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 first great question in the therapeutics of alcohol is how far its habitual use is favourable or unfavourable to health. In the greater number of cases, judging from the experience of the world since the beginning of history, it is of little consequence to the health of the individual, whether he drink it or not, provided he do not exceed the limits of temperance, and especially if he confine himself to the pure fermented liquors. But there are two classes of individuals to whom this remark does not apply. In one of these classes, the possession of a peculiarly sanguine or nervous temperament, renders them strongly susceptible to injury from substances calculated, in the one instance, to favour the overproduction of blood, and, in the other, to stimulate the unduly excitable nervous centres. In these persons, the habitual use of alcoholic drinks, which have in a high degree both the properties mentioned, is hazardous to health, and should, therefore, be avoided. It endangers inflammation, hemorrhage, and serious cerebral disease. In the second of the classes referred to, the contrary of this proposition is true. Nature, while planting in so large a proportion of the human family a disposition to scrofulous or tuberculous complaints, seems to have provided, in the fermented liquors, what, if properly used, may be considered as in some degree a counteracting agent. Physicians have often noticed that drunkards seldom die of phthisis. In this respect, my own observation coincides with that of others. During my tours of hospital duty in the winter, I have met with great numbers, both of drunkards and of tuberculous individuals; but it is very seldom that I have seen the two classes coincide. This is a singular fact, and not exactly what might have been anticipated; for the tuberculous constitution belongs to the same ca-chectic category with that which gives a tendency to fatty degeneration, cirrhosis of the liver, granular disease of the kidney, etc., and is not unfrequently associated with it. A priori, it would have been imagined that the exhausted state of general health, characterizing the advanced stages of intemperance, would favour tuberculous deposition; and the discovery of the opposite truth has been something like a surprise to the profession. This result of observation has been singularly confirmed by recent pathologico-anatomical investigations. Out of 117 cases of confirmed drunkards, whose bodies were examined after death by Dr. Ogston, there were only two who exhibited any evidence of tuberculous disease of the lungs. In one of these there were some latent tubercles, and in the other a single tuberculous cavity in the right lung; and in neither was this affection the cause of death. (Brit, and For. Med.-chir. Rev., April and October, 1854.) In the same number of temperate persons, of different sexes and ages, examined after death from other causes, the same result would assuredly not have been obtained.* How alcoholism acts adversely to the development of tubercle may be conjectured, but is not certainly known. In its earlier stages, it may be supposed to sustain a grade of elevation in the vital functions, and richness of the blood, above that at which there is a tendency to the deposition of tuberculous matter. But this is certainly not the case in the latter stages, during which, so long as the stimulus continues to be used, there appears to be the same exemption. Perhaps, as many suppose, it is the more highly carbonated state of the blood in the inebriate that protects him against tuberculosis. Possibly, the large proportion of oil contained in it may have some preservative tendency, similar to that exercised by cod-liver oil. It would be a perverse reason that would deduce from the fact here stated an argument in favour of intemperance. Assuredly, of the two, even admitting that the security afforded is complete, which it is very far from being, death from pulmonary consumption is infinitely preferable to death from drunkenness, or even to the life of a drunkard. But a just inference is, that they who may be predisposed to phthisis or scrofula, or may be labouring under the disease, may, with propriety, and probably with advantage, employ the fermented liquors habitually, though always in moderation. By adhering to the rule, never, under any circumstances of ordinary health, to use any one of the forms of ardent spirit, but to adhere exclusively to the fermented liquors, they may avoid the danger of intemperance, and yet obtain all the immunity which alcohol can confer.
In giving the above general rules in relation to the habitual use of alcoholic liquors, it will be perceived that I confine myself wholly to the medical aspect of the question. How far an individual may feel himself bound to forego a harmless gratification, or to sacrifice, in some instances, a positive good, for the sake of an example to others of weaker will, or of a constitution more susceptible to injury from alcoholic drinks than himself, is a moral question upon which there is no occasion to express an opinion in this place. One point, however, I would urge, with whatever weight of authority a life of observation may have given me, and with all the strength of expression I possess, that, whenever an individual discovers in himself the least tendency to excess in these drinks, or the least deficiency of power to restrain himself within due limits when 9lightly under their influence, he should promptly abandon them altogether, and permit no sophistry of inclination to overcome his resolution of entire abstinence for the future.
* See an elaborate paper, by Dr. John Bell, of N. York, on the effects of alcoholic drinks in tuberculous disease, in the Am. Journ. of Med. Sci., Oct. 1859, p. 407, in which much evidence has been collected upon the subject referred to. The tendency of this evidence appears to me decidedly to confirm the views given in the text. (Note to the second edition).