Next, I will give an example of kleptomania. Many years ago I knew a very intelligent, industrious and talented young man who told me that whenever he drank he had difficulty in resisting the temptation to steal anything that came in his way; but at other times these feelings never troubled him. One afternoon, after he and his workmates had indulged in drinking, his will was unfortunately overwhelmed, and he took some valuable articles from the mansion where he was working, for which he was charged and afterwards sentenced to imprisonment. After gaining his freedom, he was fortunate enough to be placed among some good-hearted people, who were popularly known as quitters; and from motives of conscience, he signed the Pledge, which has been in force for over twenty years now. From that time until now, he has never experienced that great desire to take away what does not belong to him, which so often haunts him when he drinks. Moreover, there is now no excuse on earth to induce him to taste any alcoholic beverage containing alcohol, because he feels that under the influence of alcohol he may once again become a victim of it. He holds a position of influence in the town where he lives.
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I have known ladies of position in society who, after a few drinks after a dinner or supper, could not resist the temptation to take home, when they had the opportunity, any little things that did not belong to them; and, when they were sober, to send them back as if they had taken them by mistake. In our police reports there are many gentlemen of position who, under the influence of liquor, have stolen the most trifling articles, and have later been returned to their owners by their friends, which, psychologically speaking, can only be explained by the fact that the will at the time had been completely overwhelmed by the subtle influence of alcohol.
Loss of mental sobriety.
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That alcohol, whether in large or small doses, immediately disturbs the natural functions of the mind and body, is now recognized by the most eminent physiologists. Dr. Brinton says: “The mental acuteness, the conceptual accuracy, and the delicacy of the senses, are so incompatible with the action of alcohol, that the best efforts of every man are incompatible with the ingestion of any moderate quantity of the fermented liquid. Indeed, there is hardly any work that requires skillful and precise physical and mental effort, or the balanced exercise of many faculties, that does not illustrate this rule. Mathematicians, gamblers, metaphysicians, billiard players, writers, artists, doctors, if their experiences were properly analyzed, would generally agree with the statement that a single glass of wine is often sufficient to throw their minds and bodies out of balance, and to reduce their faculties to a level below that of their relatively perfect work.
A train accidentally drove into a major London station and hit another train, killing half a dozen people and injuring many others. From the evidence at the inquest, the guard was believed to be sober, except that he had had two glasses of ale with a friend at the previous station. Now, from a psychological point of view, these two glasses of ale may have helped to remove his perception and caution, and produced careless or daring action, which would not have occurred under the cooling and temperate influence of a non-alcoholic beverage. Many have admitted to me that they are not the same as before after drinking even one glass of ale or wine, and that after that one glass they cannot trust themselves completely.
Memory is impaired.
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Memory impairment is one of the early symptoms of alcoholism.
“This extends to forgetting even the most mundane things; forgetting the names of familiar people, forgetting dates, forgetting the duties of daily life,” says Dr. Richardson. Strangely enough,” he adds, “this amnesia, as in older people denotes a second age of childishness and mere forgetfulness, does not extend to things in the past, but is confined to events that are passing. In the old memory the mind retains its strength; in the new it requires constant prompting and maintenance.”
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In this failure of memory, nature gives a solemn warning that imminent danger is at hand. The habitual drinker will do well to heed this warning. If he does not, more serious symptoms will appear over time, as the lesions in the brain become more severe and may eventually lead to permanent insanity.
Mental and moral illness.
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The mental and moral illnesses that occur after regular alcohol consumption are painfully well documented in shelter reports, medical testimonies, and in our daily observations and experiences. These records are so full and varied, and are constantly brought to our attention, that people are not afraid to take terrible risks, even in the so-called moderate use of alcoholic beverages.
In 1872, a special committee of the House of Commons appointed to “consider the best plan for the control and regulation of habitual alcoholics” called some of the most eminent medical men in England to answer a large number of questions on every subject within the scope of the inquiry, from the pathology of intoxication to the practical utility of prohibitory laws. Among the testimonies were many about the effects of alcoholic stimulation on mental condition and moral character. A physician named James Crichton Brown, who, during his ten years as superintendent of a psychiatric hospital, was particularly concerned with the relationship between habitual drunkenness and insanity, and who carefully examined 500 cases confirming that alcohol overdose produces different forms of mental illness, mentioned four categories of disorders.1. 1. Mania a potu, or Alcoholic mania. 2. 2. Suspected mania. 3. Chronic alcoholism, characterized by a loss of memory and judgment, partial paralysis, and generally ending in fatalities. 4. Narcolepsy, or irresistible craving for alcoholic stimulants, occurring frequently, in paroxysms, and with constant periodic exacerbations, when the craving becomes completely uncontrollable. Of the latter form of the disease, he said, “It is always associated with some impairment of the intellectual, emotional, and moral powers.”
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Dr. Alexander Peddie, a physician who has practiced in Edinburgh for more than 37 years, cites in his evidence many remarkable examples of moral perversion following sustained alcohol consumption.
The relationship between insanity and intoxication.
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Dr. John Nugent said that his 26 years of experience working among the insane led him to believe that there was a very close relationship between the results of alcoholism and insanity. He says that Ireland’s population has declined by 2 million in 25 years, but there are as many mentally ill people now as before. He believes this is due in large part to indulgent drinking.
