Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/November 1886/Inebriate Maniacs



PSYCHOLOGISTS and students of mental science have long been aware of the presence of a new division of the army of the insane, a division which is steadily increasing, more mysterious and obscure than the ordinary insane, and constituting a new realm of the most fascinating physiological and psychological interest. It consists of the alcoholic, opium, chloral, ether, and chloroform inebriates. They appear in law courts, as both principals and associates in all degrees of crime, and are called drunkards, tramps, and dangerous classes. In conduct, character, and motive, they constantly display many prominent symptoms of insanity, such as manias, delusions, deliriums, and imbecilities. Yet public opinion refuses to recognize these symptoms, because they are associated with intervals of apparent sanity in act and conduct. Clergymen and moralists teach that these cases are simply moral disorders, growing out of "a heart deceitful and desperately wicked," and only remedied by moral and legal measures. Scientists, who study the history and progress of these cases, find that they are diseases, following a regular line of march, from definite causes, on through certain stages of growth, development, and decline, the same as in other maladies.

Many theories are urged to explain the presence of this army of inebriates; one of which asserts that inebriety is evidence of the moral failure of the age, of the increasing wickedness of the times, of the triumphs of the growth of evil over the good, etc. Another theory assumes that the great increase in the manufacture of all forms of alcohol and other drugs, and the facility with which they are procured, will fully explain the presence of this class. A third theory considers them the defective, worn-out victims of this crushing, grinding civilization; the outgrowths of bad inheritance, bad living, and the unfit generally, who are slowly or rapidly being thrown out of the struggle. A fourth view regards them as simply coming into prominence, through the great advances in the physiology and pathology of the brain and nervous system, in which the physical character of these cases is recognized.

Inebriate maniacs have been called "border-land" lunatics, meaning persons who move up and down on the border-line between sanity and insanity, and, when studied closely, divide naturally into many classes. One of these classes, which in most cases represents extreme chronic stages, appears prominently in the daily press, in reports of criminal assaults and murders. When the genesis of the crime and the so-called criminal are studied, unmistakable symptoms of mental unsoundness appear. In most cases the victim is a neurotic by inheritance and growth. In other words, he was born with a defective brain and organism, and both growth and culture have been imperfect. Many and complex influences, among which alcohol or other narcotics may be prominent, have prepared the soil, furnished the seed, and stimulated the growth of a positive disease of the brain. The higher brain-centers have slowly succumbed to a paralysis, as mysterious as it is certain in its march. The victim's capacity to comprehend his condition, and adjust himself to the surroundings, becomes less and less, and he is more and more a waif drifting with every possible influence. In appearance, head, face, and body are angular and imperfectly developed, the nutrition is defective, the eye, the voice, and every act and movement indicate degeneration and disease. Any general history of the crime reveals delirium, hallucinations, delusions, and maniacal impulses. Thus, in one day, the papers recorded the following among other cases of this class: An inebriate, of previously quiet disposition, killed his wife, supposing she had put poison in his food. Another man in a similar state shot a stranger who differed with him on the age of Queen Victoria. Another man killed his father, who remonstrated with him for overdriving a horse. Still another assaulted fatally his brother, who would not give him money. Two men, both intoxicated, mortally wounded each other in a quarrel who should pay for the spirits drunk. Another man killed both wife and child, supposing the former was going to desert him. Thus, day after day, the records of these inebriate lunatics appear, and each case is as positively the act of a maniac as if committed by an inmate of an asylum, whose insanity was long ago adjudged. In each case, a long premonitory stage has preceded this last act; the individual history of almost every inebriate furnishes abundant evidence of this. In the courtroom this insanity of the prisoner is ignored, and the legal fiction, that drunkenness is no excuse for crime, prevails. The prisoner is assumed to be always a free agent, and the use of alcohol a willful act, the consequences of which he should be held accountable for. As a result, the victim is destroyed, and the object of the law, to reform the offender and deter others from the commission of crime, lamentably fails.

