Alcohol: a dangerous and Unnecessary Medicine

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Alcohol: A Dangerous and Unnecessary Medicine

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What Medical Writers Say



Superintendent of the Department of Medical Temperance for the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union

Published by the




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Discovery of distillation--First American investigator of effects of alcohol--Medical Declarations--Sir B. W. Richardson's researches--Scientific Temperance Instruction in American Schools--Committee of Fifty 9



How the Opposition began--Memorial to International Medical Congress--Origin of Medical Temperance Department--Objects of the department--Public agitation against patent medicines originated by the department--Laws of Georgia, Alabama and Kansas on Medical prescription of alcohol 21



Alcohol a poison--Sudden deaths from brandy--Changes in liver, kidneys, heart, blood-vessels and nerves caused by alcohol--Beer and wine as harmful as the stronger drinks--Alcohol causes indigestion--Other diseases caused by alcohol--Deaths from alcoholism in Switzerland 28



The London Temperance Hospital--Methods of treatment--The Frances E. Willard Temperance Hospital, Chicago--"As a beverage" in the pledge--Address by Miss Frances E. Willard at opening of hospital--The Red Cross Hospital--Clara Barton and non-alcoholic medication--Reports of treatment in Red Cross Hospital--Use of Alcohol declining in other hospitals 37



The body composed of cells--Effect of alcohol on cells--Alcohol and Digestion--Effects on the blood--The heart--The liver--The kidneys--Incipient Bright's disease recovered from by total abstinence--Retards oxidation and elimination of waste matters--Lengthens duration of sickness and increases mortality 58



Medical use of alcohol a bulwark of the liquor traffic--Alcohol not a Food--Alcohol reduces temperature--Food principle of grains and fruits destroyed by fermentation--Alcohol not a Stimulant--Experiments proving this--Alcohol not a tonic--Professor Atwater on Alcohol as Food 96



Strong tinctures rouse desire for drink in reformed inebriates--Glycerine and acetic acid to preserve drugs--Non-alcohol tinctures in use at London Temperance Hospital--Sale of liquor in drug-stores condemned by pharmacists 131



Alcoholic Craving--Anæmia--Apoplexy--Boils and Carbuncle--Catarrh--Hay-Fever--Colds--Colic--Cholera--Cholera Infantum--Consumption--Displacements--Debility--Diarrhoea-- Dysentery--Dyspepsia--Fainting--Fits--Flatulence--Headache-- Hemorrhage--Heart Disease--Heart Failure--Insomnia--La Grippe--Measles--Malaria--Neuralgia--Nausea--Pneumonia--Pain After Food--Snake-bite--Rheumatism--Spasms--Shock--Sudden Illness--Sunstroke--Typhoid Fever--Vomiting 140



Beer not good for nursing mothers--Helpful diet--Opinions of medical men--Analysis of milk of a temperate woman--Of a drinking woman--Advice of Dr. James Edmunds, of the Lying-In Hospital, London--How to feed the baby--Case of a young mother who used beer--Nathan S. Davis on beer and gin 234



Fewer deaths in smallpox hospitals without alcohol--200 cases of scarlet fever without alcohol--Non-alcoholic treatment of fevers with less than 5 per cent. death-rate--Report of cases in English and Scotch hospitals--340 cases of typhus--London Lancet articles on typhoid--Mercy Hospital, Chicago--Death-rates in pneumonia and typhoid in large hospitals--Sir B. W. Richardson's report of practice 247



Researches of Abbott--Vital Resistance lowered by alcohol--Experiments upon Urinary Toxicity--Effect of alcohol upon the guardian-cells of the body--Dr. Sims Woodhead on immunity--Deléarde's experiments at the Pasteur Institute--Dr. A. Pearce Gould on alcohol and cancer--Delirium in illness caused by alcohol 262



Public often demand it--Lack of knowledge of true nature of alcohol--Alcohol given undeserved credit for recoveries--Use of alcohol results from custom--Education of the people in teachings of non-alcoholic physicians necessary--Prescription of alcohol a matter of routine--Two examples 291



