ONE of the problems which has been definitely set for psychologists to solve during the twentieth century is the cause of the almost universal desire for alcohol. It is a curious fact that in the thousands and hundreds of thousands of books, articles and writings of every description relating to the many phases of the alcohol problem, this simple and fundamental question—Why do men desire alcohol?—has until recently never been carefully considered at all and even now has not been answered. The belief that the desire for alcohol is due to total depravity or original sin seems to be about as far as we have got in answering this question. One author wrote a serious article not long ago to show that the cause of drinking is to be attributed to bad cooking in the home! He evidently did not appreciate the fact that the desire for alcohol, as well as its use, is at least as old as the lake dwellers of the neolithic age. Few if any savage tribes known to anthropologists, whether in ancient or in modern times, except certain tribes of Eskimos who have no fruit or grain from which alcohol can be prepared, have been without this drug or some other having similar properties. The discovery and use of alcohol have not spread from tribe to tribe, but have been autochthonic, arising independently in all parts of the world. So keen has been the desire for alcohol and so eager the quest for it, that always and everywhere some means have been discovered by which this water of life could be expressed from fruit, or grain, or vegetable.
And yet we do not even know why it is desired.
The whole vast machinery of the temperance movement, employing thousands of skilled and zealous workers, controlling large sums of money, and making use of wise educational, social and legislative methods, seems to have accomplished little or nothing in reducing the consumption of alcohol. At the very time that legislative and social control of the manufacture, sale and use of alcoholic liquors is extended over larger and larger portions of our country, the relentless figures of the U. S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue show that year by year with almost fateful regularity the per capita consumption of these liquors is increasing instead of decreasing.
The following table shows the per capita consumption of all liquors in the United States from the year 1850 to the year 1911, inclusive: