Alcohol Causes Mental And Moral Changes

The transforming power of alcohol is marvelous and often appalling. It seems to open a way of entrance into the soul for all classes of foolish, insane, or malignant spirits, who, so long as it remains in contact with the brain, can hold possession. Men of the kindest nature when sober, act often like fiends when drunk. Crimes and outrages are committed, which shock and shame the perpetrators when the excitement of inebriation has passed away.

The same poison affects different persons in different ways. Indulgence in alcoholic drinks may act upon one or more of the cerebral organs. As a consequence, the manifestations of functional disturbance will follow in such mental powers as these organs subserve.

If the indulgence is continued, then, either from deranged nutrition or organic lesion, manifestations formerly developed only during a fit of intoxication may become permanent, and terminate in insanity or dipso-mania.

Certain writers on diseases of the mind make special allusions to that form of insanity termed ‘dipsomania’. In which a person has an unquenchable thirst for alcoholic drinks a tendency as decidedly maniacal as that of homicidal mania; or the uncontrollable desire to burn, termed pyromania; or to steal, called kleptomania.

Homicidal mania

The tendencies of homicidal mania in people are nursed into action when the blood current has been poisoned with alcohol. Townley, who murdered the young lady of his affections, for which he was sentenced to be imprisoned in a lunatic asylum for life, poisoned his brain with brandy and soda water before he committed the rash act.

The brandy stimulated into action certain portions of the brain, which acquired such a power as to subjugate his will. Also hurried him to the execution of a frightful deed, opposed alike to his better judgment and his ordinary desires.

As to pyromania, some years ago a laboring man in a country village, who, whenever had a few glasses of ale at the public house, would chuckle with delight at the thought of firing certain gentlemen’s stacks. Yet, when his brain was free from the poison, a quieter, better-disposed man could not be.

Unfortunately, he became addicted; and, one night, under alcoholic excitement, fired some stacks belonging to his employers. For this, he was sentenced to fifteen years to a penal settlement, where his brain would never again be alcoholically excited.


Next, I will give an example of kleptomania. Many years ago, a very talented young man, whenever he had been drinking, the temptation to steal anything that came his way; but these feelings never troubled him at other times. One afternoon, his will, unfortunately, was overpowered after he had indulged in a drink. He was accused of stealing some articles of worth from the mansion where he was working. Later sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

I knew some ladies of good status in society, who, after party could not withstand the temptation of taking home any little article, not their own, when the opportunity offered. Again, who, in their sober moments, have returned them, as if taken by mistake. There are many instances in police reports of gentlemen of position, under the influence of drink, committing thefts of the most paltry articles, afterward returned to the owners by their friends. This can only account for, psychologically, the fact that the subtle influence of alcohol completely overpowered the will for the time.

Loss of mental clearness

Alcohol, whether taken in large or small doses, immediately disturbs the natural functions of the mind and body. Dr. Brinton says: ‘The action of alcohol opposes mental acuteness, the accuracy of conception, and delicacy of the senses. The maximum efforts of each are incompatible with the ingestion of any moderate quantity of fermented liquid. Indeed, there is scarcely any calling that demands a skillful and exact effort of mind and body, or which requires the balanced exercise of many faculties, that does not illustrate this rule.

The mathematician, the gambler, the metaphysician, the billiard player, the author, the artist, the physician, would, if they could analyze their experience aright, generally concur in the statement, that a single glass will often suffice to take, so to speak, the edge of both mind and body, and to reduce their capacity to something below what is relatively their perfection of work.

A man drove carelessly a train into one of the principal London stations. Running into another train, killing, by the collision, six or seven persons, and injuring many others. From the evidence at the inquest, it appeared that the guard was reckoned sober, only he had had two glasses of ale.

Now, reasoning psychologically, these two glasses of ale had probably been instrumental in taking off the edge from his perceptions and prudence and producing a carelessness or boldness of action which would not have occurred under the cooling, temperate influence of a beverage free from alcohol.

Many persons have admitted that they were not the same after taking even one glass of ale or wine that they were before, and could not thoroughly trust themselves after they had taken this single glass.

Impairment of memory

Impairment of memory is among the early symptoms of alcoholic derangement.

Dr. Richardson says, “This extends even to forgetfulness of the commonest things. To names of familiar persons, to dates, to duties of daily life. Strangely, too,” he adds, “this failure, like that which indicates, in the aged, the era of second childishness and mere oblivion, does not extend to the things of the past, but is confined to events that are passing. On old memories, the mind retains its power; on new ones it requires constant prompting and sustainment.”

In this failure of memory, nature gives a solemn warning that imminent peril is at hand. Well for the habitual drinker if he heeds the warning. Should he not do so, symptoms of a more serious character will, in time, develop themselves. As the brain becomes more and more diseased, ending, it may be, in permanent insanity.

Mental and moral diseases

Of the mental and moral diseases which too often follow the regular drinking of alcohol. There are painful records in asylum reports, in medical testimony, and in daily observation and experience. These are so full and varied and thrust so constantly on our attention, that the wonder is that men are not afraid to run the terrible risks involved even in what is called the moderate use of alcoholic beverages.

A select committee of the House of Commons “to consider the best plan for the control and management of habitual drunkards” in 1872, 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.

This testimony says much about the effect of alcoholic stimulation on mental condition and moral character. One physician, Dr. James Crichton Brown, in his ten years of experience as superintendent of lunatic asylums, has paid special attention to the relations between habitual drunkenness to insanity, and testified that excess alcohol intake, produces different forms of mental disease, mainly in four classes:

  • Mania a potu, or alcoholic mania.
  • The monomania of suspicion.
  • Chronic Alcoholism is characterized by failure of the memory and power of judgment, with partial paralysis generally ending fatally.
  • Dipsomania, or an irresistible craving for alcoholic stimulants, occurs very frequently, paroxysmally, and with constant liability to periodical exacerbations, when the craving becomes altogether uncontrollable.

Dr. Alexander Peddie, a physician of over thirty-seven years’ practice in Edinburgh. He 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 wast experience among lunatics led him to believe that there is a very close relationship between the results of the abuse of alcohol and insanity. The population of Ireland had decreased, to two million 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 lunacy, crime, and pauperism in that country. In some men, habitual drinking leads to other diseases than insanity because the effect is always in the direction of proclivity.

But there certainly 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 determines 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, result from the poisonous effects of alcohol on the brain. The brain affects mainly. In temporary drunkenness, the brain becomes in an abnormal state of alimentation.

Dr. D.G. Dodge with. Dr. Joseph Parrish gave testimony before the committee of the House of Commons, said. “With the excessive use of alcohol, the functional disorder will invariably appear, and the brain will affect seriously, and possibly impair.

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.

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 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, “makes 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 centers 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.

Alcohol excites man’s worst passions

Exciting these animal centers, alcohol lets loose all the passions and gives them more or less unlicensed dominion over the man. It excites anger, and when it does not lead to this extreme, it keeps the mind fretful, dissatisfied, and, irritable…. 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. Their memory is irretrievably lost, forgotten words and very elements of speech or displaced words have no meaning in them.

Rage and anger are 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.

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 the imagination, the devastations which the same agent inflicts on the mind. Forty percent., 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.

What do we need further to show the destructive action of 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.”