That alcohol is a poison is attested by all chemists and other scientific men; taken undiluted it destroys the vitality of the tissues of the body with which it comes in contact as readily as creosote, or pure carbolic acid. The term intoxicating applied to beverages containing it refers to its poisonous nature, the word being derived from the Greek toxicon, which signifies a bow or an arrow; the barbarians poisoned their arrows, hence, toxicum in Latin was used to signify poison; from this comes the English term toxicology, which is the science treating of poisons. Druggists in selling proof spirits usually label the bottle, “Poison.”
Sir B. W. Richardson says, “Alcohol produces many diseases; and it constantly happens that persons die of diseases which have their origin solely in the drinking of alcohol, while the cause itself is never for a moment suspected. A man may say quite truthfully that he never was tipsy in the whole course of his life; and yet it is quite possible that such a man may die of disease caused by the alcohol he has taken, and by no other cause whatever. This is one of the most dreadful evils of alcohol, that it kills insidiously, as if it were doing no harm, or as if it were doing good, while it is destroying life. Another great evil of it is that it assails so many different parts of the body. It hardly seems credible at first sight that the same agent can give rise to the many different kinds of diseases it does give rise to. In fact, the universality of its action has blinded even learned men as to its potency for destruction. All persons who indulge much in any form of alcoholic drink are troubled with indigestion. When they wake in the morning they find their mouth dry, their tongue coated, and their appetite bad. In course of time they become confirmed ‘dyspeptics,’ and as many of them find a temporary relief from the distress at the stomach, and the deficient appetite from which they suffer by taking more liquor, they increase the quantity taken, and so make matters much worse. There are a great number of diseases caused by alcohol, some of which are known by terms that do not convey to the mind what really has been the cause of the diseases. They are:
(a) Diseases of the brain and nervous system: indicated by such names as apoplexy, epilepsy, paralysis, vertigo, softening of the brain, delirium tremens, loss of memory and that general failure of the mental power called dementia.
(b) Diseases of the lungs: one form of consumption, congestion and subsequent bronchitis.
(c) Diseases of the heart: irregular beat, feebleness of the muscular walls, dilation, disease of the valves.
(d) Diseases of the blood: scurvy, dropsy, separation of fibrine.
(e) Diseases of the stomach: feebleness of the stomach and indigestion, flatulency, irritation and sometimes inflammation.
(f) Diseases of the bowels: relaxation or purging, irritation.
(g) Diseases of the liver: congestion, hardening and shrinking cirrhosis.
(h) Diseases of the kidneys: change of structure into fatty or waxy-like condition and other changes leading to dropsy.
(i) Diseases of the muscles: fatty changes in the muscles, by which they lose their power for proper active contraction.
(j) Diseases of the membranes of the body: thickening and loss of elasticity, by which the parts wrapped up in the membrane, are impaired for use, and premature decay is induced.”
But it constantly happens that when deaths from these diseases are recorded and alcohol has been the primary cause, some other cause is believed to have been at work. While drinking parents by virtue of a strong constitution sometimes escape the penalty of their bibulous habit, it is not uncommon to see their children suffering from some disease or nervous weakness such as is caused by alcohol, “the sins of the father being visited upon the children.”
In a paper read before the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, Oct. 22, 1872, Dr. W. Dickinson gave the following conclusions:
“Alcohol causes fatty infiltration and fibrous encroachments; it engenders tubercles; encourages suppuration, and retards healing; it produces untimely atheroma (a form of fatty degeneration of the inner coats of the arteries), invites hemorrhage, and anticipates old age. The most constant fatty changes, replacement by oil of the material of epithelial cells and muscular fibers, though probably nearly universal, are most noticeable in the liver, the heart and the kidneys. Drink causes tuberculosis which is evident not only in the lungs but in every amenable organ.”
Dr. William Hargreaves says, “Brandy is not a prophylactic. To the temperate it is an active, exciting cause. It is well known that a single act of intemperance during the prevalence of cholera will often produce a fatal attack. The sense of warmth and irritation (called stimulation) produced by alcoholic liquors, has led to the erroneous notion that they may prevent cholera. But the contrary we have seen is the truth, for the effects of alcoholics are to reduce the temperature of the body, and instead of stimulating, they narcotize, and reduce the life-forces, and predispose the system to all kinds of disease.
