Research has shown that around 4,500 years ago workers on the pyramids had three drink-breaks each day, during which five types of beer and four varieties of wine were available.
Alcoholic drinks, however, date back still earlier.
The sediment found in a pottery jar recently excavated in the Zagros mountains of northern Iran indicates that man was drinking a retsina-like wine in 5000BC.
There is also evidence of beer-drinking in Mesopotamia around 8000BC, which is about the time that the woolly mammoth died out.
The word 'alcohol' has a curious history. Its original meaning, in the early 17th century, was a fine metallic powder, ore of antimony, used as eye make-up.
The OED suggests a derivation from the Hebrew ka-khal, 'to stain'. By extension, alcohol came to mean any fine powder produced by grinding or distillation, then finally took on the meaning of a distilled liquid.
Samuel Johnson's Dictionary defined alcohol as: 'an Arabic term used by chymists for a highly rectified dephlegmated spirit of wine, or for any thing reduced into an impalpable powder'.
For chemists, however, an alcohol may be any of a wide class of organic compounds of which ethyl alcohol, C2H6O, is the one all of us from wine-lovers to alcoholics know well.
Alcohol begins to interfere with the brain's ability to function properly when the blood-alcohol concentration exceeds 0.05 per cent - that is, 0.05g of alcohol per 100cc of blood.
About half a pint of whisky will produce a concentration of 0.2 per cent, at which level the imbiber has difficulty in controlling his or her emotions and may tend to cry or laugh a lot and fall over if not prostrate already.
In the early 18th century, Empress Catherine I of Russia banned women from getting drunk.
This law has been cited as the main reason for the large numbers of female transvestites who attended Moscow balls, where wine ran freely.
Catherine's husband and predecessor, Peter the Great, had the lover of one of his mistresses executed and his head preserved in alcohol and kept by his bedside.
Research on both humans and goldfish has shown that anything learned in a state of mild inebriation is liable to be forgotten when sobriety is restored. But a subsequent return to the inebriated state may be accompanied by a return of the forgotten memories.
In other words, if you have forgotten something important that you learned when you were drunk, your best policy, if you want to remember it, may well be to get drunk again.
If you drank so much that you blacked out, however, all memories of what you said, did or learned while intoxicated are liable to vanish for ever, whether you are human or goldfish. (For further information, the reader should consult the paper 'The Use of Goldfish as a Model for Alcohol Amnesia in Man', by R.S. Ryback, in the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, vol 30, 1969.)
Why some heavy drinkers become alcoholics and others appear not to develop an addiction is a matter still not fully understood, though recent studies of animal and human twins suggest a genetic predisposition to alcoholism.
A particular gene on chromosome 11 is the thing to watch out for. Chronic alcoholism shrinks the left side of the brain.
There are fewer reliable studies indicating any possible beneficial effects of alcohol, though mildly inebriated goldfish have been shown to learn simple tasks more quickly than sober goldfish.
As to the effects of alcohol on lechery, a Porter explains all to Macduff in Shakespeare's Macbeth: 'It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.'
This has been confirmed in studies which show that alcohol increases subjective estimates of sexual arousal but diminishes physiological symptoms.
(You may think you're aroused, but you're not really.)
Sexual Reflexes or Normal and Neurotic Male Dogs', Pyschosomatic Medicine, vol 14), regulated doses of alcohol may have a therapeutic effect on premature ejaculation in a neurotic dog.
According to a poll in 2008, the average British man will drink 11,616 pints of beer in his lifetime as well as 1,089 pints of cider, 5,082 glasses of wine, 4,356 single measures of spirits.
He will drink 1.5 litres of cocktails, 12 glasses of champagne and nearly half a litre of liqueurs each year.
Men spend just over one year's wages on booze in their lifetime - the average man will fork out £4,026 a year on alcohol, or £24,357.30 over 60.5 years.