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Dr. Arthur Mitchell, Scotland’s psychiatric commissioner, testified that excessive drinking had contributed to the country’s high levels of insanity, crime and poverty. He said that in some people habitual drinking leads to other diseases than insanity, because the effect is always in the direction of tendency, but it is certain that there are many people who have a marked tendency to insanity, and who would escape this terrible end but for their drinking; and that the excessive drinking of many people determines their insanity, and that in any case they have this tendency. He also said that the children of alcoholics were more likely to be idiots than other children, and more likely to become alcoholics; they were also more likely to develop ordinary forms of acquired insanity.
Dr. Winslow Forbes believes that in habitual drunks, the entire neural structure, especially the brain, is poisoned by alcohol. He says that all the psychiatric symptoms you see accompanying ordinary intoxication are the result of the toxic effects of alcohol on the brain. Primarily, the brain is affected. In temporary intoxication the brain is put in an abnormal state of nutrition, and if the habit continues for years, the neural tissue itself becomes permeated by alcohol and the neural tissue of the brain undergoes organic changes, producing the kind of terrible chronic insanity we see in insane asylums, which can be traced entirely to the habit of intoxication. He claims that a large proportion of the terrible mental and brain disorders can be traced to the drunkenness of the parents.
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Dr. D.G. Dodge, a physician at the late New York State Psychiatric Hospital, who testified before the House of Commons Committee along with Dr. Joseph Parrish. Dr. Joseph Parrish testified before the House of Commons Committee, and in one of his answers he said “With the overuse of alcohol, functional disorders will inevitably arise, and no organ will be more seriously affected, or perhaps even damaged, than the brain. This is manifested in the drunkard by diminished intelligence, a general weakening of the mental faculties, a partial or complete loss of self-respect, and a loss of self-control; all these factors acting together to place the victim at the mercy of a depraved and morbid appetite, and to render him utterly powerless to secure by his own efforts a recovery from the disease which is destroying him. He added “I believe that there are great similarities between intoxication and insanity.
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“I am firmly of the opinion that the former is as prominent in the family of diseases as its twin, insanity; and that the day is not, in my opinion, far distant when the pathology of the former will be as fully understood and as successfully treated as that of the latter, or even more successfully, because it is more within the sphere of human control, and the wise exercise and scientific management of it will prevent the curable intoxication from becoming a possibly incurable insanity.
A general impairment of all faculties.
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Dr. Richardson, speaking of the effects of alcohol on the mind, describes the destruction of alcohol as follows.
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“An analysis of the mental condition induced and maintained by the free daily use of alcohol as a beverage reveals a curious fact. This performance shows absolutely no elevation of any reasoning faculty in a useful or satisfactory direction. I have never encountered an instance in which such a claim was made for alcohol. On the contrary, confirmed alcoholics often say that for this or that kind of work requiring thought and attention it is necessary to give up some of the common potions in order to have a cool head for the hard work.
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“Experience, on the other hand, overwhelmingly supports the view that the use of “alcohol betrays the reasoning faculty,” makes weak men and women easy prey for the wicked and strong, and leads to men and women who should know more about the rank of suffering and sin. If, then, alcohol deprives man of reason, what part of his mental structure does it raise and excite? It excites and raises those animal, organic, emotional centers of the mind which, in the dual nature of man, are often at odds with the pure, abstract reasoning nature which raises man above the lower animals, and, if rightly exercised, a little lower than the angels.
It excites the worst passions in man.
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It excites the center of these animals, it indulges all the passions, and gives them a more or less unauthorized dominion over man. It excites anger, and when it does not lead to such extremes, it makes the mind irritable, irritable, dissatisfied, and makes one uneasy ….. If I took all the passions, love, hate, lust, envy, greed, and pride, I should tell you that alcohol helps them all; it paralyzes reason, and takes away from these passions the fine-tuning of reason, which raises man above the lower animals. From the beginning to the end of its influence, it subdues reason and sets the passions free. The analogy between the body and the spirit is perfect. Loosening the tension of the blood vessels that feed the body, thus loosening the heart from violent excesses and uncontrolled movements, also loosens reason and sets the passions free. In both cases, the heart and the mind lose their harmony for a time; their balance is broken. Man comes closer and closer to the lower animals. From the angels, he slips further and further away.
It is a sad and terrible picture.
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The destructive influence of alcohol on the human mind finally presents the saddest picture of its effects. The most aesthetically pleasing artist could not find an angel here. Everything is an animal, and the worst of them. Memory is irretrievably lost, words and elements of speech are forgotten, or words are replaced with meaningless things. Anger and rage persist and mischievous, or are relieved and impotent. Fear is in every corner of life, mistrust is on every side, grief fuses into blank despair, hopelessness becomes permanent melancholy. Of course, if all the alcoholics in the world were herded into the confines of a mortal man, the “great fury” dreamed of by the poet would be incomparable.
The picture is brutal enough as I move among those whose bodies have been inflicted by alcohol and discover the pain and punishment it inflicts under the various disguises of a deadly disease. But even such a picture pales in comparison, for I do not need any imagination to imagine the destructive power of the same agent on the mind. The learned Dr. Sheppard, Dean of Colney Hatch, tells us that 40% of those admitted to that asylum in 1876 were admitted due to the direct or indirect influence of alcohol. I am afraid that the same story would be told if the facts of all mental hospitals were collected with the same care. Do we need any further explanation of the destructive effects on the human mind? The furore of the drunkards; the grand transforming spectacle of that drinking pantomime which began with temperance! Let us never forget, those who never forget. Let those who love their fellow-creatures never forget it until, by their efforts, it is closed forever.”