Speaking generally, we may say that a daily allowance of a wine-glass of whisky, or a couple of glasses of port, or a pint of mild ale, constitutes strictly moderate drinking. Many who would indignantly repudiate the charge of excess greatly exceed this amount; indeed, it is possible for a person to be a heavy drinker without in any way realizing the fact. We have been informed that a large number of Englishmen in India daily consume, in repeated nips, three-quarters of a bottle of whisky, though probably but a few of them realize that they are taking so much : it is surprising how occasional drinks mount up. No one should be under any kind of misapprehension as to the quantity of alcohol he takes, but should have the precise amount clearly present to his mind : self-deception on this score must be carefully guarded against.
But even when the moderate daily allowance for the many has been arrived at, a variety of circumstances still demand consideration.
Thus, idiosyncrasy has to be taken into account; some, as before said, can consume with apparent impunity an amount which is manifestly injurious to others. Here personal experience has to be appealed to, care being taken that no self-deception is practised. The allowance should be limited to a quantity that does not, so far as can be observed, produce any ill effect. The influence of climate and mode of life has also to be considered; in the tropics and in very cold regions it is best to avoid alcohol altogether. To those living an active out-door life a more liberal allowance can be permitted than to the sedentary and confined. Nor in this connexion must the dietetic factor be neglected : those who over-eat are less able to tolerate alcohol than those who eat moderately. It is therefore even more incumbent on the gourmands than on the moderate eaters to be strictly temperate. Generally it will be found, we think, that those who, in spite of free indulgence in alcohol, live to a ripe old age are abstemious in the matter of diet. It is scarcely necessary to observe that chronic alcoholic excess is more harmful when an insufficient quantity of food is taken than when the dietary is sufficient, but any food beyond the physiological quantity tends to accentuate the evils of alcoholic excess.
Though in this country it is the custom to take alcohol chiefly with meals, such is not the universal practice. In Australia, for example, it is the exception rather than the rule, and in America the practice is far less common than it is on the continent of Europe. Nevertheless, the best time to take alcohol is undoubtedly with the meals : alcohol is much less apt to do harm when allowed to enter the blood in company with digested food than when it passes into the circulation alone. The practice of taking alcoholic drinks, especially the stronger kinds, on an empty stomach is most injurious. Nor should alcohol be taken early in the day even with food : most people are certainly best without any before the mid-day meal, and those who have to do brain work in the afternoon will generally find it a good plan to go without any at lunch. As to the "night cap," while not condemning it unreservedly, we have no doubt that improvement in health often follows its abandonment. It is scarcely necessary to insist upon the unwisdom, from every point of view, of doing business over a drink.
When we sanction the use of alcohol it is, of course, on the distinct understanding not only that the beverages taken are sound, but that they suit the individual. In other words, in advising as to the kind of alcoholic drink to be taken, due regard must be paid to the personal factor; to some we may find it advisable to recommend malt liquor, to others wine, and to others, again, spirits. Our advice to a patient should be somewhat as follows : "If you have a mind to take alcohol and can afford the luxury, you must be sure that the drink you take is a sound one, but as to the particular kind, you yourself should be the best judge; what you find suits you best is the best for you." Not only do people differ in their toleration of different alcoholic drinks, but it is a common experience that a beverage which agrees at one period of life, does not agree at another. Thus people often find it necessary to abandon malt liquor as they get older, and later perhaps, champagne as well. They will say, "I cannot take such and such a drink now; I still like it, but it no longer likes me".
Individual experience is, we repeat, the only criterion as to the most desirable form in which to take alcohol. The difficulty of establishing any surer one is shown by the diversity of medical opinion and the influence of fashion in this matter. At one time whisky is all the rage, at another light wines are in vogue; for long past port wine has been taboo, though if properly matured it often agrees well.
In the selection of wines, spirits, etc., it is well for those who are not good judges - and very few are - to get the help of a disinterested expert.