The second class of these inebriate maniacs are less prominent in the press, but more often seen in the lower and police courts. They are arrested for drunkenness, minor assaults, and all grades of breaches of the peace. They use alcohol, opium, or any other drug for its effect, and their character and conduct are a continuous history of insane and imbecile acts. In appearance they are suffering from disease, and the hereditary history is prominent in ancestral degenerations and defects. They are repeaters for the same offense over and over again, and their crime is of a low, imbecile type against both person and property, characterized by profound mental and moral paralysis. In popular estimation they are simply armies of vicious, wicked persons, who are so from love of the bad and free choice of evil. This idea prevails in the court-room, and the judge, with a farcical stupidity, admonishes, rebukes, and sentences these poor victims, who are supposed to be made better by the moral and physical surroundings of the prison, and the sufferings which the vengeance of the law inflicts. The case may have appeared many times before for the same offense, and the act committed may have been particularly insane and motiveless, and yet the judge deals out justice on the legal theory that the prisoner is of sound mind, and fully conscious and responsible. The result is clearly seen in the records of police courts, showing that the number of persons who are repeatedly arrested for drunkenness is increasing. Another result more startling, but equally true, appears. Every law court where inebriate maniacs are tried and punished, on the theory that drunkenness is no excuse for crime, and that the victim should be treated as of sound mind, with free will to do differently, is a court of death, more fatal than all the saloons and beer-shops in the world. Such courts destroy all possibility of restoration, and precipitate the victim to lower grades of degeneration. It has been estimated that ninety-nine out of every one hundred men who are arrested for drunkenness for the first time, and sentenced to jail, will be returned for the same offense within two years, and appear again with increasing frequency as long as they live. The report of the hospital at Deer Island, near Boston, where drunkards are sent on short sentences, for 1883, showed that one man had been sentenced to this place for the same offense, drunkenness, seventy-five times. Before the temperance committee of the English Parliament, in 1882, many cases were cited of men who had been sent to jails and work-houses from twenty to two hundred times for drunkenness. Practically, every sentence for drunkenness for ten, thirty, or sixty days, costs the tax-payers from fifty to one hundred and fifty dollars; and more completely unfits the victim for and removes him from the possibility of living a temperate, healthy life. Enthusiastic temperance men have drawn the most startling conclusions from these lower court records of arrests for drunkenness. Here each arrest stands for a new man and case. The nine thousand cases recorded as having been sent to Deer Island in 1883 in reality only represent a little over two thousand different men and women, and yet the number of arrests is taken as evidence of the increase of drunkenness.

A third class of inebriate maniacs are less common, and yet they often come into great notoriety from some unusual act or crime. They are known as moderate or occasional excessive users of alcohol; or opium and chloral takers. In most cases they are from the middle and better classes of society, and are beyond all suspicion of insanity, and their uses of these drugs are considered mere moral lapses. Such persons will suddenly exhibit great changes of character and conduct, and do the most insane acts, then resume a degree of sanity that corresponds with their previous character. Thus, a prominent clergyman of wealth and high standing in the community, who was a wine-drinker, suddenly began a series of Wall Street speculations of the most uncertain, fraudulent nature. He implicated himself and a large number of friends, and finally was disgraced. A judge, occupying a most enviable position of character and reputation, who had used spirits and opium for years at night for various reasons, suddenly gave up his place and became a low office-seeker—was elected to the Legislature, and became prominent as an unscrupulous politician. A New England clergyman, after thirty years of most earnest, devoted work, renounced the church and became an infidel of the most aggressive type. Later it was found that he had used chloroform and spirits in secret for years. A man of forty years, of tested honesty and trustworthiness, proved to be a defaulter. It was ascertained that he used choral and opium in secret.

Hardly a year passes that bank defaulters, forgers, and swindlers do not appear among men whose previous character has given no intimation of such a career. When their secret history is ascertained, the use of alcohol, opium, and other drugs is found to be common.