The body is made up mainly of cells, fibers and fluids. The cell is the most important structure in the living body. Life resides in the cell, and every animal may be considered a mass of cells, each of which is alive, and each of which has its own work to accomplish in the building up of the body. These cells, composing the mass of the body, being very delicate, are easily acted upon by substances coming into contact with them. If substances other than natural foods or drinks are introduced into the body, the cells are injuriously affected. Alcohol is especially injurious to cells, “retarding the changes in their interior, hindering their appropriation of food, and elimination of waste matters, and therefore preventing their proper development and growth.”
Sir B. W. Richardson says, “The common idea that alcohol acts as an aid to digestion is without foundation. Experiments on the artificial digestion of food, in which the natural process is closely, imitated show that the presence of alcohol in the solvents employed interferes with and weakens the efficacy of the solvents. It is also one of the most definite of facts that persons who indulge even in what is called the moderate use of alcohol suffer often from dyspepsia from this cause alone. In fact, it leads to the symptoms which, under the varied names of biliousness, nervousness, lassitude and indigestion, are so well and extensively known. From the paralysis of the minute blood-vessels which is induced by alcohol, there occurs, when alcohol is introduced into the stomach, injection of the vessels and redness of the mucous lining of the stomach. This is attended by the subjective feeling of a warmth or glow within the body, and according to some, with an increased secretion of the gastric fluids. It is urged by the advocates of alcohol that this action of alcohol on the stomach is a reason for its employment as an aid to digestion, especially when the digestive powers are feeble. At best this argument suggests only an artificial aid, which it cannot be sound practice to make permanent in place of the natural process of digestion. The blood is the great circulating market of the body, in which all the things that are wanted by all parts, by the muscles, the brain, the skin, the lungs, liver and kidneys, are bought and sold. What the muscles want they buy from the blood; what they have done with, they sell back to the blood; and so with every other organ and part. As long as life lasts this buying and selling is forever going on, and this is why the blood is forever on the move, sweeping restlessly from place to place, bringing to each part the thing it wants, and carrying away those with which it has done. When the blood ceases to move, the market is blocked, the buying and selling cease, and all the organs die, starved for lack of the things they want, choked by the abundance of things for which they have no longer any need.”
The cells and tissues of the body which are touched by alcohol are more or less hardened and injured by it, hence are less perfectly nourished than they are when alcohol is not present in the blood. Even a teaspoonful of alcohol to a ½ gallon of water hinders natural growth. If liquor is given to puppies it keeps them small. Young growing-cells are most affected by it, because they are most tender. There are growing-cells in adults as well as in children, for people are growing and changing all through their lives. Hence, when alcohol is administered in sickness the cells are hindered in the full performance of their function of taking up food for the building up of tissue, and as a consequence, the patient’s body is really robbed of nutriment by the agent which is supposed to be “keeping up his strength.”
Truly, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Alcohol not only hinders the blood in its work of tissue nutrition; it also prevents the full oxidation of the blood in the lungs. Alcohol, even in moderate doses, paralyzes the vasomotor nerves which control the minute blood-vessels, thus allowing these vessels to become dilated with the flowing blood. The liver is the first important organ, next to the stomach and bowels, to receive the poisonous influence of alcohol.
“If alcohol is used habitually, though only in small quantities at a time, the liver may become the seat of serious changes. There may be a great increase of fat deposited in the cells, producing what is called ‘fatty liver,’ or it may lead to a great increase of connective tissue (membrane) between the cells, and surrounding the blood-vessels. This newly-developed connective tissue gradually contracts, and in so doing crushes the cells and obstructs the blood-vessels, making the organ much smaller than natural, and causing the surface to be covered with little projecting knobs, consisting of portions of liver-tissue that have been less compressed than the part that separates them. The pressure upon the liver-cells and the destruction of many of them prevents the proper formation of bile and liver-sugar. The contraction of the newly-developed tissue, by obstructing the blood-vessels, interferes with the circulation. Malt liquors seem to produce fatty degeneration, while the stronger liquors cause the development of connective tissue.” — Tracy’s Physiology.
