IT CURSES THE BODY.
First as to the body. One would suppose, from the marred and scarred, and sometimes awfully disfigured forms and faces of men who have indulged in intoxicating drinks, which are to be seen everywhere and among all classes of society, that there would be no need of other testimony to show that alcohol is an enemy to the body. And yet, strange to say, men of good sense, clear judgment and quick perception in all moral questions and in the general affairs of life, are often so blind, or infatuated here, as to affirm that this substance, alcohol, which they use under the various forms of wine, brandy, whisky, gin, ale or beer, is not only harmless, when taken in moderation--each being his own judge as to what "moderation" means--but actually useful and nutritious!
Until within the last fifteen or twenty years, a large proportion of the medical profession not only favored this view, but made constant prescription of alcohol in one form or another, the sad results of which too often made their appearance in exacerbations of disease, or in the formation of intemperate habits among their patients. Since then, the chemist and the physiologist have subjected alcohol to the most rigid tests, carried on often for years, and with a faithfulness that could not be satisfied with guess work, or inference, or hasty conclusion.
ALCOHOL NOT A FOOD AND OF DOUBTFUL USE AS A MEDICINE.
As a result of these carefully-conducted and long-continued examinations and experiments, the medical profession stands to-day almost as a unit against alcohol; and makes solemn public declaration to the people that it "is not shown to have a definite food value by any of the usual methods of chemical analysis or physiological investigations;" and that as a medicine its range is very limited, admitting often of a substitute, and that it should never be taken unless prescribed by a physician.
Reports of these investigations to which we have referred have appeared, from time to time, in the medical journals of Europe and America, and their results are now embodied in many of the standard and most reliable treatises and text-books of the medical profession.
In this chapter we shall endeavor to give our readers a description of the changes and deteriorations which take place in the blood, nerves, membranes, tissues and organs, in consequence of the continued introduction of alcohol into the human body; and in doing so, we shall quote freely from medical writers, in order that our readers may have the testimony before them in its directest form, and so be able to judge for themselves as to its value.
And here, in order to give those who are not familiar with, the process of digestion, a clear idea of that important operation, and the effect produced when alcohol is taken with food, we quote from the lecture of an English physician, Dr. Henry Monroe, on "The Physiological Action of Alcohol." He says:
"Every kind of substance employed by man as food consists of sugar, starch, oil and glutinous matters, mingled together in various proportions; these are designed for the support of the animal frame. The glutinous principles of food--fibrine, albumen and casein--are employed to build up the structure; while the oil, starch and sugar are chiefly used to generate heat in the body.
"The first step of the digestive process is the breaking up of the food in the mouth by means of the jaws and teeth. On this being done, the saliva, a viscid liquor, is poured into the mouth from the salivary glands, and as it mixes with the food, it performs a very important part in the operation of digestion, rendering the starch of the food soluble, and gradually changing it into a sort of sugar, after which the other principles become more miscible with it. Nearly a pint of saliva is furnished every twenty-four hours for the use of an adult. When the food has been masticated and mixed with the saliva, it is then passed into the stomach, where it is acted upon by a juice secreted by the filaments of that organ, and poured into the stomach in large quantities whenever food comes in contact with its mucous coats. It consists of a dilute acid known to the chemists as hydrochloric acid, composed of hydrogen and chlorine, united together in certain definite proportions. The gastric juice contains, also, a peculiar organic-ferment or decomposing substance, containing nitrogen--something of the nature of yeast--termed pepsine, which is easily soluble in the acid just named. That gastric juice acts as a simple chemical solvent, is proved by the fact that, after death, it has been known to dissolve the stomach itself."
ALCOHOL RETARDS DIGESTION.
