HOW ALCOHOL CAUSES MENTAL AND MORAL CHANGES - part 2
In 1872, a select committee of the House of Commons, appointed "to consider the best plan for the control and management of habitual drunkards," called upon some of the most eminent medical men in Great Britain to give their testimony in answer to a large number of questions, embracing every topic within the range of inquiry, from the pathology of inebriation to the practical usefulness of prohibitory laws.
In this testimony much was said about the effect of alcoholic stimulation on the mental condition and moral character. One physician, Dr. James Crichton Brown, who, in ten years' experience as superintendent of lunatic asylums, has paid special attention to the relations of habitual drunkenness to insanity, having carefully examined five hundred cases, testified that alcohol, taken in excess, produced different forms of mental disease, of which he mentioned four classes:
1. Mania a potu , or alcoholic mania.
2. The monomania of suspicion.
3. Chronic alcoholism, characterized by failure of the memory and power of judgment, with partial paralysis generally ending fatally.
4. Dypsomania, or an irresistible craving for alcoholic stimulants, occuring very frequently, paroxysmally, and with constant liability to periodical exacerbations, when the craving becomes altogether uncontrollable. Of this latter form of disease, he says: "This is invariably associated with a certain impairment of the intellect, and of the affections and the moral powers ."
Dr. Alexander Peddie, a physician of over thirty-seven years' practice in Edinburgh, gave, in his evidence, many remarkable instances of the moral perversions that followed continued drinking.
Relation between insanity and drunkenness.
Dr. John Nugent said that his experience of twenty-six years among lunatics, led him to believe that there is a very close relation between the results of the abuse of alcohol and insanity. The population of Ireland had decreased, he said, two millions in twenty-five years, but there was the same amount of insanity now that there was before. He attributed this, in a great measure, to indulgence in drink.
Dr. Arthur Mitchell, Commissioner of Lunacy for Scotland, testified that the excessive use of alcohol caused a large amount of the lunacy, crime and pauperism of that country.
In some men, he said, habitual drinking leads to other diseases than insanity, because the effect is always in the direction of the proclivity, but it is certain that there are many in whom there is a clear proclivity to insanity, who would escape that dreadful consummation but for drinking; excessive drinking in many persons determining the insanity to which they are, at any rate, predisposed .
The children of drunkards, he further said, are in a larger proportion idiotic than other children, and in a larger proportion become themselves drunkards; they are also in a larger proportion liable to the ordinary forms of acquired insanity.
Dr. Winslow Forbes believed that in the habitual drunkard the whole nervous structure, and the brain especially, became poisoned by alcohol. All the mental symptoms which you see accompanying ordinary intoxication, he remarks, result from the poisonous effects of alcohol on the brain.
It is the brain which is mainly effected. In temporary drunkenness, the brain becomes in an abnormal state of alimentation, and if this habit is persisted in for years, the nervous tissue itself becomes permeated with alcohol, and organic changes take place in the nervous tissues of the brain, producing that frightful and dreadful chronic insanity which we see in lunatic asylums, traceable entirely to habits of intoxication .
A large percentage of frightful mental and brain disturbances can, he declared, be traced to the drunkenness of parents.
Dr. D.G. Dodge, late of the New York State Inebriate Asylum, who, with. Dr. Joseph Parrish, gave testimony before the committee of the House of Commons, said, in one of his answers: "With the excessive use of alcohol, functional disorder will invariably appear, and no organ will be more seriously affected, and possibly impaired, than the brain.
This is shown in the inebriate by a weakened intellect, a general debility of the mental faculties , a partial or total loss of self-respect, and a departure of the power of self-command; all of which, acting together, place the victim at the mercy of a depraved and morbid appetite, and make him utterly powerless, by his own unaided efforts, to secure his recovery from the disease which is destroying him." And he adds: "I am of opinion that there is a "great similarity between inebriety and insanity.
"I am decidedly of opinion that the former has taken its place in the family of diseases as prominently as its twin-brother insanity; and, in my opinion, the day is not far distant when the pathology of the former will be as fully understood and as successfully treated as the latter, and even more successfully, since it is more within the reach and bounds of human control, which, wisely exercised and scientifically administered, may prevent curable inebriation from verging into possible incurable insanity."
General impairment of the faculties.
Dr. Richardson, speaking of the action of alcohol on the mind, gives the following sad picture of its ravages:
"An analysis of the condition of the mind induced and maintained by the free daily use of alcohol as a drink, reveals a singular order of facts. The manifestation fails altogether to reveal the exaltation of any reasoning power in a useful or satisfactory direction.
I have never met with an instance in which such a claim for alcohol has been made. On the contrary, confirmed alcoholics constantly say that for this or that work, requiring thought and attention, it is necessary to forego some of the usual potations in order to have a cool head for hard work.
"On the other side, the experience is overwhelmingly in favor of the observation that the use of "alcohol sells the reasoning powers, "make weak men and women the easy prey of the wicked and strong, and leads men and women who should know better into every grade of misery and vice.
If, then, alcohol enfeebles the reason, what part of the mental constitution does it exalt and excite? It excites and exalts those animal, organic, emotional centres of mind which, in the dual nature of man, so often cross and oppose that pure and abstract reasoning nature which lifts man above the lower animals, and rightly exercised, little lower than the angels.
It excites man's worst passions.
Exciting these animal centres, it lets loose all the passions, and gives them more or less of unlicensed dominion over the man. It excites anger, and when it does not lead to this extreme, it keeps the mind fretful, irritable, dissatisfied and captious....
And if I were to take you through all the passions, love, hate, lust, envy, avarice and pride, I should but show you that alcohol ministers to them all; that, paralyzing the reason, it takes from off these passions that fine adjustment of reason, which places man above the lower animals. From the beginning to the end of its influence it subdues reason and sets the passions free. The analogies, physical and mental, are perfect.
That which loosens the tension of the vessels which feed the body with due order and precision, and, thereby, lets loose the heart to violent excess and unbridled motion, loosens, also, the reason and lets loose the passion. In both instances, heart and head are, for a time, out of harmony; their balance broken. The man descends closer and closer to the lower animals. From the angels he glides farther and farther away.
A sad and terrible picture.
The destructive effects of alcohol on the human mind present, finally, the saddest picture of its influence. The most aesthetic artist can find no angel here. All is animal, and animal of the worst type. Memory irretrievably lost, words and very elements of speech forgotten or words displaced to have no meaning in them. Rage and anger persistent and mischievous, or remittent and impotent.
Fear at every corner of life, distrust on every side, grief merged into blank despair, hopelessness into permanent melancholy. Surely no Pandemonium that ever poet dreamt of could equal that which would exist if all the drunkards of the world were driven into one mortal sphere.
As I have moved among those who are physically stricken with alcohol, and have detected under the various disguises of name the fatal diseases, the pains and penalties it imposes on the body, the picture has been sufficiently cruel. But even that picture pales, as I conjure up, without any stretch of imagination, the devastations which the same agent inflicts on the mind. Forty per cent., the learned Superintendent of Colney Hatch, Dr. Sheppard, tells us, of those who were brought into that asylum in 1876, were so brought because of the direct or indirect effects of alcohol.
If the facts of all the asylums were collected with equal care, the same tale would, I fear, be told. What need we further to show the destructive action on the human mind? The Pandemonium of drunkards; the grand transformation scene of that pantomime of drink which commences with, moderation! Let it never more be forgotten by those who love their fellow-men until, through their efforts, it is closed forever."
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