The Pure Food Law--The guarantee--Newspaper opposition to the law--Headache remedies--Fake testimonials--Dangers of soothing syrups and morphine cough syrups--Fraud orders issued by Post-Office Department--Internal Revenue Department and Patent Medicines--Proprietary "Foods" strongly alcoholic--Alcoholic Cod-Liver Oil preparations--Australia's Royal Commission on Patent Medicines--Committee on Pharmacy analyses--Malt extracts--Coca Wines--Advertising, the strength of the Nostrum business--An effectual remedy 299



Drugs do not cure disease--Nature cures--Opinions of drug medication of prominent physicians--La grippe caused by drug taking--Coal-tar drugs--Quinine--Sir Frederick Treves on disuse of drugs--People demand drugs of physicians--Mothers make drug victims of their children--Habit-producing drugs--Causes of drug-taking--How to be well 335



No need for substitutes for alcohol--Alcohol hides symptoms of disease--Responsibility of physicians--Opinions of many teachers in medical colleges--Hot milk better than alcohol--Journal of the American Medical Association on researches of Abbott and Laitinen--Resolution against alcohol of West Virginia Medical Society--Dr. Knox Bond on Scarlet Fever--Metchnikoff on white blood-cells--Kassowitz describes his treatment of fevers--Sims Woodhead's opinions--Opinions of German Physicians--Dr. Harvey blames medical profession for careless use of alcohol and opium--Use of Alcohol declining rapidly in medical practice 356



Experiments of Laitinen--Resistance of blood-cells to disease lowered by alcohol--International Congress on Alcoholism, London, 1909--Alcohol and Immunity--Effect of Alcohol Drinking on Human Off-spring--Researches of Kraepelin and Aschaffenberg--Economic losses by reduced work through beer and wine drinking--Researches of Dr. Reid Hunt--Mice given alcohol killed by small doses of poison--Difference in effect of alcohol and starch foods--Chittenden on food theory of alcohol--Researches of Dr. S. P. Beebe--Liver impaired by alcohol--Dr. Winfield S. Hall's interpretation of the researches of Beebe and Hunt--Oxidation of alcohol by liver a protective action--Researches show that alcohol is a poison, not a food 392



Alcohol Baths--Beverages for the Sick--Tobacco and the Eyesight--Advertised "Cures" for Drunkenness--How to quit drinking--Dr. T. D. Crothers' remedy for drink crave--Alcohol and Children--Alcohol Tested--Beer-Drinking Injurious to Health--Drug Drinks--Special Directions for Women--Total Abstinence and Life Insurance--Opinions of Life Insurance Companies on drinkers as risks 410


This book is the outcome of many years of study. With the exception of a few quotations, none of the material has ever before appeared in any book. The writer has been indebted for years past to many of the physicians mentioned in the following pages for copies of pamphlets and magazines, and for newspaper articles, bearing upon the medical study of alcohol. Indeed, had it not been for the kindly counsels and hearty co-operation of physicians, she could never have accomplished all that was laid upon her to do as a state and national superintendent of Medical Temperance for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She is also under obligation for helps received from the secretaries of several State Boards of Health, and from eminent chemists and pharmacists.

The object of the book is to put into the hands of the people a statement of the views regarding the medical properties of alcohol held by those physicians who make little, or no use of this drug. In most cases their views are given in their own language, so that the book is, of necessity, largely a compilation.

It is hoped that while the laity may be glad to peruse these pages because of the very useful and interesting information to be obtained from them, the medical profession, also, may be pleased to find, in brief form, the teachings of some of their most distinguished brethren upon a question now frequently up for discussion in society meetings.

The writer does not presume to set forth her own opinions upon a question which is still a subject of dispute among the members of a learned profession; she simply culls from the writings of those members of that profession who, having made thorough examination of the claims of alcohol, have decided that this drug, as ordinarily used, is more harmful than beneficial, and that medical practice would be upon a higher plane, were it driven entirely from the pharmacopoeia.