"It is an error to suppose that, after a good dinner, a glass of spirits or beer assists digestion; or that any liquor containing alcohol--even bitter beer--can in any way assist digestion. Mix some bread and meat with gastric juice; place them in a phial, and keep that phial in a sand-bath at the slow heat of 98 degrees, occasionally shaking briskly the contents to imitate the motion of the stomach; you will find, after six or eight hours, the whole contents blended into one pultaceous mass. If to another phial of food and gastric juice, treated in the same way, I add a glass of pale ale or a quantity of alcohol, at the end of seven or eight hours, or even some days, the food is scarcely acted upon at all. This is a fact; and if you are led to ask why, I answer, because alcohol has the peculiar power of chemically affecting or decomposing the gastric juice by precipitating one of its principal constituents, viz., pepsine, rendering its solvent properties much less efficacious. Hence alcohol can not be considered either as food or as a solvent for food. Not as the latter certainly, for it refuses to act with the gastric juice.
"'It is a remarkable fact,' says Dr. Dundas Thompson, 'that alcohol, when added to the digestive fluid, produces a white precipitate, so that the fluid is no longer capable of digesting animal or vegetable matter.' 'The use of alcoholic stimulants,' say Drs. Todd and Bowman, 'retards digestion by coagulating the pepsine, an essential element of the gastric juice, and thereby interfering with its action. Were it not that wine and spirits are rapidly absorbed, the introduction of these into the stomach, in any quantity, would be a complete bar to the digestion of food, as the pepsine would be precipitated from the solution as quickly as it was formed by the stomach.' Spirit, in any quantity, as a dietary adjunct, is pernicious on account of its antiseptic qualities, which resist the digestion of food by the absorption of water from its particles, in direct antagonism to chemical operation."
ITS EFFECT ON THE BLOOD.
Dr. Richardson, in his lectures on alcohol, given both in England and America, speaking of the action of this substance on the blood after passing from the stomach, says:
"Suppose, then, a certain measure of alcohol be taken into the stomach, it will be absorbed there, but, previous to absorption, it will have to undergo a proper degree of dilution with water, for there is this peculiarity respecting alcohol when it is separated by an animal membrane from a watery fluid like the blood, that it will not pass through the membrane until it has become charged, to a given point of dilution, with water. It is itself, in fact, so greedy for water, it will pick it up from watery textures, and deprive them of it until, by its saturation, its power of reception is exhausted, after which it will diffuse into the current of circulating fluid."
It is this power of absorbing water from every texture with which alcoholic spirits comes in contact, that creates the burning thirst of those who freely indulge in its use. Its effect, when it reaches the circulation, is thus described by Dr. Richardson:
"As it passes through the circulation of the lungs it is exposed to the air, and some little of it, raised into vapor by the natural heat, is thrown off in expiration. If the quantity of it be large, this loss may be considerable, and the odor of the spirit may be detected in the expired breath. If the quantity be small, the loss will be comparatively little, as the spirit will be held in solution by the water in the blood. After it has passed through the lungs, and has been driven by the left heart over the arterial circuit, it passes into what is called the minute circulation, or the structural circulation of the organism. The arteries here extend into very small vessels, which are called arterioles, and from these infinitely small vessels spring the equally minute radicals or roots of the veins, which are ultimately to become the great rivers bearing the blood back to the heart. In its passage through this minute circulation the alcohol finds its way to every organ. To this brain, to these muscles, to these secreting or excreting organs, nay, even into this bony structure itself, it moves with the blood. In some of these parts which are not excreting, it remains for a time diffused, and in those parts where there is a large percentage of water, it remains longer than in other parts. From some organs which have an open tube for conveying fluids away, as the liver and kidneys, it is thrown out or eliminated, and in this way a portion of it is ultimately removed from the body. The rest passing round and round with the circulation, is probably decomposed and carried off in new forms of matter.
