Photo of apothecary equipment
Media playback is unsupported on your device

The last drop: the history of alcohol in medicine

For hundreds of years alcohol claimed a prized place amongst the pills, potions and purportedly healing herbs of British pharmaceutical history.

A drop of gin was once advised to ward-off the plague, a glug of wine thought to "defend the body from corruption" and a sip of absinthe considered to cure the body of round-worms.

Of course all this has changed. As our understanding of the harms of alcohol on society and the individual has grown, it has given up its place on prescription pads - instead to be superseded by advice to refrain from all but cautious use.

An exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians in London traces its use and sometimes fatal misuse by medical men and women of the past, up to the calls for greater regulation today.

The college is currently calling for a range of measures, including a fifty pence minimum price per unit of alcohol in the UK and tighter restrictions on marketing and advertising, particularly where children may be exposed to it.

The college says: "Alcohol is a factor in more than forty serious medical conditions, including liver disease and cancer, and one of the major preventable causes of death in the UK."

The exhibition runs between 13 January-27 June 2014.

  • 15 Jan 2014
  • From the section Health