“The kidneys, being the chief organs for the excretion of nitrogen waste, are among the most important organs of the body. Any defect in their healthy activity leads to serious interference with the working of many organs, due to the accumulation in the body of nitrogenous waste products. If both kidneys be cut out of an animal, it dies in a few hours from blood-poisoning, due to the accumulation of waste poisonous substances which the kidneys should have got rid of. Serious kidney-disease amounts to pretty much the same thing as cutting out the organs, since they are of little use if not healthy. It is always fatal if not checked, and often kills in a short time. The things which most frequently cause kidney disease are undue exposure to cold, and indulgence in alcoholic drinks. Alcohol causes kidney-disease in several ways. In the first place it unduly excites the activity of the organs. Next, by impeding oxidation it interferes with the proper preparation of nitrogen wastes: they are brought to the kidneys in an unfit state for removal, and injure those organs. Third, when more than a small quantity of alcohol is taken, some of it is passed out of the body unchanged, through the kidneys, and injures their substance. The kidney-disease most commonly produced by alcohol is one kind of “Bright’s disease,” so called from the physician who first described it. The connective tissue of the organ grows in excess, and the true excreting kidney-substance dwindles away. At last the organ becomes quite unable to do its work, and death results. The three most common causes of Bright’s disease are an acute illness, as scarlet fever, of which it is a frequent result; sudden exposure to cold when warm (this often drives blood in excessive quantity from the skin to internal organs, and leads to kidney-disease); and the habitual drinking of alcoholic liquids.” — Dr. Newell Martin in The Human Body.
Dr. J. J. Ridge says of medical prescriptions, “Hundreds of medical men order alcoholic liquors from habit, from ignorance of their real effect, from fashion, or from a desire to please, or not to offend, their patients. Port-wine is constantly being ordered when persons are recovering from various diseases; day by day they regain their strength, and the port-wine gets all the credit of it, especially since each glass seems to diffuse a comfortable glow over the whole body. They forget that the process of recovery would have gone on without the port, and that hundreds and thousands of people do get well without it. They often ignore the fact that they are taking real tonics in addition. They are misled by the sensations which the alcohol causes; they do not know that it relaxes the blood-vessels instead of improving their tone; that it exhausts the heart by making it beat away more rapidly to no profit. Hence the convalescence is actually more prolonged than it would otherwise be.
Gentle exercise, regulated baths, good food, balmy sleep, these are the true restoratives of the exhausted system, and no jugglery with sedatives, such as alcohol, can produce the desired result. It is by its sedative action that alcohol has obtained its position in public opinion. It will render persons insensible to various uneasy sensations, and the majority prefer to continue the bad habits which produce the uneasy sensations, and then to take them away by a dose or two of some alcoholic liquor, or, indeed, to take this before the uneasy sensations come on. In this way they do themselves injury and make themselves unconscious of it. Dr. Beaumont, who had the opportunity of examining the interior of Alexis St. Martin’s stomach, and of seeing how digestion went on, was astonished to see how inflamed the mucous membrane could be without any consciousness of it. He observed, as a matter of fact, that alcoholic drinks of all kinds hindered the process of digestion, and produced this morbid condition of the mucous membrane.
The relief, therefore, which can be obtained by alcohol is delusive and dangerous. But some persons say they are afraid to abandon the use of alcohol because they have been in the habit of taking it for a long period. This fear is entirely groundless. The alcohol will be missed for a time, just as a person who has been using crutches would miss them if thrown away; but they will do better without both after a little while. There is no kind of constitution which renders a person unable to do without alcohol. The prisoners in all our jails have to leave off their drink at once, and altogether, on entering there, and no harm ever ensues in consequence. But some say that this is because their diet is so carefully arranged, and the hygienic condition of the prison so perfect. Quite so. This shows us clearly that when total abstainers become ill outside the prison, their illness is to be attributed to some error in diet or hygiene, or to some accidental circumstance. It is absurd to think that the infraction of one law of health can be nullified by breaking another; that if you eat too much, or too fast, or too often, or what is not good for you, you can escape the consequences by injuring yourself with alcohol.”
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Alcohol: A Dangerous and Unnecessary Medicine, How and Why, by Martha M. Allen)