When the first edition of this book was published in 1900, there were only a few leading physicians either in Europe or America who were ready to condemn the medical use of alcohol. Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson, Sims Woodhead, and a few others in England; Forel, Kassowitz and one or two more on the Continent, and Nathan S. Davis, T. D. Crothers and J. H. Kellogg, in America, were about all that could be quoted largely as opposed to alcoholic liquors as remedies in disease. Whisky was then looked upon as necessary in the treatment of consumption and diphtheria. Ten years have brought about a great change. There are many American physicians now willing to admit that they have very little or no use for alcoholic liquors as remedial agents, and now, instead of recommending whisky for consumption anti-tuberculosis literature almost everywhere warns against the use of intoxicating drinks. The use of anti-toxin in diphtheria has driven out whisky treatment in that disease with markedly favorable results. Under the whisky treatment death-rates ran up to fifty-five and sixty per cent.; now the diphtheria death-rate is very low. Ten years ago many good authorities still ranked alcohol as a stimulant; now, almost all rank it as a depressant. In England, leading physicians and surgeons have spoken so strongly against alcohol in the last few years that the London Times, England's leading newspaper, said: "According to recent developments of scientific opinion, it is not impossible that a belief in the strengthening and supporting qualities of alcohol will eventually become as obsolete as a belief in witchcraft."

So far as the writer can learn from replies sent to her inquiries by teachers of medicine, and by study of text-books on medicine, and articles in good medical journals, alcohol now has only a very limited use in medicine with the great majority of successful physicians. Some recommend wine in diabetes mellitus, saying that it acts less like a poison and more like a food in that disease than in any other. Some use alcoholic liquors in fevers as a food "to save the burning of tissue," but an article on "Therapeutics" in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for November 6, 1909, page 1564, says that sugar would probably have equal value in such case. The same article says that hot baths, with hot lemonade, and a quickly acting cathartic, will abort a cold without any need of recourse to alcohol.

The writer wishes here to make grateful acknowledgment of courtesies received from busy physicians who have aided materially in her work by answering personal letters of inquiry, also letters published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, by kindness of the editor. Especially would she thank those professors of medicine and superintendents of large hospitals, who so courteously aided her in preparing a paper for the International Congress on Alcoholism, held in London, July, 1909, to which she was a delegate, representing the United States government. A few of the replies received at that time are given in this book. There was not room for all.

She wishes also to acknowledge kindness and much help received from pharmacists and druggists in the fight against dangerous patent medicines and drug drinks sold at soda fountains. The Druggists' Circular, of New York, deserves special mention in this connection.

It has been necessary to make many changes in this edition because of the changing views on alcohol and the publicity on patent medicines. Physicians will find Chapter XVI entirely new, and of great interest.

M. M. A.

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The only intoxicating drinks known to the ancients were wines and beers. That these were used for medicinal as well as beverage purposes is evident from sacred and secular history. About the tenth century of the Christian era, an Arabian alchemist discovered the art of distillation, by which the active principle of fermented liquors could be drawn off and separated. To the spirit thus produced the name alcohol was given. A plausible reason cited for this name is that the Arabian for evil spirit is Al ghole, and the effects of the mysterious liquid upon men suggested demoniacal possession.

Medical knowledge at this time was very limited: there was no accurate way of determining the real nature of the new substance, nor its action upon the human system. It could be judged only by its seeming effects. As these were pleasing, it was supposed that a great medical discovery had been made. The alchemists had been seeking a panacea for all the ills to which flesh is heir, indeed for something which would enable men even to defy Death, and the subtle new spirit was eagerly proclaimed as the long-looked-for cure-all, if not the very aqua vitæ itself. Physicians introduced it to their patients, and were lavish in their praises of its curative powers. The following is quoted from the writings of Theoricus, a prominent German of the sixteenth century, as an example of medical opinion of alcohol in his day:--

"It sloweth age, it strengtheneth youth, it helpeth digestion, it cutteth phlegme, it cureth the hydropsia, it healeth the strangurie, it pounces the stone, it expelleth gravel, it keepeth the head from whirling, the teeth from chattering, and the throat from rattling; it keepeth the weasen from stiffling, the stomach from wambling, and the heart from swelling; it keepeth the hands from shivering, the sinews from shrinking, the veins from crumbling, the bones from aching, and the marrow from soaking."

