Drunken monkey hypothesis

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The drunken monkey hypothesis proposes that human attraction to ethanol may have a genetic basis due to the high dependence of the primate ancestor of Homo sapiens on fruit as a food source. Ethanol naturally occurs in ripe and overripe fruit and consequently early primates developed a genetically based attraction to the substance.

This hypothesis was originally proposed by Dr. Robert Dudley of the University of California at Berkeley and was the subject of a symposium at the meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Dudley believes that while most addictive substances have a relatively short history of use, ethanol attraction may have a long evolutionarily based history. He believes that fruit ethanol may have been a significant source of energy and that the smell of the ripening fruit would help primates locate it. Ethanol is a relatively light molecule and diffuses rapidly in a natural environment. Primates are known to have a higher olfactory sensitivity to alcohol than other mammals.[citation needed] The once-beneficial attraction to ethanol may underlie human tendencies for alcohol use and alcohol abuse.


  • Dudley, R. (2005). Evolutionary and historical aspects of ethanol ingestion. In: Comprehensive Handbook of Alcohol-Related Pathology, Volume 1. General aspects of alcohol and mechanisms of disease (eds. V.R. Preedy and R.R. Watson), pp. 3-13. London: Academic Press.
  • "The Drunken Monkey Hypothesis: the study of fruit eating animals could lead to an evolutionary understanding of human alcohol abuse" by Dustin Stephens and Robert Dudley, Natural History Magazine, December, 2004

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