The public look to the medical man for guidance on the thorny question of the use of alcohol, and it is very desirable that he should be able to speak ex cathedra in regard to it. Unfortunately, medical opinion is much divided on this subject, some authorities holding that alcohol is an altogether evil thing, to be avoided at any cost, others that in moderation it actually does good.
We must be careful not to approach the question in any partisan or prejudiced spirit - a not altogether easy matter, since those who have been brought up among total abstainers are apt to regard alcohol as an unmitigated curse, while those who have been accustomed to its use from early years are apt to think that no self-respecting person should go without it. Opinions thus founded are, however, mere impressions; they have no scientific basis; they must not content the medical man, who, casting aside all prejudice, must endeavour to arrive at the truth by scientific methods. But at whatever opinion he arrives, let him be careful not to take up an extreme or impracticable position. If he sees reason to uphold the use of alcohol he must not denounce the abstainer as a mere crank; nor, on the other hand, should he press his views extravagantly, though he be convinced that in total abstinence lies the only safety. If he is wise he will bear in mind the fact that alcohol has "come to stay" among civilized mankind and that no amount of coercion or persuasion can banish it from our midst; and he will also reflect that even if it could be proved up to the hilt that alcohol in small quantities is harmful, it is very doubtful whether an unreserved condemnation of it is justifiable. Granted that it does some harm, it cannot justly be denied that it also possesses the virtue of creating pleasurable emotions, and we should assuredly think many times before we decide to rob a creature, born, like man, inevitably to a certain share of pain and sorrow, of the temperate employment of any means of mitigating these and adding to his joy in life. While, therefore, the medical man should fight with all his might against the abuse of alcohol, he should, even though a firm believer in the advantages of total abstinence from a severely hygienic standpoint, look with a kindly eye on the moderate drinker, bearing in mind that while the abuse of alcohol leads to misery, degradation, and crime, the temperate employment of it may add not a little to the fund of human happiness.
1 We ourselves regard the plan here suggested as practicable. If it is possible to rely upon the good faith of the total abstainer, it is surely possible to rely on that of the very moderate drinker. There are many such who are all but total abstainers, but who do not wish to be deprived of the liberty of taking alcohol upon occasion, and who cannot therefore be insured under the more liberal terms granted to total abstainers. It would be more equitable if the premium on such lives were reduced and that on the lives of the less temperate of the non-abstainers increased, for there can be no doubt that among these latter there are many who shorten their days considerably by immoderate drinking.
Taking then, this general attitude to the question, our summing up as to the advisability of the use of alcohol by the average individual will be somewhat as follows : - Alcohol does not in the healthy promote health, and while it is doubtful whether, when consumed in a quantity short of what is manifestly injurious, it can justly be regarded as a food, its food value is in any case no more than the equivalent of a very small amount of sugar or fat. Since, though not yet experimentally proved, it is probable that the daily consumption of any but very moderate quantities tends in most cases, if it affect health one way or the other, to affect it injuriously and to shorten life, we can only sanction the use of alcohol on the clear understanding that, except in disease, it is as a luxury, not as a necessity. Provided this fact is clearly recognized, we may countenance the moderate employment of sound alcoholic beverages in the case of those who can afford them, always supposing that no appreciable ill effects (the results of idiosyncrasy) are observed to follow their use.