Another class of previously reputable, sane men suddenly commit crimes against good morals. The unusual boldness of their acts points to insanity, and it is then found that they are secret or open drinkers, using alcohol or compounds of opium. Such men come into politics with a most insane ambition for office and childish delirium to appear in public as, great men. They often become enthusiastic church and temperance men, acting along very unusual lines of conduct, and doing unusual things. Signs of mental failure are clearly traced in the childish credulity, or extraordinary skepticism, or extreme secretiveness, which are all foreign to the history of their past. Then, at last, such men leave strange wills, with strange bequests. They are contested; the expert is called in; and, while he is certain of insanity and irresponsibility of the testator from the history, he can not make it appear clearly to the court. These cases are more or less familiar to every one, yet the history of drinking or using narcotics is concealed. In an instance of recent date, the will of a very rich man contained a large bequest to the Freedman's Bureau. This was a very strange and unusual act; but the heirs, rather than expose the secret drinking of the testator, let the will stand. To history this was a very generous deed, but in reality it was the mere freak of a maniac.

These persons appear to all general observation sane and fully conscious of the nature and character of their acts; yet they are in a state of intellectual delirium and instability, which comes out prominently in the strange, unusual conduct. The co-ordinating brain-centers are so damaged as to prevent healthy, consistent, uniform brain-action. A certain range of thought and action may seem sane, but an ever-increasing undercurrent of disease carries them further from normal brain-health. These cases excite the wonderment of the hour, and to moralists are phases of human depravity; but to the psychologist are explosions of masked diseases almost unknown and undiscovered.

It will be apparent to all that the most unfortunate treatment with miscarriage of justice is meted out to these cases. Thus, the inebriate maniac in delirium who commits murder and assault is not a criminal to be cured by punishment. His brain has broken down and needs the most careful restorative treatment. He is physically sick, and can never recover except by the use of well-directed remedies and along the line of exact laws and forces.

In the second class, the profound failure of the present methods of management should direct attention to the real means of cure. Science shows, beyond all doubt, that a system of work-house hospitals, where all these cases can come under exact physical care and restraint, and be organized into self-supporting quarantine stations, will not only protect the community and tax-payer, but put the victim in the best condition for permanent recovery. Here he can be made a producer, and taken from the ranks of consumers and parasites of society. If he is an incurable, he can be made self-supporting, and society and the world can be protected from his influence.

In the third class, when public opinion recognizes that the occasional or continuous use of alcohol or other narcotics is dangerous and likely to produce grave mental disturbance, these alterations of character and conduct will be no mystery. Such men will be recognized as diseased, and come under medical care and recover. Medical and scientific men must teach the world the nature and character of alcohol, and the diseases which are likely to come from its use. This moralists, clergymen, and reformed inebriates, can never do. Today these inebriate maniacs appeal for recognition and sympathy from many homes and firesides. They call for help. They ask for bread. We are deaf to their entreaties—we give them stones. In language that can not be mistaken, they tell us of unstable brain-force, of tottering reason, of marked, insidious disease. We call it vice, and treat them as of sound mind and body. They ask for help for the brain, starved, disorganized, and growing feebler. We give them the pledge and prayer, and taunt them as vile, and willful, and wretched sinners. What wonder that the glimmerings of reason and the lights of a higher manhood should disappear in the darkness of total insanity under such treatment? In the delirium of criminal assault, or the imbecilities of the low drunkard, or the strange acts and changes of character in the so-called moderate drinker, they mutely appeal for aid, and we brutally fine, imprison, and persecute them. These are the spirit and theory which seek support through temperance efforts, through the church, and political parties, to remove an evil of which they have no comprehension. When all this thunder and roar of temperance reformation shall pass away, the still small voice of Science will be heard, and the true condition of the inebriate and the nature of his malady will be recognized.