Being a medicine, which very rapidly creates a craving for itself, the demand for it became enormous, and, as time advanced, people began prescribing it for themselves, until its use both as medicine and beverage became almost general.

If the medical profession is responsible for the wide-spread belief that alcoholics are of service to mankind both as food and medicine, it should not be forgotten that it is to members of the same profession the world is indebted for the correction of these errors. All down through the centuries there have been physicians who doubted and opposed its claims to merit. It remained for the medical science of the latter half of the nineteenth century to clearly demonstrate with nicely adjusted chemical apparatus and appliances the wisdom of these doubts.

The scientific study of the effects of alcohol upon the human body began about sixty years ago. The first American investigator was Dr. Nathan S. Davis, of Chicago, who was the founder of the American Medical Association. During the months of May, June, July, September and October, 1848, Dr. Davis published in the Annalist, a monthly medical journal of New York City, a series of articles controverting the universal opinion that alcoholic drinks are warming, strengthening and nourishing. In 1850 he executed an extensive series of experiments to determine the effects of a diet exclusively carbonaceous (starch), one exclusively nitrogenous (albumen), and alcohol (brandy and wine), on the temperature of the living body; on the quantity of carbonic acid exhaled; and on the circulation of the blood. The results of these investigations were embodied in a paper read before the American Medical Association in May, 1851. They showed that alcohol, instead of increasing animal heat, and promoting nutrition and strength, actually produced directly opposite effects, reducing temperature, the amount of carbonic acid exhaled, and the muscular strength. So opposed were these conclusions to the generally accepted teachings of the day that the Association did not refer the paper to the committee of publication. It was published later in the Northwestern Medical and Surgical Journal.

In 1854 Dr. Davis published one of the most remarkable of the numerous works which have come from his prolific pen; it was entitled, "A Lecture on the Effects of Alcoholic Drinks on the Human System, and the Duty of Medical Men in Relation Thereto." This lecture was delivered in Rush Medical College, Chicago, on Christmas, 1854. An appendix to the work contained a full account of the series of original experiments which the author had been conducting in relation to the effect of alcohol upon respiration and animal heat, and gave the same conclusions as those presented before the A. M. A. several years previously. These experiments laid the foundation for the scientific study of the physiological effects of alcohol; and their bearing upon the study of the temperance question can even yet scarcely be appreciated. They were the first experiments which showed conclusively that the effect of alcohol is not that of a stimulant, but the opposite.

In 1855 Prof. R. D. Mussey, of Vermont, read an able paper before the American Medical Association upon "The Effects of Alcohol in Health and Disease," in which he said, "So long as alcohol retains its place among sick patients, so long will there be drunkards."

In England as early as 1802, Dr. Beddoes pointed out the dangers attendant upon the social and medical use of intoxicating drinks, laying stress upon "The enfeebling power of small portions of wine regularly drunk." In 1829 Dr. John Cheyne, Physician General to the forces in Ireland said:--

"The benefits which have been supposed from their liberal use in medicine, and especially in those diseases which are vulgarly supposed to depend upon mere weakness, have invested these agents with attributes to which they have no claim, and hence, as we physicians no longer employ them as we were wont to do, we ought not to rest satisfied with the mere acknowledgment of error, but we ought also to make every retribution in our power for having so long upheld one of the most fatal delusions that ever took possession of the human mind."

Dr. Higginbotham, F. R. S., of Nottingham, a keen and able clinical practitioner, abandoned the prescription of alcohol in 1832, saying:--

"I have amply tried both ways. I gave alcohol in my practice for twenty years, and have now practiced without it for the last thirty years or more. My experience is, that acute disease is more readily cured without it, and chronic diseases much more manageable. I have not found a single patient injured by the disuse of alcohol, or a constitution requiring it; indeed, to find either, although I am in my seventy-seventh year, I would walk fifty miles to see such an unnatural phenomenon. If I ordered or allowed alcohol in any form, either as food or as medicine, to a patient, I should certainly do it with a felonious intent."--Ipswich Tracts. No. 346.