"When we know the course which the alcohol takes in its passage through the body, from the period of its absorption to that of its elimination, we are the better able to judge what physical changes it induces in the different organs and structures with which it comes in contact. It first reaches the blood; but, as a rule, the quantity of it that enters is insufficient to produce any material effect on that fluid. If, however, the dose taken be poisonous or semi-poisonous, then even the blood, rich as it is in water--and it contains seven hundred and ninety parts in a thousand--is affected. The alcohol is diffused through this water, and there it comes in contact with the other constituent parts, with the fibrine, that plastic substance which, when blood is drawn, clots and coagulates, and which is present in the proportion of from two to three parts in a thousand; with the albumen which exists in the proportion of seventy parts; with the salts which yield about ten parts; with the fatty matters; and lastly, with those minute, round bodies which float in myriads in the blood (which were discovered by the Dutch philosopher, Leuwenhock, as one of the first results of microscopical observation, about the middle of the seventeenth century), and which are called the blood globules or corpuscles. These last-named bodies are, in fact, cells; their discs, when natural, have a smooth outline, they are depressed in the centre, and they are red in color; the color of the blood being derived from them. We have discovered in recent years that there exist other corpuscles or cells in the blood in much smaller quantity, which are called white cells, and these different cells float in the blood-stream within the vessels. The red take the centre of the stream; the white lie externally near the sides of the vessels, moving less quickly. Our business is mainly with the red corpuscles. They perform the most important functions in the economy; they absorb, in great part, the oxygen which we inhale in breathing, and carry it to the extreme tissues of the body; they absorb, in great part, the carbonic acid gas which is produced in the combustion of the body in the extreme tissues, and bring that gas back to the lungs to be exchanged for oxygen there; in short, they are the vital instruments of the circulation.
"With all these parts of the blood, with the water, fibrine, albumen, salts, fatty matter and corpuscles, the alcohol comes in contact when it enters the blood, and, if it be in sufficient quantity, it produces disturbing action. I have watched this disturbance very carefully on the blood corpuscles; for, in some animals we can see these floating along during life, and we can also observe them from men who are under the effects of alcohol, by removing a speck of blood, and examining it with the microscope. The action of the alcohol, when it is observable, is varied. It may cause the corpuscles to run too closely together, and to adhere in rolls; it may modify their outline, making the clear-defined, smooth, outer edge irregular or crenate, or even starlike; it may change the round corpuscle into the oval form, or, in very extreme cases, it may produce what I may call a truncated form of corpuscles, in which the change is so great that if we did not trace it through all its stages, we should be puzzled to know whether the object looked at were indeed a blood-cell. All these changes are due to the action of the spirit upon the water contained in the corpuscles; upon the capacity of the spirit to extract water from them. During every stage of modification of corpuscles thus described, their function to absorb and fix gases is impaired, and when the aggregation of the cells, in masses, is great, other difficulties arise, for the cells, united together, pass less easily than they should through the minute vessels of the lungs and of the general circulation, and impede the current, by which local injury is produced.
"A further action upon the blood, instituted by alcohol in excess, is upon the fibrine or the plastic colloidal matter. On this the spirit may act in two different ways, according to the degree in which it affects the water that holds the fibrine in solution. It may fix the water with the fibrine, and thus destroy the power of coagulation; or it may extract the water so determinately as to produce coagulation."
ON THE MINUTE CIRCULATION.
The doctor then goes on to describe the minute circulation through which the constructive material in the blood is distributed to every part of the body. "From this distribution of blood in these minute vessels," he says, "the structure of organs derive their constituent parts; through these vessels brain matter, muscle, gland, membrane, are given out from the blood by a refined process of selection of material, which, up to this time, is only so far understood as to enable us to say that it exists. The minute and intermediate vessels are more intimately connected than any other part with the construction and with the function of the living matter of which the body is composed. Think you that this mechanism is left uncontrolled? No; the vessels, small as they are, are under distinct control. Infinitely refined in structure, they nevertheless have the power of contraction and dilatation, which power is governed by nervous action of a special kind."
Now, there are certain chemical agents, which, by their action on the nerves, have the power to paralyze and relax these minute blood-vessels, at their extreme points. "The whole series of nitrates," says Dr. Richardson, "possess this power; ether possesses it; but the great point I wish to bring forth is, that the substance we are specially dealing with, alcohol, possesses the self-same power. By this influence it produces all those peculiar effects which in every-day life are so frequently illustrated."
