This section is from the book "A Treatise On Therapeutics, And Pharmacology Or Materia Medica Vol1", by George B. Wood. Also available from Amazon: Part 1 and Part 2.
The following observations have reference to alcoholic beverages in general, and not to any one distinct form; but the effects described are to be understood as exclusively those of the alcoholic ingredient. When any particular fermented or distilled liquor has peculiar properties, independently of the alcohol it may contain, these will be mentioned when the liquor itself is treated of.
Alcohol appears to be a universal stimulant. It excites the part to which it is applied, the circulatory and nervous systems, the digestive, nutritive, and reproductive functions, and, under favourable circumstances, the various secretions; but its most powerful and characteristic effects are those produced upon the brain. Bernard has shown that it increases the formation, by the liver, of the material out of which sugar is generated in that organ. (Arch. Gen.. Juin, 1856, p. 735).
When applied, sufficiently concentrated, to the skin or mucous membranes, its immediate effect is to induce paleness, with more or less pain, according to the sensitiveness of the part; after which the blood-vessels expand, heat and redness are produced, and sometimes inflammation. If the application be continued for some time, the tissue shrinks, and becomes wrinkled and hardened, in consequence, as some suppose, of the affinity of the alcohol for moisture, which it is thought to abstract from the part, or of its property of coagulating albumen and fibrin, which are thus solidified in the tissue. It certainly has been proved by Orfila, when thrown in considerable quantity into the veins of the lower animals, to coagulate the blood; and, when injected into the cellular tissue, to produce the same effect in the neighbouring blood-vessels. But, in the former instance, it is brought into direct contact with the blood, so as to exercise all its chemical influence upon the albumen and fibrin of that fluid; and, in the cellular tissue, it easily penetrates the extremely tenuous walls of the capillaries, and is in like manner enabled to act, in a concentrated state, directly upon the blood. Its influence in these cases is chemical; and, in general, death in the one case, and local death in the other are the consequences. But in its condensing or solidifying action upon the skin, we have no proof of any chemical agency. It probably simply increases the vital contractility of the tissues, in the same manner as the astringents. The surface is thus rendered more capable of resisting injury, which would scarcely happen if its organization were impaired. It is a common mode of preventing bed-sores, to wash frequently the parts liable to pressure with brandy, or other form of ardent spirit.
When taken into the stomach, alcoholic drinks produce a feeling of warmth in the epigastrium, which is soon followed by increased frequency and force of the pulse, heat and flushing of the face, brilliancy of the eyes, and a characteristic sensation in the head; a sort of slight swimming or giddiness, which serves as a warning to the prudent not to allow the effects of the stimulant to proceed further. The spirits are at the same time exhilarated; there is a more rapid flow of thought and fancy; and increased energy is given to any emotion or passion that may predominate. There is, too, in general, a greater disposition to give expression to the thoughts and feelings of the moment; the restraints of modesty or timidity are removed; the tone of voice becomes louder and more energetic; and the limits have been approached, which cannot be transgressed without hazard. Beyond this point, if the drinking be continued, the control over the judgment is lost, and latent feelings are betrayed, or new ones arise, which are by no means always creditable. Persons, however, are very differently affected. Some are cheerful and good natured, others disposed to a fondling friendliness of manner, others, again, positive, domineering, or disputatious; and expressions are often used, or offence taken, in the excitement of the moment, which not unfrequently lead to the most sad results. The thoughts can now no longer be commanded. The ideas become confused, fancies are changed into realities, and various delusions are apt to occur, which often lead to corresponding acts. It is in this state that the absurd follies, or deplorable violences are perpetrated, with which the annals of drinking teem. The species of delirium entitled intoxication has now come on. In common English, the individual is drunk. Not unfre-quently the senses are perverted in this condition; and double vision is one of its well-known characteristics. With all this cerebral disturbance, there is continued vascular excitement, the secretion of urine is generally much augmented, and the sexual propensities often powerfully stimulated, especially in the earlier stage. At the commencement of intoxication, the control of the will over the muscles begins to be impaired; and, after a time, it is quite lost. Each muscle may contract regularly; but the associated action necessary for the attainment of any particular object cannot be commanded. Hence the staggering of drunkards, their zigzag movements, the frequent tumbles, and often vain efforts to regain their feet. At length, the disordered functions gradually subside into insensibility; first heaviness and vacancy of expression come on, then drowsiness, and lastly deep sleep or a sort of coma, from which, however, the patient may generally be roused more or less completely. If he cannot be roused, he is vulgarly said to be dead drunk. The pulse subsides along with the nervous excitement, but, though slow, remains often full, and of a certain strength, such as characterizes compression of the brain. The sleep or insensibility continues for several hours, perhaps from six to ten on the average; and, during this period, the pulse gradually declines in strength, the skin relaxes, and not unfre-quently copious perspiration takes place. The awakening is attended with headache, general uneasiness, and feelings of languor and depression; the pulse is feeble, and the skin cool and relaxed; and a want of appetite, often nausea and vomiting, clamminess of the mouth, and a furred tongue evince depression of the digestive organs following their great excitement. This condition passes off gradually; and, under the influence of cool water, fresh air and exercise, and the usual appliances of health, the system recovers its tone; and, in the course of a day or two, no traces of the debauch may remain, except, perhaps, the feeling of degradation.