Dipsomania is a historical term describing a medical condition involving an uncontrollable craving for alcohol. It was used in the 19th century to describe a variety of alcohol-related problems, most of which are most commonly conceptualized today as alcoholism, but it is occasionally still used to describe a particular condition of periodic, compulsive bouts of alcohol intake. The idea of dipsomania is important for its historical role in promoting a disease theory of chronic drunkenness. The word comes from Greek δίψα thirst and μανία mania. It is still mentioned in the WHO ICD10 as an alternative description for alcohol dependence syndrome, episodic use F10.26



The term was coined by the German physician C. W. Hufeland in 1819, when, in a preface to an influential book by German-Russian doctor C. von Brühl-Cramer,[1] he translated Brühl-Cramer's term Trunksucht as dipsomania.[2] [3][4] Brühl-Cramer classified dipsomania in terms of continuous, remittent, intermittent, periodic and mixed forms, and in his book he discussed its etiology, pathogenesis, sequelae, and treatment options, all influenced by prevailing ideas about the laws of chemistry and concepts of excitability.[5]

Due to the influence of Brühl-Cramer's pioneering work, dipsomania became popular in medical circles throughout the 19th century.[6] Political scientist Mariana Valverde describes dipsomania as "the most medical" of the many terms used to describe habitual drunkenness in the 19th century.[7] Along with terms such as inebriety, the idea of dipsomania was used as part of an effort of medical professionals and reformers to change attitudes about habitual drunkenness from being a criminally punishable vice to being a medically treatable disease.[8] As historian Roy MacLeod wrote about this dipsomania reform movement, it "illuminates certain features of the gradual transformation taking place in national attitudes towards the prevention and cure of social illnesses during the last quarter of the 19th century."[8]

Although dipsomania was used in a variety of somewhat contradictory ways by different individuals, by the late 19th century the term was usually used to describe a periodic or acute condition, in contrast to chronic drunkenness.[9] In his 1893 book Clinical Lessons on Mental Diseases: The Mental State of Dipsomania, Magnan characterized dipsomania as a crisis lasting from one day to two weeks, and consisted of a rapid and huge ingestion of alcohol or whatever other strong, excitatory liquid was available.[9] Magnan further described dipsomania as solitary alcohol abuse, with loss of all other interests, and these crises recurred at indeterminate intervals, separated by periods when the subject was generally sober.[9]

Over time, the term dipsomania became less common, replaced by newer ideas and terms concerning chronic and acute drunkenness and alcoholism.[10]

Famous dipsomaniacs

Examples in fiction

  • Sebastian Flyte, a character from the novel Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, memorably and sarcastically describes himself as a dipsomaniac: "If they treat me like a dipsomaniac, they can bloody well have a dipsomaniac." He is later called the same by his brother, and a "dipso" by one of the minor characters
  • Captain Archibald Haddock, a good friend of Tintin
  • Ramakant Malhotra, a stock character in Surender Mohan Pathak's novels
  • James O. Incandenza, a character in Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, described in the novel as having "crippling dipsomania".
  • Dwight Carson, a talented writer in The Fountainhead, is turned into a dipsomaniac on the whim of Gail Wynand.
  • Uncle John, a character in The Grapes of Wrath, exhibits the periodic, compulsive bouts of alcohol intake typical of dipsomania.
  • Eliot, a character in "The Magicians," by Lev Grossman, at one point refers to himself as a dipsomaniac.
  • Charlotte Merriam (actress who plays Mrs.Ritchey in the 1931 movie "Night Nurse") exclaims that she is a dipsomaniac several times when confronted by Barbra Stanwyck's character (Lora Hart) with the fact that Ritchey's daughter is dying from malnutrition. This is the Ritchey's defense as to why she hasn't done anything to help her young daughter.

See also


  1. ^ Hasso Spode: Die Macht der Trunkenheit. Sozial- und Kulturgeschichte des Alkohols, Opladen 1993, pp. 125ff.
  2. ^ The history of alcoholism: Brühl-Cramer's concepts and observations - KIELHORN - 2006 - Addiction - Wiley Online Library
  3. ^ Valverde, Mariana (1998). Diseases of the Will. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 48. ISBN 9780521644693. http://books.google.com/books?id=Kl5ugmvDgH0C&pg=PA48&lpg=PA48&dq=valentin+magnan+dipsomania&ct=result#PPA48,M1. 
  4. ^ Peters, Uwe Henrik. Lexikon Psychiatrie, Psychotherapie, Medizinische Psychologie. Dipsomania entry at Google Books.
  5. ^ Wiley.com journal
  6. ^ NLA record
  7. ^ Google book search
  8. ^ a b Extract at sagepub.com
  9. ^ a b c Dipsomania entry at Psychoanalysis Encyclopedia
  10. ^ Tracy, Sarah (2005). Alcoholism in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 31. ISBN 9780801881190. http://books.google.com/books?id=JkYyd4qmme0C&pg=PA31&q=dipsomania. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • dipsomanía — f. psiquiat. Impulso irresistible y morboso por el consumo de las bebidas alcohólicas, que se manifiesta de forma periódica e intermitente. Las crisis de dipsomanía suelen suceder después de un período depresivo, de abatimiento y de insomnio, y… …   Diccionario médico

  • Dipsomania — Dip so*ma ni*a, n. [NL., fr. Gr. ? thirst + ? mania.] (Med.) A morbid an uncontrollable craving (often periodic) for drink, esp. for alcoholic liquors; also improperly used to denote acute and chronic alcoholism. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • dipsomania — I noun acute alcoholism, addictedness, addiction, alcoholic addiction, alcoholism, bibacity, cacoethes, chronic alcoholism, compulsion, crapulence, craving for drink, drunkenness, ebriosity, excessive drinking, excessiveness, inebriation,… …   Law dictionary

  • dipsomania — 1843, morbid craving for alcohol, coined in medical Latin from Gk. dipsa thirst (of unknown origin) + MANIA (Cf. mania) …   Etymology dictionary

  • dipsomania — s. f. Excessiva propensão para beber …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • dipsomanía — sustantivo femenino 1. (no contable) Área: medicina Alcoholismo …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • dipsomanía — (Del gr. δίψα, sed, y manía). f. alcoholismo (ǁ abuso de bebidas alcohólicas) …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • dipsomania — ► NOUN ▪ alcoholism. DERIVATIVES dipsomaniac noun. ORIGIN from Greek dipsa thirst …   English terms dictionary

  • dipsomania — [dip΄sə mā′nē ə, dip΄səmān′yə] n. [ModL < Gr dipsa, thirst + MANIA] an abnormal and insatiable craving for alcoholic drink dipsomaniac [dip΄sə mā′nēak΄] n. dipsomaniacal [dip΄səmə nī′ə kəl] adj …   English World dictionary

  • dipsomanía — {{#}}{{LM D13544}}{{〓}} {{SynD13858}} {{[}}dipsomanía{{]}} ‹dip·so·ma·ní·a› {{《}}▍ s.f.{{》}} Tendencia irresistible al abuso de bebidas alcohólicas: • Para curar la dipsomanía hay que tener mucha fuerza de voluntad.{{○}}… …   Diccionario de uso del español actual con sinónimos y antónimos

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