PARALYZES THE MINUTE BLOOD-VESSELS.
It paralyzes the minute blood-vessels, and allows them to become dilated with the flowing blood.
"If you attend a large dinner party, you will observe, after the first few courses, when the wine is beginning to circulate, a progressive change in some of those about you who have taken wine. The face begins to get flushed, the eye brightens, and the murmur of conversation becomes loud. What is the reason of that flushing of the countenance? It is the same as the flush from blushing, or from the reaction of cold, or from the nitrite of amyl. It is the dilatation of vessels following upon the reduction of nervous control, which reduction has been induced by the alcohol. In a word, the first stage, the stage of vascular excitement from alcohol, has been established."
"The action of the alcohol extending so far does not stop there. With the disturbance of power in the extreme vessels, more disturbance is set up in other organs, and the first organ that shares in it is the heart. With each beat of the heart a certain degree of resistance is offered by the vessels when their nervous supply is perfect, and the stroke of the heart is moderated in respect both to tension and to time. But when the vessels are rendered relaxed, the resistance is removed, the heart begins to run quicker, like a watch from which the pallets have been removed, and the heart-stroke, losing nothing in force, is greatly increased in frequency, with a weakened recoil stroke. It is easy to account, in this manner, for the quickened heart and pulse which accompany the first stage of deranged action from alcohol, and you will be interested to know to what extent this increase of vascular action proceeds. The information on this subject is exceedingly curious and important."
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"The stage of primary excitement of the circulation thus induced lasts for a considerable time, but at length the heart flags from its overaction, and requires the stimulus of more spirit to carry it on in its work. Let us take what we may call a moderate amount of alcohol, say two ounces by volume, in form of wine, or beer, or spirits. What is called strong sherry or port may contain as much as twenty-five per cent. by volume. Brandy over fifty; gin, thirty-eight; rum, forty-eight; whisky, forty-three; vin ordeinaire, eight; strong ale, fourteen; champagne, ten to eleven; it matters not which, if the quantity of alcohol be regulated by the amount present in the liquor imbibed. When we reach the two ounces, a distinct physiological effect follows, leading on to that first stage of excitement with which we are now conversant. The reception of the spirit arrested at this point, there need be no important mischief done to the organism; but if the quantity imbibed be increased, further changes quickly occur. We have seen that all the organs of the body are built upon the vascular structures, and therefore it follows that a prolonged paralysis of the minute circulation must of necessity lead to disturbance in other organs than the heart."
OTHER ORGANS INVOLVED.
"By common observation, the flush seen on the cheek during the first stage of alcoholic excitation, is presumed to extend merely to the parts actually exposed to view. It cannot, however, be too forcibly impressed that the condition is universal in the body. If the lungs could be seen, they, too, would be found with their vessels injected; if the brain and spinal cord could be laid open to view, they would be discovered in the same condition; if the stomach, the liver, the spleen, the kidneys or any other vascular organs or parts could be exposed, the vascular engorgement would be equally manifest. In the lower animals, I have been able to witness this extreme vascular condition in the lungs, and there are here presented to you two drawings from nature, showing, one the lungs in a natural state of an animal killed by a sudden blow, the other the lungs of an animal killed equally suddenly, but at a time when it was under the influence of alcohol. You will see, as if you were looking at the structures themselves, how different they are in respect to the blood which they contained, how intensely charged with blood is the lung in which the vessels had been paralyzed by the alcoholic Spirit."
EFFECT ON THE BRAIN.
"I once had the unusual, though unhappy, opportunity of observing the same phenomenon in the brain structure of a man, who, in a paroxysm of alcoholic excitement, decapitated himself under the wheel of a railway carriage, and whose brain was instantaneously evolved from the skull by the crash. The brain itself, entire, was before me within three minutes after the death. It exhaled the odor of spirit most distinctly, and its membranes and minute structures were vascular in the extreme. It looked as if it had been recently injected with vermilion. The white matter of the cerebrum, studded with red points, could scarcely be distinguished, when it was incised, by its natural whiteness; and the pia-mater, or internal vascular membrane covering the brain, resembled a delicate web of coagulated red blood, so tensely were its fine vessels engorged.
