"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse-and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness-
And Wilderness is Paradise enow." 
In Europe during the Middle Ages, beer was consumed by the whole family, thanks to a triple fermentation process - the men had the strongest, then women, then children. A document of the times mentions nuns having an allowance of six pints of ale a day. Cider and pomace wine were also widely available, while grape wine was the prerogative of the higher classes. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, wine production in Europe appears to have been sustained chiefly by monasteries.
By the time the Europeans reached the Americas in the 15th century, several native civilizations had developed alcoholic beverages. According to a post-Conquest Aztec document, consumption of the local "wine" (pulque) was generally restricted to religious ceremonies, but freely allowed to those over 70 years old (possibly the all-time record for legal drinking age). The natives of South America manufactured a beer-like product from cassava or maize (cauim, chicha), which had to be chewed before fermentation in order to turn the starch into sugars. (Curiously, the same technique was used in ancient Japan to make sake from rice and other starchy crops.)
The medicinal use of alcoholic beverages was mentioned in Sumerian and Egyptian texts dated from 2100 BC or earlier. The Hebrew Bible recommends giving alcoholic drinks to those who are dying or depressed, so that they can forget their misery.
Main article: Distilled beverage
Beer and wine are typically limited to a maximum 15 percent alcohol, although brewers have reached 25% alcohol. Beyond this limit yeast is adversely affected and cannot ferment. Since the fourth millennium BC in Babylonia, higher levels of alcohol have been obtained in a number of ways. It was not until the still was invented by Islamic alchemists in the 8th or 9th centuries that the history of distilled beverages began. Distilled alcohol appeared first in Europe in the mid 12th century and by the early 14th century it had spread throughout Europe. It also spread eastward, mainly by the Mongols, and was practiced in China by the 14th century. However, recent archeological evidence has supported the idea that China has had wines and distilled beverages dating back to 5000 BC. Paracelsus gave alcohol its modern name, taking it from the Arabic word which means "finely divided", a reference to distillation.
In many countries, alcoholic beverages are commonly consumed at the major daily meals (lunch and dinner). Most early beers were in fact highly nutritional and served as a means of calorie distribution. Beer can be stored longer than grain or bread without fear of pest infestation or rotting, and drinking beer avoided the tooth-destroying grit that was present in hand-ground or early mill-ground flours.
In places and eras with poor public sanitation, such as Medieval Europe, consumption of alcoholic beverages (particularly weak or "small" beer) was one method of avoiding water-borne diseases such as the cholera. Though strong alcohol kills bacteria, the low concentration in beer or even wine will have only a limited effect. Probably the boiling of water, which is required for the brewing of beer, and the growth of yeast, which would tend to crowd out other micro-organisms, were more important than the alcohol itself. In any case, the ethanol (and possibly other ingredients) of alcoholic beverages allows them to be stored for months or years in simple wood or clay containers without spoiling, which was certainly a major factor in their popularity.
A recent study indicated that ethanol has been found to stimulate the virulence of Acinetobacter baumannii. Tests on infected nematode worms that were dosed with ethanol found that the worms laid fewer eggs and their life spans were only 80% of worms infected with a version of A. baumannii that didn't respond to ethanol. This study suggests that the common misconception that drinking alcohol kills infections is false and drinking alcohol may actually help the infection to grow.^
In colder climates, strong alcoholic beverages such as vodka are popularly seen as a way to "warm up" the body, possibly because ethanol is a quickly absorbed source of food energy and dilates peripheral blood vessels (Peripherovascular dilation). This however is a dangerous myth, and people experiencing hypothermia should avoid alcohol. Although a drunk may feel warmer, the body loses heat and body temperature decreases, which may cause hypothermia, and eventually death. This is because of the dilation of blood vessels not in the core of the body; because of this increased bloodflow, the body loses its heat out of its less protected outer extremities.
In many cultures, both contemporary and historical, alcoholic beverages - mostly because of their neurological effects - have also played an important role in various kinds of social interaction, providing a form of "liquid courage" (those who consume it "gain" confidence and lose discretion) While other psychoactive drugs (such as opium, coca, khat, cannabis, kava-kava, etc.) also have millennial traditions of social use, only coffee, tea and tobacco have been as universally used and accepted as ethanol is today.
Alcohol restriction in Victoria, Australia
Most countries have rules forbidding the sale of alcoholic beverages to children. For example, in the Netherlands and Germany, one has to be 16 to buy beer or wine and 18 to buy distilled alcoholic beverages. However, possession of alcoholic beverages is not illegal for minors in Germany. Law there is directed at the potential sellers of alcoholic beverages and not at the minors. German law puts control concerning the consumption of alcoholic beverage into the hands of custodial persons and persons with parental power. See .
In law, sometimes the term "intoxicating agent" is used for a category of substances, which includes alcoholic beverages and some drugs. Giving any of these substances to a person to create an abnormal condition of the mind (such as drunkenness), in order to facilitate committing a crime, may be an additional crime.
Some countries may forbid the commerce, consumption or advertising of alcoholic beverages, or restrict them in various ways. During the period known as Prohibition, from 1919 to 1933, it was illegal to manufacture, transport, import, export, or sell alcoholic beverages in the United States. Many Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, continue to prohibit alcohol for religious reasons. In the United States there are still communities with a ban on alcohol sales.
Most countries have laws againstdrunk driving, driving with a certain concentration of ethanol in the blood. The legal threshold of blood alcohol content ranges from 0.0% to 0.05% or 0.08%, according to local