Our Love of Alcohol May Come From Monkeys

Animals

| LAST UPDATE 04/04/2022

by Stanley Wickens
monkey fruit alcohol affinity
SOPA Images / Contributor via Getty Images

Humans have been consuming alcohol since before recorded history began. Over the centuries, the beverage has made its way into our art, literature, and overall culture. But where did our affinity for booze come from? Well, according to the "drunken monkey hypothesis," we may have actually inherited it from our ancient ancestors...

The "drunken monkey hypothesis" was first proposed in 2000 by UC Berkeley biologist Robert Dudley. It suggests that monkeys are particularly drawn to the smell and taste of ethanol because it allows them to find ripe fruit that gives them a lot of energy. Science may suggest that this evolutionary advantage was passed on to humans, but has since been separated from the nutritional benefits of fruit. Instead, our attraction to the smell and taste of ethanol has taken a dark turn - possibly even causing health issues for some.

drunken monkey hypothesis evolution
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD / Staff via Getty Images
Advertisement

However, despite being an interesting idea, there hasn't been a lot of strong evidence to support the theory that our love of alcohol may be linked to evolutionary biology. There have been observations of wild chimpanzees eating sap from palm trees that has been fermented - but scientists are uncertain whether the apes are drawn to the ethanol itself or whether they're actually getting drunk. However, a recent study in Panama sheds new light on the previously suggested theory. "For the first time, we have been able to show, without a shadow of a doubt, that wild primates, with no human interference, consume fruit containing ethanol," says primatologist Christina Campbell from California State University, Northridge. "This is just one study, and more need to be done, but it looks like there may be some truth to that 'drunken monkey' hypothesis."

So it's possible our fondness of alcohol could be passed on through tens of millions of years of evolutionary change. In fact, it actually shows up in our DNA! Ethanol metabolism is encoded in the genes of mammals that eat fruit and nectar. Humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas in particular share a genetic mutation that improves an ethanol enzyme by 40 times! There's still a lot more research to be done on the subject, but there may be a chance that one of our less healthy habits today may have actually started out as an evolutionary strength.

Advertisement