"I should add that this condition extended through both the larger and the smaller brain, the cerebrum and cerebellum, but was not so marked in the medulla or commencing portion of the spinal cord."
THE SPINAL CORD AND NERVES.
"The action of alcohol continued beyond the first stage, the function of the spinal cord is influenced. Through this part of the nervous system we are accustomed, in health, to perform automatic acts of a mechanical kind, which proceed systematically even when we are thinking or speaking on other subjects. Thus a skilled workman will continue his mechanical work perfectly, while his mind is bent on some other subject; and thus we all perform various acts in a purely automatic way, without calling in the aid of the higher centres, except something more than ordinary occurs to demand their service, upon which we think before we perform. Under alcohol, as the spinal centres become influenced, these pure automatic acts cease to be correctly carried on. That the hand may reach any object, or the foot be correctly planted, the higher intellectual centre must be invoked to make the proceeding secure. There follows quickly upon this a deficient power of co-ordination of muscular movement. The nervous control of certain of the muscles is lost, and the nervous stimulus is more or less enfeebled. The muscles of the lower lip in the human subject usually fail first of all, then the muscles of the lower limbs, and it is worthy of remark that the extensor muscles give way earlier than the flexors. The muscles themselves, by this time, are also failing in power; they respond more feebly than is natural to the nervous stimulus; they, too, are coming under the depressing influence of the paralyzing agent, their structure is temporarily deranged, and their contractile power reduced.
"This modification of the animal functions under alcohol, marks the second degree of its action. In young subjects, there is now, usually, vomiting with faintness, followed by gradual relief from the burden of the poison."
EFFECT ON THE BRAIN CENTRES.
"The alcoholic spirit carried yet a further degree, the cerebral or brain centres become influenced; they are reduced in power, and the controlling influences of will and of judgment are lost. As these centres are unbalanced and thrown into chaos, the rational part of the nature of the man gives way before the emotional, passional or organic part. The reason is now off duty, or is fooling with duty, and all the mere animal instincts and sentiments are laid atrociously bare. The coward shows up more craven, the braggart more boastful, the cruel more merciless, the untruthful more false, the carnal more degraded. 'In vino veritas' expresses, even, indeed, to physiological accuracy, the true condition. The reason, the emotions, the instincts, are all in a state of carnival, and in chaotic feebleness.
"Finally, the action of the alcohol still extending, the superior brain centres are overpowered; the senses are beclouded, the voluntary muscular prostration is perfected, sensibility is lost, and the body lies a mere log, dead by all but one-fourth, on which alone its life hangs. The heart still remains true to its duty, and while it just lives it feeds the breathing power. And so the circulation and the respiration, in the otherwise inert mass, keeps the mass within the bare domain of life until the poison begins to pass away and the nervous centres to revive again. It is happy for the inebriate that, as a rule, the brain fails so long before the heart that he has neither the power nor the sense to continue his process of destruction up to the act of death of his circulation. Therefore he lives to die another day.
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"Such is an outline of the primary action of alcohol on those who may be said to be unaccustomed to it, or who have not yet fallen into a fixed habit of taking it: For a long time the organism will bear these perversions of its functions without apparent injury, but if the experiment be repeated too often and too long, if it be continued after the term of life when the body is fully developed, when the elasticity of the membranes and of the blood-vessels is lessened, and when the tone of the muscular fibre is reduced, then organic series of structural changes, so characteristic of the persistent effects of spirit, become prominent and permanent. Then the external surface becomes darkened and congested, its vessels, in parts, visibly large; the skin becomes blotched, the proverbial red nose is defined, and those other striking vascular changes which disfigure many who may probably be called moderate alcoholics, are developed. These changes, belonging, as they do, to external surfaces, come under direct observation; they are accompanied with certain other changes in the internal organs, which we shall show to be more destructive still."