In 1839 Dr. Julius Jeffreys drew up a medical declaration which was signed by seventy-eight leaders of medicine and surgery. This document declared the opinion to be erroneous that wine, beer or spirit was beneficial to health; that even in the most moderate doses, alcoholic drinks did no good. This, of course, dealt only with the beverage use of alcoholics. In 1847 a second declaration was originated, signed by over two thousand of the most eminent physicians and surgeons. This also referred only to liquor as a beverage. In 1871 a third declaration, signed by two hundred and sixty-nine of the leading members of the medical profession was published in the London Times.

This declaration was in part as follows:--

"As it is believed that the inconsiderate prescription of large quantities of alcoholic liquids by medical men for their patients has given rise, in many instances, to the formation of intemperate habits, the undersigned, while unable to abandon the use of alcohol in the treatment of certain cases of disease, are yet of opinion that no medical practitioner should prescribe it without a sense of grave responsibility.

"They are also of opinion that many people immensely exaggerate the value of alcohol as an article of diet, and they hold that every medical practitioner is bound to exert his utmost influence to inculcate habits of great moderation in the use of alcoholic liquids."

In the same year the American Medical Association passed a resolution that "alcohol should be classed with other powerful drugs, and when prescribed medically, it should be done with conscientious caution, and a sense of great responsibility."

The physicians of New York, Brooklyn and vicinity not long afterward published a declaration practically the same as that of the A. M. A., adding: "We are of opinion that the use of alcoholic liquor as a beverage is productive of a large amount of physical disease."

The publication of these later declarations was the beginning of a marked change in the medical use of alcohol.

In England the scientific temperance movement began with Dr. B. W. Richardson, afterwards knighted by Queen Victoria for his great services to humanity as a medical philanthropist. Dr. Richardson's success in bringing before physicians the remarkable medicinal agent known as nitrite of amyl, led to a request from the British Association for the Advancement of Science that he investigate other chemical substances. The result was that several years of study, beginning with 1863, were given to the physiological effects of various alcohols, ethylic alcohol, which is the active principle in wines, beers and other intoxicating drinks, receiving special attention.

The following is taken from his "Results of Researches on Alcohol":--

"In my hands ethylic alcohol and other bodies of the same group; viz. methylic, propylic, butylic, and amylic alcohols were tested purely from the physiological point of view. They were tested exclusively as chemical substances apart from any question as to their general use and employment, and free from all bias for or against their influence on mankind for good or for evil.

"The method of research that was pursued was the same that had been followed in respect to nitrite of amyl, chloroform, ether, and other chemical substances, and it was in the following order: First, the mode in which living bodies would take up or absorb the substance was considered. This settled, the quantity necessary to produce a decided physiological change was ascertained, and was estimated in relation to the weight of the living body on which the observation was made. After these facts were ascertained the special action of the agent was investigated on the blood, on the motion of the heart, on the respiration, on the minute circulation of the blood, on the digestive organs, on the secreting and excreting organs, on the nervous system and brain, on the animal temperature and on the muscular activity. By these processes of inquiry, each specially carried out, I was enabled to test fairly the action of the different chemical agents that came before me. * * * * *

"The results of these researches were that I learned purely by experimental observation that, in its action on the living body, alcohol deranges the constitution of the blood; unduly excites the heart and respiration; paralyzes the minute blood-vessels; disturbs the regularity of nervous action; lowers the animal temperature, and lessens the muscular power.

"Such, independent of any prejudice of party or influence of sentiment, are the unanswerable teachings of the sternest of all evidences, the evidences of experiment, of natural fact revealed to man by testing of natural phenomena."

