A fascinating poison: early medical writing on drink

James Nicholls

in The Politics of Alcohol

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780719077050
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702758 | DOI:
A fascinating poison: early medical writing on drink

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The eighteenth century witnessed significant developments in the ‘medicalisation’ of problem drinking. The key features of the modern ‘disease model’ of addiction emerged in Britain throughout the eighteenth century, and had become fairly well established by the 1770s. Related to the burgeoning medical discourse on drink were long-running philosophical disputes over the nature of consciousness. These fuelled heated speculation over what drunkenness told us about the relationship between mind and body, and what the moral implications of that relationship might be. The Enlightenment sparked innumerable controversies as to the nature of reason and its relationship to moral responsibility. In Britain, the neat Cartesian division between body and mind had always been treated with some scepticism. Far from the health of the mind being divorced from the actions of the body, it seemed self-evident to many that physical well-being was inextricably, and causally, tied to mental health. This chapter explores early medical literature on drink in England and discusses the link between sobriety and sanity.

Keywords: medical literature; drink; England; sobriety; sanity; drunkenness; consciousness; mind; body; mental health

Chapter.  6135 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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