodity and a symbol of national pride (wine for instance in France, whisky in Scotland). But at another level it is just a molecule. That molecule is an instrument both of pleasure and of destruction and hence the fundamental ambiguity. The range of social and medical problems associated with alcohol and the history of related treatment methods (including the temperance movement, prohibition, aa and a range of contemporary approaches) are considered here. Griffith Edwards identifies what can be learned from this experience and the accompanying science so as to set more rational and effective policies in the future. What will happen about alcohol is in part embedded in what society will do about dangerous, pleasure giving drugs in general.

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Review:

Griffith Edwards's Alcohol is a short, ambitious overview of the "the world's favorite drug." He begins on the molecular level and ranges wide, with peeks at alcohol's role in religion, in secular mythology, as a medicine, a disease, source of misery and elation, and something to be legislated and taxed. Edwards, though a stiff stylist, can be interesting, as when discussing the search for a "sovereign" remedy for alcoholism, the "disease concept" of alcoholism, the relative efficacy of Alcoholics Anonymous, and especially how cultural expectations affect the behavior of inebriates. The book's brevity is problematic: a history of England's 18th-century gin epidemic raises more questions than it answers; his statement that AA "probably works, in some way or other, for not less than 50 percent of [those] who make contact with it" needs annotation; and his essay on America's Prohibition era is annoyingly sketchy. Edwards, commendably, maintains a rigorous objectivity throughout. --H. O'Billovich

From the Inside Flap:

Alcohol is everywhere. Walk down any street in the western world and before long your feet will kick against an empty beer can, or your attention will be captured by an alluring advertisement that suggests that alcohol can magically transform your life. Its use is integral to many aspects of popular culture, but it is also a substance that has at times been preached against and even prohibited.

In this book, Griffith Edwards uses both history and chemistry to explore the whole issue of alcohol. Is it medicine, a delightful potion, poison, or a mysterious combination of all three? What part has alcohol played in various cultures and religions? Why do different people behave differently when drunk? What cures for habitual inebriation were popular in the past? Why is alcoholism considered a disease? What is "safe drinking"? Is alcohol good for the heart? Do current treatments work? Does Alcoholics Anonymous have the answer?
Armed with the best solid information science, history, and sociology have to offer, Edwards asks how, in the light of this knowledge, society might in the future better handle this pleasure-giving, somewhat dangerous drug. Can society get its pleasure out of alcohol without the inevitable suffering that accompanies misuse? If so, what steps should we take to protect ourselves and others?

Already considered in England to be a classic in the field, Alcohol will prove to be fascinating reading for the drinker and nondrinker alike.

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