But this temporary invigoration of the system is always followed by a diminution of the powers of the stimulated organs; so that, though in all cases this reaction may not be perceptible, it is invariably the result. It may be set down as the unchangeable rule of physiology, that stimulating drinks deduct from the powers of the constitution in exactly the proportion in which they operate to produce temporary invigoration.
The second evil is the temptation which always attends the use of stimulants. Their effect on the system is so agreeable, and the evils resulting are so imperceptible and distant, that there is a constant tendency to increase such excitement, both in frequency and power; and the more the system is thus reduced in strength, the more craving is the desire for that which imparts a temporary invigoration. This process of increasing debility and increasing craving for the stimulus that removes it, often goes to such an extreme that the passion is perfectly uncontrollable, and mind and body perish under this baleful habit.
In this country there are three forms in which the use of such stimulants is common; namely, alcoholic drinks, opium mixtures, and tobacco. These are all alike in the main peculiarity of imparting that extra stimulus to the system which tends to exhaust its powers.
Multitudes in this nation are in the habitual use of some one of these stimulants; and each person defends the indulgence by certain arguments:
First, that the desire for stimulants is a natural propensity implanted in man's nature, as is manifest from the universal tendency to such indulgences in every nation. From this it is inferred that it is an innocent desire, which ought to be gratified to some extent, and that the aim should be to keep it within the limits of temperance, instead of attempting to exterminate a natural propensity.
This is an argument which, if true, makes it equally proper for not only men, but women and children, to use opium, brandy, or tobacco as stimulating principles, provided they are used temperately. But if it be granted that perfect health and strength can be gained and secured without these stimulants, and that their peculiar effect is to diminish the power of the system in exactly the same proportion as they stimulate it, then there is no such thing as a temperate use, unless they are so diluted as to destroy any stimulating power; and in this form they are seldom desired.
The other argument for their use is, that they are among the good things provided by the Creator for our gratification; that, like all other blessings, they are exposed to abuse and excess; and that we should rather seek to regulate their use than to banish them entirely.
This argument is based on the assumption that they are, like healthful foods and drinks, necessary to life and health, and injurious only by excess. But this is not true; for whenever they are used in any such strength as to be a gratification, they operate to a greater or less extent as stimulants, and to just such extent they wear out the powers of the constitution; and it is abundantly proved that they are not, like food and drink, necessary to health. Such articles are designed for medicine, and not for common use. There can be no argument framed to defend the use of one of them which will not justify women and children in most dangerous indulgences.
There are some facts recently revealed by the microscope in regard to alcoholic drinks which every woman should understand and regard. It has been shown in a previous chapter that every act of mind, either by thought, feeling, or choice, causes the destruction of certain cells in the brain and nerves. It now is proved by microscopic science* that the kind of nutrition furnished to the brain by the blood to a certain extent decides future feelings, thoughts, and volitions. The cells of the brain not only abstract from the blood the healthful nutrition, but also are affected in shape, size, color, and action by unsuitable elements in the blood. This is especially the case when alcohol is taken into the stomach, from whence it is always carried to the brain. The consequence is, that it affects the nature and action of the brain-cells, until a habit is formed which is automatic; that is, the mind loses the power of controlling the brain in its development of thoughts, feelings, and choices as it would in the natural state, and is itself controlled by the brain.
* For these statements the writer is indebted to Maudsley, a recent writer on Microscopic Physiology.
In this condition a real disease of the brain is created, called oino-mania, and the only remedy is total abstinence, and that for a long period, from the alcoholic poison. And what makes the danger more fearful is, that the brain-cells never are so renewed but that this pernicious stimulus will bring back the disease in full force, so that a man once subject to it is never safe except by maintaining perpetual and total abstinence from every kind of alcoholic drink. Dr. Day, who for many years has had charge of an inebriate asylum, states that he witnessed the dissection of the brain of a man once an inebriate, but for many years in practice of total abstinence, and found its cells still in the weak and unnatural state produced by earlier indulgences.
There has unfortunately been a difference of opinion among medical men as to the use of alcohol. Liebig, the celebrated writer on animal chemistry, having found that both sugar and alcohol were heat-producing articles of food, framed a theory that alcohol is burned in the lungs, giving off carbonic acid and water, and thus serving to warm the body. But modern science has proved that it is in the capillaries that animal heat is generated, and it is believed that alcohol lessens instead of increasing the power of the body to bear the cold. Sir John Ross, in his Arctic voyage, proved by his own experience and that of his men that cold-water drinkers could bear cold longer and were stronger than any who used alcohol.