• Alcohol;
  • DSM;
  • Enlightenment;
  • ICD;
  • inebriety movement;
  • Jellinek;
  • trouble


This paper builds upon the work of previous authors who have explored the evolution of ideas in the alcohol arena. With revisions in the relevant sections of ICD and DSM forthcoming, such matters are of considerable contemporary importance. The focus here will be upon the history of the last 200 years. The main themes to be explored include the flux of ideas on what, over time, has counted as the trouble with drink, ideas on the cause of the problem and the impact of this thinking on public action. Medical authorities of the late Enlightenment period made the revolutionary suggestion that habitual drunkenness constituted a disease, rather than a vice. The thread of that idea can be traced to the present day, but with an alternative perception of drink itself or alcohol-related problems generally, as cause for concern, also having a lineage. There are several inferences to be drawn from this history: the need for vigilance lest disease formulations become stalking-horses for moralism and social control, the need to integrate awareness of alcohol dependence as a dimensional individual-level problem, with a public health understanding of the vastly amorphous and at least equally important universe of alcohol-related problems; the dangers lurking in scientific reductionism when the problems at issue truly require a multi-disciplinary analysis; and the need for global consensus rather than cultural imposition of ideas on what counts as the problem with drink.