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Absinthism: fictitious 19th century syndrome

After Dr. Ordinaire's death, his recipe came into the possession of Henri-Louis Pernod, who began the commercial production of absinthe in 1797. In 1805, Pernod moved to Pontarlier, France, to serve the French market; the distillery had one still with a daily capacity of 16 litres. The widespread use of alcoholic drinks containing wormwood extract might have also resulted from the use of wormwood as a preventive measure for helminthiasis and fevers during the French conquest of Algeria (1830– 1847). The soldiers returning to France discovered absinthe as a tasty substitute for their wormwood medicine [13 ].

Due to a rising interest in anise-based spirits as well as increased promotion and advertising, the production of Pernod's absinthe was increased up to a 125,000 liter scale in 1896. This was aided by the drastically reduced production of red wine in these years due to major damages caused by the vine pest. The emerald spirit was, however, known to be enjoyed excessively on both sides of the Atlantic [ 14].

The annual per capita consumption of absinthe in France increased fifteen-fold between 1875 and 1913. According to an article in The Times (1915), French consumption of pure alcohol in 1876 was 15,500 hectoliters; it was 10 times that amount in 1908, and in 1913 it had reached the figure of 239,492 hectoliters, representing 60 liters per inhabitant [15]. Parallel to this mass consumption and its consequences, anti-alcohol movements, winegrowers and clergy called for the banning of absinthe. Many murders and other acts of violence were attributed to the influence of absinthe.

Furthermore, the medical community had developed a strong scientific and medical case against absinthe, attributing an increase in insanity and other serious medical problems to an overindulgence in the drink [13]. It was widely believed that the problem with alcohol was not the quantity consumed but the quality. The absinthe prohibition crusade in France was a paradoxical campaign in which the wine-producers, suppliers of the vast majority of alcoholic drinks consumed, backed the temperance movement [16]. The attention being given to absinthe's supposed unique qualities can be seen as an attempt to reduce alcoholism without specifically touching alcohol. However, it also may have diverted efforts away from the genuine dangers of heavy alcohol consumption [ 16].
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