I've heard that there were two common methods to disinfecting water in the past: boiling water or turning it into alcohol. Presumably, those in the East relied on boiling water, while those in the West relied on alcohol.
In the context of contaminated water supply, ethyl alcohol may indeed have been mother’s milk to a nascent Western civilization. Beer and wine were free of pathogens. And the antiseptic power of alcohol, as well as the natural acidity of wine and beer, killed many pathogens when the alcoholic drinks were diluted with the sullied water supply. Dating from the taming and conscious application of the fermentation process, people of all ages in the West have therefore consumed beer and wine, not water, as their major daily thirst quenchers.
The experience in the East differed greatly. For at least the past 2000 years, the practice of boiling water, usually for tea, has created a potable supply of nonalcoholic beverages. In addition, genetics played an important role in making Asia avoid alcohol: approximately half of all Asian people lack an enzyme necessary for complete alcohol metabolism, making the experience of drinking quite unpleasant. Thus, beer and wine took their place as staples only in Western societies and remained there until the end of the last century. (Source)
What I'm interested in is how those societies functioned if they had to rely on alcohol as a source of water, as compared to societies that relied on boiling water. Was the alcohol thinned down? Was it used only as an emergency source of water?
If they had indeed relied on alcohol, did those societies develop a genetic immunity to alcohol intoxication? Did it have health effects as compared to societies that relied on boiling water? Or was it treated in a manner similar to how modern societies drink carbonated water?