When Dr. Richardson reported to the Association for the Advancement of Science the results of his researches so at variance with commonly accepted ideas, the Association was as incredulous as the American Medical Association had been in 1851 when Dr. Davis gave a similar report, and Dr. Richardson's paper was returned to him for correction.

It should be stated here that Dr. Richardson was not a total abstainer when he began his study of the effects of alcohol, but became an ardent and enthusiastic advocate of total abstinence, and later of non-alcoholic medication, because of what he learned by his experiments with this drug. He was the first to suggest that scientific temperance be taught in the public schools, and he prepared the first text-book ever published for this purpose. In 1874 he delivered his famous "Cantor Lectures on Alcohol," by request of the Society of Arts. This series of lectures created a sensation, being attended by crowds of people, as it was the first time that any physician of eminence had spoken from experimental evidence in favor of total abstinence.

The agitation begotten in medical circles by the discussion of Dr. Richardson's researches upon alcohol led to extensive experimenting upon the same line by scientists of England, Continental Europe and America. The efforts of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union of the United States, led by that intrepid woman, Mrs. Mary H. Hunt, to introduce scientific temperance instruction into public schools gave impetus to the study in this country. The call for text-books caused publishers to request professors in medical colleges to make minute research into the nature and effects of alcohol, that the demands of the new educational law might be met. The bitter opposition to these temperance education laws was a great stimulant to the scientific study of alcohol, for it was hoped by many that the teachings regarding the deleterious effects of alcohol might be proved incorrect. Unfortunately for the lovers of the bibulous, the proof was all the other way; great medical men could not be bought by distillers or brewers to tell anything but the truth, and the truth of experimental research was all against alcohol. The text-books endorsed by Mrs. Hunt and her advisory committee being assailed again and again as containing erroneous teaching, were finally, in 1897, submitted to an examining committee of medical experts, nearly all of whom were connected with medical colleges. This committee consisted of Dr. N. S. Davis, Sr., of Chicago, Ill.; Dr. Leartus Connor, of Detroit, Michigan; Dr. Henry Q. Marcy, of Boston, Mass.; Dr. E. E. Montgomery, of Philadelphia, Pa.; Dr. Henry D. Holton, of Brattleboro, Vt.; and Dr. George F. Shrady, of New York City. From their reports upon the books the following is culled:--

"I find no errors in the teaching of any of them on this subject."

"No statement was found at variance with the most reliable studies of especially competent investigators."

"I was asked to point out any errors in these books which need correcting. I find no such errors."

"I find their teaching completely in accordance with the facts determined through scientific experimentation and investigation."

"I find them to be in substantial accord with the results of the latest scientific investigations."

Dr. Baer, of Berlin, Germany, the foremost European specialist on the subject treated in these text-books, has recently subjected the books to rigid examination. He says in his report upon them:--

"On the basis of the examination I have made I can assert that the above mentioned school text-books, (the endorsed physiologies), in respect to their statements regarding alcoholic drinks contain no teachings which are not in harmony with the attitude of strict science."

Still the opposers of the text-books were not satisfied, and a self constituted Committee of Fifty undertook an investigation. Men of unquestioned ability were chosen to make researches, but the result of their investigations was so different from what was looked for, that, with the exception of Professor Atwater's contention for the food value of alcohol, the report of the Committee of Fifty did not stir up much controversy.

The school text-books deal exclusively with the effects of alcohol used as a beverage; for obvious reasons this is all they can do. But as intoxicating drinks have been generally supposed to contain great virtue as remedial agents, this phase of their nature and effects has not been overlooked by those pursuing inquiries concerning them. While full agreement has not yet been reached by experts as to the value of alcoholic liquids as medicines, it is noteworthy that some of the most eminent investigators were led to drop alcohol from their pharmaceutical outfit, and the remainder to admit that its sphere of usefulness is extremely limited.

There are now medical colleges of high standing where students are advised against the use of alcohol as a remedy; hospitals are gradually using it less and less, some entirely discarding it; and many progressive physicians, while saying nothing as to their position upon the alcohol question, yet show their lack of faith in this drug by ignoring it unless patients or their friends desire it.

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