Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/315

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ALCOHOLISM 275 ALCOHOLISM which take place within tlio cells of the body, all other steps of nutrition being either antecedent or euccedent accessories. The antecedent accessories of nutrition are tlio preparation of the food, its mastication, its deglutition, its digestion, its absorj)- tion, its distribution by the circulatory system, and its selection by the individual cells from the capil- laries direct or from the tissue plasma. Physiolo- gists and biologists believe that all foods arc built up into prutophisni; that is, they are selected and made part of the living coll. A food must therefore satisfy the following conditions: First, it must bo digestible and absorbable by llic organism which it is to noin- ish; second, it must be assimilable by the living colls of the organism, in order to build up now tissue; third, after assimilation it must be capable of cata- bolic changes accomi)anied by oxidation, in order to liberate energy; fourth, the energy must be liber- ated at such a time and place as to bo advantageous and beneficial to the organism. It is not enough to prove that potential chemical energy is changed into kinetic energy. The o.xidation must take place at the right time and place, before the energy liberated can be useful in function. All food is tissue-building in its assimilation; all food is energy-yielding in its catabolism. The only points alcohol possesses in common with the foods are two: first, it is oxidized within the body; secondly, it diminishes carbonaceous and perhaps proteid catabolism — the so-called "spar- ing" action of alcohol. This "sparing" is accom- panied by an accumulation of the carbonaceous materials of the body and an actual deposit of fat. But this condition is brought about by reducing the activity of the cell by the narcotic effect of the alco- hol, and is not in any sense to be compared with the increased demand for food by the cell, rcsidting from proper mental and physical exercise and all conditions which favour vigorous nutrition. Yet the advocates of alcohol as a food in liealth base upon their physiological misconceptions a super- structure of fallacious reasoning. A detailed consideration of the effects of alcohol upon the individual organs and tissues will perhaps elucidate the foregoing statements. Applied to the skin, alcohol excites a sense of heat and superficial inflammation if evaporation be prevented. It co- agulates the albumen and hardens the animal tex- tures. If evaporation is not prevented, the surface temperature is reduced. The lining of the mouth is corrugated by it — a result due to the abstraction of water and condensation of the albumen. In the stomach it causes a sensation of warmth which is dilTused over the abdomen and quickly followed by a general glow of the body. In moderate quantity, it induces an increased blood-supjily which enables the mucous follicles and gastric glands to produce a more abundant secretion of stomach juices. When habitually taken, a gastric catarrh is established with the |)roiluction of a fluid abnormal both in quantity and qualify. The increased blood supply also sets up irritation of the structural framework (connective ti.ssue) of the stomach, resulting in its overgrowth, with the crowding out of the working-cells, which gradually shrink. Alcohol also affects directly the chemistry of the gastric secretion by precipitating the pepsm — a necessary ferment to tlie digestion of albuminoid food. The abnormal mucus, which is elaborated in great quantity, sets up pathological fermentation in the starchy saccharrine and fatty elements of the food, giving rise to acidity, heartburn, regurgitation of food, and a peculiar retching in the mornmg. Alcohol enters the blood with great facility, and probably almost all taken into the stomach passes mto the blood from this organ, and goes directly to the liver by way of the portal vein. In the liver, it increases at &rst the functional activity of the I.— 18 working-cells, and a more abundant production of bile is the result. Frequent stimulation and conse- quent overaction result in impairment or loss of the proper function of the part, as is the universal law. The liver cells shrink, the structural framework in- creases in size at first but subsequently contracts, producing the small, nodular, hard liver, to which the term cirrhosis has been applied. Alcohol also diminishes the normal storage of glycogen, leaving less to draw u|)(>n when needed by the sys- tem during stress. In small doses alcohol increa.ses the action of the heart and the cutaneous circula- tion; a slight rise of temfxjrature is observed, and all the functions are for the time being more ener- getically performed. On the nervous system its first etfect is to increase the functional activity of the brain; the ideas flow more easily, the senses are more acute, the muscular movements more active. With increa.sed action of the alcohol, the excitement becomes disorderly, the ideas incoherent and ranil> ling, the muscular movements uncontrolled and in- co-ordinated. With an excessive ciuantity, the func- tions of the cerebrum arc suspended, and complete unconsciousness results. By an extension of the poisonous influence to the nervous centres governing respiration and circulation, these functions may cea.se, and death result. Alcohol has a special allinitv for nervous tissue, and as a result chiefly of its liiroct contact, but partly from its effects on the blood current, the working cells of the brain shrink, the supporting structure hardens, the cerebrospinal fluid, which should act as a protective water-jacket, in- creases in quantity and exerts injurious pressire. giving the familiar picture of "wet brain" so com- mon in the autopsy room of hospitals caring for large numbers of habitual drunkards. Existing in a less degree, these brain changes are objectively shown in the impaired mental power, the muscular trembling, the shambling gait, and the lack of moral sense of the chronic drinker. Delirium tremens is a variety of alcoholism occurring in some subjects from sudden excess of a periodical kind, in otnors from a failure of the stomach to dispose, not only of food, but of the accustomed stimulus, and in another group — common in hospitals and jails — to sudden deprivation of liquor in steady drinkers when under confinement for injury or crime. Idiosyncrasy is an important factor in the causation of delirium tremens, as is also the u.se of alcoholic beverages rich in fusel oil — like the cheaper whiskeys. The long-continued action of alcohol on the nervous system produces many other chronic disorders. Loss of sensation, epilepsy, motor-paralysis, and blindness often result from alcoholic excess. It is probable that if alcohol could be stamped out for a century insanity would shrink in prevalence seventy-five per cent. The best and latest authorities all agree that the action of alcohol upon the nervous system is always that of a narcotic, whether the dose be largo or small. On the bodily temperature there is no longer any doubt that alcohol jiroduccs a reduction, after the primary and transient sensation of heat has passed away. All northern explorers know that the use of alcohol endangers life through cooling of the body. It is useful, in the form of hot drink, to revive a person who has been exposed to cold, but only after the exposure has ceased. Dr. Parkes, in the Ashantee campaign, found that the fatigue of marching in the tropics is better borne without the aid of a spirit ration. The power of alcohol to diminish muscular work and agility is so well known that athletes rigorously abstain during training, and the records of the prize-ring demonstrate that only the pugilist who has no alliance with alcohol is able to remain in the game. There is no dilTerence of opinion among physiolo- gists regarding the facts of the action of alcohol in