A scientist probes the nature of alcohol and the myths, sentiments, and ambiguities that surround it.
Edwards (emeritus/National Addiction Centre, Univ. of London), editor-in-chief of the journal Addiction, aims to stir an informed debate about individual and public policy regarding alcohol. To that end he presents a balanced analysis of alcohol as both a drug and a social phenomenon. After a brief look at its molecular structure and chemistry, he examines various meanings it has been imbued with over time: the blood of Christ, a magical element in social rituals, an emblem of national character, etc. Edwards is especially entertaining in his chapter on the medical profession’s misplaced faith in the therapeutic value of alcohol, which has been prescribed for everything from diabetes to malaria to the common cold. Following a short history of drunkenness and an examination of how intoxication is perceived and shaped by different cultures, Edwards creates fictional case histories to illustrate the complexities of the alcohol dependence syndrome. His history of Prohibition in the US effectively challenges some of the misconceptions that surround that venture and examines its relevance to society’s present-day concerns about alcohol and other drugs. In his survey of the history of treatment, he scrutinizes the disease concept of alcoholism, appraises the Alcoholics Anonymous program, and presents both sides of the debate over whether alcoholics can ever be transformed into moderate drinkers. Edwards makes clear his own belief that handling alcohol well is both a societal and an individual responsibility, and that while alcohol is likely to continue to be the favorite recreational drug, less is unquestionably better.
Evenhanded and informative, never pedantic or preachy.