Absinthe—perhaps you remember this strong drink from films like Madame X, From Hell, Van Helsing, or even Eurotrip. Absinthe has played both small and major roles in over 40 films since 1899 when it appeared in the French silent film: Wonderful Absinthe. In the early 19th century, the appearance of absinthe in film may have been for propaganda.

There was actually a lot of truth to the glamorization and criminalization of absinthe in film. The fact of the matter is that absinthe is a highly potent liquor, which in many cases, can give a person more complications than just a hard drunk. The drink was, in fact, banned in several countries for nearly a century because of its dangerous effects, but we’ll get into that later.

What Is Absinthe?

Absinthe is made out of distilled grains and green anise, wormwood oil, fennel, and other herbs. It’s usually over 45 percent alcohol, which is about 90 proof. Developed in Switzerland in 1792, absinthe hit the market and first took over Europe; but nowhere as much as it did France. The drink didn’t reach the United States until 1878.

Absinthe is generally referred to as the Green Fairy, because of it’s emerald green color. It’s bottled with an extremely high alcohol content, but when consumed, it’s poured over ice cubes and/or sugar cubes. Sometimes the drink is even further diluted with water.

What Does Absinthe Taste Like?

Simply put, absinthe tastes like black licorice mixed with a bit of an herbal aroma. According to The Wormwood Society “The primary flavor of absinthe is anise—similar to licorice—but well-made absinthes have an herbal complexity that makes them taste like more than just licorice candy. It generally has a very mild bitterness.”

Effects Of Absinthe

As previously mentioned, absinthe has a pretty high alcohol content, so we can easily assume that a person will get pretty drunk off of it. It is also believed that drinking absinthe drove people mad. One theory was that the thujone in absinthe is the reason for the mania that absinthe has caused in the past. This theory has since been revisited and brought to light by the Columbia University.

They said, “thujone has been known to slow reaction times and impair a person’s ability to pay attention. It also may cause visual or auditory hallucinations for some people. That being said, more recent research suggests that absinthe (containing wormwood oil) has a high alcohol concentration, which may be a more likely culprit for the purported side effects, rather than just thujone alone.”

Absinthe Addiction Or Absinthism

In the early 19th century, absinthe was a social drink in France, and on a daily basis, the bohemian culture could be found drinking it to excess. Like any other drug that’s consumed with regularity, addiction and drug dependence are probably the next stop.

“A distinct condition—absinthism—stood alongside the emerging descriptions of alcoholism” (National Institutes of Health). Alcoholism is broadly defined as an inability to stop drinking alcohol even after dire consequences arise in one’s life—such as health complications, failed marriage, loss of employment or home. Alcoholism is a disease.

Absinthe—An Artist’s Vice

According to the National Institutes of Health, “many creative artists had their lives touched by absinthe (Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde, Picasso). The illness of Vincent van Gogh was certainly exacerbated (made worse) by excessive drinking of absinthe, and one of his six major crises was precipitated by drinking.”

Is Absinthe Legal In The United States?

Absinthe was illegalized in the United States from 1912 to 2007. So it’s legal now, but only when brewed with very little to no thujone —which is one of the heavy components from the original beverage. “Absinthe became an epidemic health problem and was banned in many countries early in the 20th century, but its use continues legally or illicitly even now” (National Institutes of Health). So The United States wasn’t the only country that prohibited the production and sale of absinthe.

Does Absinthe Cause Hallucinations?

In films like The Mind of a Cafe Waiter, absinthe is depicted as causing serious hallucinations. Even a century later, Eurotrip conveyed a person who was drunk on absinthe hallucinate that they were seeing and speaking to an actual green fairy. Although the latter of these films may seem a little farfetched and imaginary, the idea of hallucinations has been baffling scientists for over a century and could be more realistic than we think.

In the old days, absinthe was made using thujone, which is believed to cause manic, even delirious behavior and recent studies show that “absinthism was associated with gastrointestinal problems, acute auditory and visual hallucinations, epilepsy, brain damage, and increased risk of psychiatric illness and suicide” (National Institutes of Health).

Is Absinthe Deadly?

Like most alcoholic drinks, absinthe has potential to be highly dangerous—but there is evidence proving that absinthe was also causing societal issues. Nowadays, the legal stuff doesn’t use much thujone, and it doesn’t exclusively cause the hallucinations previously discussed. Abusing high alcohol content (or any alcohol for that matter) is dangerous. Binge drinking absinthe is ill-advised and can lead to alcohol poisoning and death.

Alcohol Content Of Absinthe

Ranging from 45 to 76 percent alcohol (in some cases even upwards of 89 percent), absinthe is pretty hard not to get drunk off of. You really have to drink a small amount of it to avoid alcohol abuse; because believe it or not, getting drunk on alcohol, by the definition of the term, is considered to be abuse. “Though absinthe is intriguing, it is alcohol in general we should worry about” (National Institutes of Health).

Health Related Issues From Absinthe

“As our knowledge of multiple organ damage, neurotoxicity, and diverse psychiatric sequelae of excessive alcohol use has increased, the possibility emerges that much of the syndrome of absinthism was actually acute alcohol intoxication, withdrawal, dependence, and other neuropsychiatric complications—major health and social problems, but not unique to absinthe” (National Institutes of Health).

High alcohol content can lead to health issues like alcoholic cardiomyopathy, cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure, brain damage, diabetes and more. What they’re basically saying is that alcohol abuse is the general problem here…

More About Alcohol Abuse

In reality alcohol abuse happens more than some of us care to admit. Alcohol abuse and binge drinking doesn’t always lead to disorders and diseases, but it sure makes them more likely. Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself to determine whether or not you might have an alcohol use disorder:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?
    (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)

How To Find Treatment For An Alcohol Use Disorder

Not everyone who drinks absinthe does so to excess, and absolutely not everyone will become an alcoholic either. Whether or not you have a problem is up to you. If you feel that you do, you’ve found yourself in the right place. If you have questions about a loved one’s potential problem with alcohol (or even your own) contact us today to speak to a caring professional, and to find out more about absinthe. Recovery from alcoholism might not be easy, but it can be simple.